How would you answer the question on this sticky note?


This question "How 'Agile' is the concept of Scrum?" was posed by Lucy, a business analyst with around six months experience on a team attempting to apply Scrum.

On face value, her question seems to be asking "Is Scrum a member of the Agile family of methods and frameworks?" Clearly, the answer is "Yes!" Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, the thought-leaders credited with creating Scrum,  took part in the summit that created the Agile Manifesto. Plus, the titles of "Agile Software Development  with Scrum" and "Agile Project Management with Scrum" books explicitly align Scrum as an Agile approach.

I took a deep breath. Before diving into an Agile history lesson, I tried to unpack Lucy's question, to see if I could get closer to answering her. "You seem to be asking "Whether Scrum is an Agile approach. Is that right?"

Lucy's brows creased and she shook her head. "No. I meant 'How flexible is Scrum?' Is anything in Scrum optional?" She went on "Our Scrum Master wants us to do Scrum by the book. That's difficult for us because people on our team come from different departments, we get conflicting messages from our line managers. I'm expected to work on more than one project and it's not working for me."

When I hear about Scrum Masters or teams attempting to "do Scrum by the book" it sets alarm-bells ringing for me. Scrum is a starting point on a team's journey towards agile software development.  Being Scrum is not the real goal. We use Scrum to deliver product increments. No one is going to come along to your team to check up on your Scrum conformance. There are no shiny Scrum badges to give out to the teams who doing Scrum correctly. Besides, Scrum has evolved over the years, you can find one book is at odds with another.

We follow the Scrum mantra "Inspect & Adapt" and fine-tune our working practice through retrospectives. As we become more proficient at delivering product increments, our team can decide to drop initial practices. For instance, they may find maintaining a Sprint Burndown in a spreadsheet is an unnecessary overhead when everyone can see progress on our task board. Scrum is definitely flexible.

However, being able to flex Scrum and not seeing Scrum conformance as important isn't quite the same as opting out of implementing various parts of Scrum because it's difficult.

Scrum is finely-balanced to maximize motivation and productivity. Scrum frees the team up to get on with work in sprints rather than constant churn from conflicting stakeholder requests. Scrum sets the team up for success by positioning a Product Owner, as broker for all stakeholder requests with a Scrum Master acting as Gatekeeper to minimize disruption during the sprint. I drew this picture to show how requests to work on other projects are headed off by the Scrum Master.

My picture could be improved by drawing the bubble around the team as a dashed line. The team is not hidden away. The team gets exposed to stakeholder feedback in Sprint Review and their visible backlogs make progress toward their commitments transparent.


Scrum is not a fashion statement. Make believe that you're doing Scrum by having daily scrum meetings and skip the rest. But be warned, without ring-fencing the team, you'll find it's a struggle.

If Scrum team members are asked to work on more than one project, they have conflicting priorities, which distracts them from working toward a common goal. Stand back and watch how this sucks the energy out of a Scrum team.

If your organization can't commit to putting the starting conditions in place for Scrum, they cannot expect to get the full benefit. Lucy's question came up because she was sick of being asked to pretend to do Scrum without experiencing any of the joy that can be gained from teamwork and regularly delivering useful products.

Agile Coaching is about humane and sustainable development, I hate to see people being asked to use process and tools that waste their time. We need to reach out to management to help them understand the basic principles underpinning Scrum and help teams to make the costs of multi-tasking more visible.