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How to Succeed With Zombie-Scrum?

August 10, 2017

A couple of years ago Christiaan Verwijs and Johannes Schartau coined the term 'Zombie-Scrum'. It became popular right from the start. Especially when we created the website Our mailbox exploded with information requests and the related Zombie-Scrum workshop became a monthly phenomenon.

Let me give a brief explanation of Zombie-Scrum for the ones not yet familiar with this theme. At first sight Zombie Scrum seems to be normal Scrum. But it lacks a beating heart. The Scrum teams do all the Scrum events but a potential releasable increment is rarely the result of a Sprint. Zombie Scrum teams have a very unambitious definition of what ‘done’ means, and no drive to extend it. They see themselves as a cog in the wheel, unable and unwilling to change anything and have a real impact: I’m only here to code! Zombie Scrum teams show no response to a failed or successful Sprint and also don’t have any intention to improve their situation. Actually nobody cares about this team. The stakeholders have forgotten the existence of this team long time ago.

Of course this sounds very appealing. The popularity of Zombie-Scrum is therefore no surprise at all. This blog post will focus on how to get started and succeed with Zombie-Scrum. What do you really need to have in place? What are the tips & tricks to give your Zombie-Scrum implementation a kick-start? How to make it sustainable? This article will offer you some nice recommendations.

How to Start and Succeed With Zombie-Scrum?

  • Close the curtains, turn off the light. Zombie-Scrum teams thrive in darkness. The less transparency and visibility the better. It's makes inspection and adaptation more difficult and disheartens continuous improvement; which is great.
  • Setup component teams. It's difficult to deliver business value as a component team. Therefore you'll create dependencies with other component teams and a need for more coordination arises. We all know more coordination means more management. It's a win-win situation.
  • Consider the Scrum events as optional. Conduct the Daily Scrum twice per week, the Sprint Review only when there's something to demo and the Retrospective when there's some time left. Zombie-Scrum teams rightfully consider the Scrum events as boring time-consuming meetings.
  • Rotate the Scrum Master role every Sprint. Create a recurring Sprint Backlog item of 4 hours per week for fulfilling the role.
  • Start using a Sprint Goal. Yes, this might seems 'healthy Scrum', but don't worry, if the Sprint Goal is "realize the Sprint Backlog" you'll be doing Zombie-Scrum perfectly!
  • Promote "the new way of working". Who needs a team space? True agility is working on a different location every day. Sitting together as a team will only cause distraction.
  • Attract new team members with appealing vacancies. Make sure to use popular terms like "Agile framework", "SCRUM" or "corporate agility". You'll definitely lure Zombie-Scrum into your organization.
  • Continuously change the Sprint length. Zombie-Scrum teams like the lack of a clear rhythm.
  • Ensure you've got a Product Owner. But that's healthy Scrum? No, because it will be a Product Owner without any mandate, product vision, domain knowledge and also no capabilities of doing stakeholder management. Zombie-Scrum success guaranteed.
  • Configure a digital tool with complex workflows to manage the Product Backlog. Appoint the Scrum Master as the administrator.
  • Don't time-box the Scrum events. Nothing beats an 8 hour Sprint Planning or a 45 minute Daily Scrum.
  • Encourage working on multiple projects. Who needs focus? Remember: the more dependencies the better.
  • Setup a time tracking tool. Log individual time spent per task and optimize resource utilization. These tools really help you blame the slow team members and promote a culture of fear.
  • Skip the team kickoff. Promise to have one, but cancel it a few days before, for time-saving reasons. The disappointment will give Zombie-Scrum a great boost.
  • Create a Ready team. This team will consist of the Product Owner, Business Analyst, Information Analyst, the Architect etc. They will prepare the work for the Developers. They don't need to be aware of the true intention of every Product Backlog item. They only need to build it and don't ask any questions.
  • Avoid having a tester in the Scrum Team. A tester will only increase the opportunity of delivering a "done" increment; something Zombie-Scrum teams want to avoid at any cost.
  • Always use the user story format. As a Scrum Team we always want to use the user story format even when it doesn't make sense at all.
  • Encourage technical debt. This will decrease the quality of the increment and have a "negative" impact on the velocity and delivered business value. Stakeholders will be disappointed and stop attending the Sprint Review. Another reason to skip the Sprint Review.
  • Promote handovers. The more the better. It will drastically decrease lead time and increase the amount of coordination. Adding another management layer is therefore a valid option.
  • Encourage the Product Owner to accept the work during the demo. This allows the Product Owner not to be present during the Sprint. Also you don't need any stakeholders during the Demo. They weren't interested anyhow.
  • Start using velocity as the main KPI for management. Velocity is a useful instrument for management to control and monitor the Development Team. Working with multiple teams? No problem, just compare the velocity of the teams with each other.
  • Estimate the Product Backlog in hours. Who cares about business value? It's time that matters. Time is money right?
  • Don't involve the team with it's team composition. This will only encourage collaboration and self-organization. That's not Zombie-Scrum, that's healthy Scrum!
  • Respect the Leaders in the Scrum Team. You do need a Lead Developer, Lead Architect and Lead Designer.
  • Promote seagull management. Seagull managers fly in, make lots of noise, crap on everything, then fly off again leaving a big mess behind. A great support for Zombie-Scrum teams!
  • Forget about having a purpose and vision. These are highly overrated concepts only promoted by expensive external consultants.

Have you got all of this in place? Great! You are ready to start with Zombie-Scrum and make it a sustainable implementation.

Let's start the everlasting first Sprint, better known as the Sprint 0!


In this blog post I've described how to get started with Zombie-Scrum. More important: I gave some tips and tricks on how to make it sustainable. For sure there are many other ways to start and succeed with Zombie-Scrum. Activate your cynical/sarcastic/skeptic mindset and I'm convinced you'll come up with even more tips & tricks!

You might wonder why I've chosen this format. Well, sometimes it's useful to think "negative" instead of "positive". Ask questions like "how can we make this situation even worse?". A different perspective might lead to insights you otherwise wouldn't have thought of.

If you've got any other ideas to "succeed" with Zombie-Scrum, feel free to share them. If you're interested in the 4-hour Zombie-Scrum workshop we provide: let me know!

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