August 24, 2020

52 Challenging Cases for Scrum Practitioners

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The Scrum Framework is a lightweight framework to solve complex and adaptive problems with others. Although it looks easy on paper, it’s often much harder to do well in the messiness of the real world. Where do you make trade-offs? How can you model the Scrum values? How can you work empirically in an environment that isn’t suited for it?

To encourage Scrum practitioners to explore these questions, we created 52 real-life cases. These cases are inspired by our own experiences and those of the people we frequently work with. Use these cases for your community of Scrum Masters, as conversation starters in and around your Scrum Team, or put your own understanding of Scrum to the test. And no, there is no “right answer” :) The learning is not in knowing the answer, but in jointly deepening your understanding of the Scrum principles and values through reflection, dialogue, and putting new ideas into practice.

The deck is provided as a digital download with 52 cases for a small fee. We also have a free version available that includes 10 cases. In this blog post, we offer inspiration for when to use these cases and give suggestions for what Liberating Structures to try as conversation starters. 

Case 1

Example of the case: “What are good metrics?”

When to use the cases?

Finding a good opportunity to use the Scrum cases shouldn’t be too difficult. You can use them for individual reflection, within your Scrum Team, or the wider organization. Some specific examples to use the Scrum cases are:

  • During Sprint Retrospective. Share the Scrum cases before the Sprint Retrospective with your Scrum Team. Ask everyone to select the cases they think are the most interesting, relevant, or challenging. Identify the top-3 and bring those cases to the Sprint Retrospective to discuss in more detail.
  • For individual reflection. Select a Scrum case, get your own thinking started, and share your thoughts on LinkedIn. Most likely, it will trigger a conversation in which you can explore the case with other Scrum practitioners.
  • Within your Community of Practice. Many organizations have a Community of Practice in which participants share experiences and give & get help. Organize a session with the most relevant Scrum cases as a topic. 
  • As a conversation starter with management. Share the Scrum cases with management in your organization. Ask them to identify the most challenging cases or the one that raises the most questions. Simply have a one-on-one conversation with a manager about a specific case. Or host a workshop with more managers to discuss the cases. 
  • During a public meetup. Make a specific Scrum case the topic for a public meetup. For example, your local Scrum user group. The wide variety of experiences will offer many different, fresh, and surprising perspectives.
  • For a job interview. Use the cases for any kind of Scrum related job interview. Prepare a couple of cases, ask the candidate to select the one (s)he considers the most interesting, challenging, or recognizable and simply have a conversation. By discussing the case you’ll get a good sense about the person’s understanding of the Scrum Framework.

Case 2

Example of the case: “The technical Sprint Review”

How to use the cases? 

We purposefully wrote each case in such a way that there is no clear “right” answer. Instead, there are different sides to each case, different arguments to make, and different solutions — some better than others. Just like the real world …

For the best learning experience, use Liberating Structures to structure the conversation. That way, everyone can offer their perspective. You may even find creative solutions to your own challenges!

Some examples of Liberating Structures to try are:

  • Conversation Cafe. We like to use Conversation Cafe to dig into cases like these. It encourages people to listen and understand each other’s perspectives on a profound, shared topic or challenge instead of trying to convince or persuade others to see it your way. Sitting in a circle with a simple set of agreements and a talking object, small groups engage in consecutive rounds of dialogue. Follow-up with 15% Solutions or 1–2–4-ALL to translate learnings from the case to your own team or environment.
  • 1–2–4-ALL. Only doing a 1–2–4-ALL during a session is already a good approach to explore a case. Start with 1 minute of silent self-reflection. Take 2 minutes to generate ideas in pairs, building on ideas from self-reflection. Create groups of four and use 4 minutes to share and develop ideas that you’ve discussed within your pair. Notice similarities and differences. Take 5 minutes to share insights, ideas, and takeaways.
  • Impromptu Networking. With Impromptu Networking, you can discuss a case within 15 minutes. Invite the participants to stand up and form pairs. Present the case to discuss. Within the pairs, ask people to share their answers to the case. Signal the end of the first round and have people from new pairs. Within the new pairs, ask people to (again) share their answers. But also ask them to pay attention to similarities and differences from their previous conversation. Do one more round. After the 3 rounds, gather insights and patterns that the participants noticed.
  • User Experience Fishbowl. The UX Fishbowl is ideally suited for unleashing the local wisdom of groups of any size. If within your team or organization people have experience (successes or failures) with a certain case, invite them to participate as the “inner circle” of the fishbowl. During the UX Fishbowl, the inner circle shares experiences while the outer circles listen. In alternating rounds, the outer circles generate questions they’d like to ask the inner circle. By focusing strongly on listening and asking questions about experiences, you can use UX Fishbowls to create an environment where people can learn together (rather than get solutions imposed on them).

