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Scrum is No Excuse 

March 26, 2024
Scrum is no excuse

People new to Scrum or without formal training sometimes use Scrum as an excuse for various bad practices.  These practices can be very unproductive and may undercut many of the benefits that the organization is seeking from an Agile transformation in the first place.  For example, Scrum is no excuse not to create a forecast for delivery or to accept a lack of direction for your product.  This article will discuss three common bad practices and explain why Scrum is no excuse.

1. No Forecast

Too many people think that Scrum means we can’t forecast or meet deadlines.  As with so many things, there is a nuance here.  Scrum Teams need to be empowered to push back on unrealistic deadlines, but they must also be able to set and meet realistic deadlines to increase predictability, trust, and transparency.

How is this done? In Scrum, the Product Owner is accountable for forecasting. To do this, the Product Owner works with the Scrum Team, considering their history (velocity or throughput, for example) and the content and ordering of the Product Backlog.  The Product Owner then creates a forecast representing the team’s best guess as to when they will meet a certain goal or deliver upcoming releases.  For more on how to forecast, check out our recent article Part II: When will we get there? Forecasting for Scrum Teams.

Can the Scrum Team meet hard deadlines set by the organization?  It depends on whether the deadline is realistic or not.  But what the Scrum Team can do is to provide a realistic forecast of what it expects to be able to deliver by a certain date.  In fact, Scrum can increase your team’s ability to meet hard deadlines by helping the Product Owner make smarter decisions on what is most important and providing visibility into progress through incremental delivery.  See our recent article Can Scrum Work for Hard Deadlines? for more information.

State of Agile Report from Digital.AI

Why Predictability Matters

For the past four years, increasing predictability has been among the top ten reasons organizations adopt Agile (17th Annual State of Agile report created by  

Predictability builds trust and confidence in an Agile team’s ability to deliver value to the customer.  In addition, predictability helps the customer and the organization coordinate and prepare for the results of the Scrum Team’s work.  

Scrum is no excuse for not creating a forecast. Scrum explicitly assigns the responsibility for creating a forecast to the Product Owner. In addition, Scrum helps make forecasts more accurate because delivering work incrementally actually aids the Product Owner in creating a more accurate forecast. That's because, with incremental delivery, it is easy in Scrum to see exactly what is delivered, making forecasting future delivery easier.  

A forecast is not unchangeable

Because Scrum is used for complex work, it is essential to understand that the forecast - like the weather - can always change.  As the Scrum Team learns more, they will update their forecast to reflect the latest information. Does that mean the Scrum Team is unpredictable?  Absolutely not.  We are transparent about where we are today and where we expect to be tomorrow, and that is as predictable as you can be when working complexly.

2. Chaos

Scrum is no excuse to change direction willy-nilly and to say yes to whatever anyone requests because we are ‘Agile'. Saying "yes" to every stakeholder request creates a chaotic situation and contributes to a lack of focus and direction for the product supported by the Scrum Team(s).



Here's what to do instead. In Scrum, the Product Owner is accountable for creating a Product Goal.  A clearly articulated Product Goal makes it easier for the Product Owner to say ‘no’ to some work that may not serve the Product Goal and to order the backlog so that the highest value work is done first.  

The Product Goal provides focus for the Scrum Team. Focus is one of Scrum's five values because a team without focus is like a ship without a rudder—it won’t go anywhere!  

That Product Goal helps to drive the emergence of the Product Backlog, a single source of work for the Scrum Team.  The ordering of the Product Backlog is a very strategic decision. The Product Owner should carefully consider any stakeholder requests and weigh them against existing work in the Product Backlog before deciding which work to do first.  

Scrum is no excuse for saying “yes” to every stakeholder request. The more empowered a Product Owner is to say “no” or “not now” to stakeholder requests, the higher the likelihood that they will be able to maximize the product's value through the content and ordering of the Product Backlog.  Check out our recent article Why "no" is part of a Scrum Product Owner’s love language for more.

3. Do whatever we want!

Scrum is not an excuse for the Scrum Team to do whatever they want.  The source of this confusion is the term self-managing in the 2020 Scrum Guide.  According to the 2020 Scrum Guide, Scrum Team members should be “self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.”

There is a lot of confusion about what exactly this means.  Some Scrum Teams misinterpret this to mean they can do whatever they want.  This - of course - is far from the truth.  Scrum is a framework within which teams work together to deliver complex products of the highest value.  The Scrum Team exists within the larger context of their organization.  Scrum Teams should be self-managing, yes, because they should decide how to deliver their work, but they are self-managing within the guardrails set by the organization as well as guardrails established by the Scrum framework itself.  

The organization sets guardrails such as determining each team member's responsibility level, setting security standards, and human resources procedures.  The Scrum framework includes guardrails that ensure that each Scrum Team includes the three accountabilities and that Scrum Teams use the five Scrum events described in the Scrum guide.  For more on this topic, check out our recent article Self-management is Nuanced in Scrum.  


Scrum is a powerful framework within which teams collaborate to deliver high-value products. Many misconceptions about Scrum can hold back value delivery and add unnecessary confusion and frustration for all involved. Sign up for the Applying Professional Scrum class with Rebel Scrum to learn more about the Scrum framework.

Scrum Day conference 2024 in Madison, Wisconsin


Scrum Day 2024 is scheduled for October 23, 2024, in Madison, Wisconsin.  This year's theme is "Deliver Products with Value".  Break-out sessions will discuss how to use Evidence-based Management to focus your team on value and how to define products to ensure that teams are aligned around value.  Other breakouts will focus on using AI to reduce repetitive tasks and help the Scrum team focus on complex work.


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