In his best-selling book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (Random House, 2015), Jeff Sutherland describes the beauty, simplicity, and discipline of Scrum. It is a great read, as it describes how individuals, teams, and organizations can genuinely accelerate by selecting the highest priority work to complete while ignoring the rest of it. Scrum helps to prioritize and identify what will get done. Perhaps more importantly, however, it also helps organizations and teams declare what will not get attention. It’s there that we tend to run into trouble.
Why does Scrum lose momentum?
Organizations, teams, and people rush to the doors of Scrum like it’s a New Year’s resolution, hoping to get themselves in shape and once and for all get some long-awaited projects and deliverables done. And unfortunately, like those resolutions, at about two months in, the enthusiasm for Scrum either disappears entirely or ceases to resemble that initial desire for completed work and organizational fitness.
Here’s an example of a client situation we can all relate to: Their portfolio requires about ten times the staff they currently employ. All the projects are a must for the coming year. Actual results show that the team’s finished work typically represents about 50% of the total capacity of the workforce!
What is happening to the other 50% of capacity? Is this now “Scrum: The Art of Doing Half the Work in Twice the Time?” This seems entirely messed up, but unfortunately, it is more common than we think.
Non-priorities matter, too.
The key here is that while the portfolio of work to be done is being identified and declared, there is no matching organizational edict declaring which programs and work are not prioritized and should not get any attention or capacity.
Without simple, clear communication, interesting behavior can develop behind the scenes.
“Program sponsors,” whose work did not make the cut, often open secret negotiations. We find them working with and pressuring team members for “a little of this, and a little of that . . . when they have a couple of available hours,” maybe in exchange for a bagel or a doughnut!
Where is the team’s energy being directed?
This type of drain on an organization can build up. The total capacity drain can be in the 30%–60% range—capacity that should have been dedicated to the work that was prioritized and selected. For one client, a group of nine Scrum teams found that one-third of the team members were spending less than an hour a day on the sprint-selected work due to redirection requests!
For a moment, let’s assume positive intent. Our jilted program sponsors may simply be aware of some pauses in prioritized work and are just looking to fill idle time, for the benefit of the entire team. That could be the case, or maybe not; it doesn’t really matter, as it’s a simple problem to solve.
Clear communication ensures organizational fitness
As Scrum declares, we need clear, concise communication to everyone indicating what work will and will not receive attention, at least for now—not necessarily forever. We need to ensure that all available time and capacity is spent in the pursuit of the sprint commitments. This way, we position ourselves to receive the full benefit of fitness through organizational agility and discipline.
Let’s all ask ourselves what we should not be doing.
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This blog has been updated from its original version.