Conversation Cafe

Conversation Cafe in a workshop with Swisscom and KPN iTV. Conversation Cafe is a great Liberating Structure to explore the cases.

  • Discovery & Action Dialogue. “Discovery & Action Dialogue” (DAD) exists to help groups invent local solutions to the problems they face. Rather than giving up or immediately reaching to “best practices” that worked elsewhere, it helps groups carefully analyze the problem, potential solution, and how everyone can contribute to both. To use “Discovery & Action Dialogue”, select the most challenging case for your team or organization, download this worksheet, and discuss the questions in small groups.
  • Wicked Questions. Especially because there are no right answers, the Liberating Structure Wicked Questions is ideally suited to discuss the cases. The purpose of Wicked Questions is not to find a single answer, but to create transparency about seemingly paradoxical realities that exist side-by-side. By accepting both realities, you can engage in deeper strategic thinking and explore new possibilities for the “Wicked Cases” at hand.
  • Integrated Autonomy. Most of the challenges we face in the real world don’t have an easy answer. Different solutions can be true or happen at the same time. This is also reflected in the 52 Scrum Master cases where multiple answers might be true. When discussing the cases, it’s tempting to get stuck in either/or-thinking. But what would happen when we start thinking in terms of ‘and’ instead of ‘or’? What if we can find solutions that are helpful to both sides? Integrated Autonomy will help you adopt a more holistic view of the cases. Instead of steering the group in one direction of possible solutions, it actively invites them to uncover solutions that work across the field.

Wicked Questions

Wicked Questions combined with Discovery and Action Dialogue and Integrated Autonomy. A string we used during the Immersion Workshop in May 2019 in Amsterdam. The visualization is created by Thea Schukken.

  • Shift & Share. Especially in larger groups, Shift & Share is an ideal structure to discuss one or multiple cases. Prepare 4–6 stations with each a specific case. Ask the group to form small teams and to pick one station. At their station, the teams discuss the case and write feedback on the flip-over. After 10 minutes, the teams move clockwise to the next station. This is repeated until the teams have visited all stations. Discuss the key-takeaways with the group as a whole.
  • Improv Prototyping. The purpose of Improv Prototyping is to re-enact a challenging scenario (e.g. Scrum case) faced by a group or an individual and work together to devise different behavioral strategies and interventions by acting it out. The twist that this structure brings is that the person who introduced the scenario becomes the ‘director’, while the others become the ‘actors’. This allows the director to playfully experiment with strategies, behaviors, and interventions. As such, Improv Prototyping is ideally suited to explore the Scrum cases! 
  • What, So What, Now What? ‘What, So What, Now What’ is a foundational Liberating Structures that helps by asking us to step back and consider what is going on. It structures our thinking by breaking our experience down into three steps: “What do we notice?”, “So, what does this mean?” and “Now, where do go from here?”. The flow of this Liberating Structure makes it ideally suited to reflect on the Scrum cases. Considering using 1–2–4-ALL to answer the questions. This prevents a group discussion and allows everyone to reflect and contribute.

Case 5

Example of the case: “The part-time Scrum Master”

Closing words

In this blog post, we offered inspiration for when & how to use the 52 Scrum cases we created for the Scrum community. We hope it will trigger valuable conversations in and around your Scrum Team, improve your understanding of the Scrum Framework, and grow a stronger Scrum community. The 52 cases are available as a digital download for a small fee. We also have a free version available that includes 10 cases. Enjoy using them! 

Want to learn more about Scrum and how to become a more effective Scrum Master? Join our on-site Scrum.org Professional Scrum Master II course or the online edition. We guarantee a unique, eye-opening experience that is 100% free of PowerPoint, highly interactive, and serious-but-fun. If you need help, feel free to join our user group ‘The Liberators Network’, which is all about learning and growing, together!

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