Reinventing the Agile Wheel

In agile-related discussions, the most hated statements by far are those using phrase “by the book” in them. At least for me. They are both misleading and dangerous.

Time and again I hear words “by the book” in different contexts and most of the time they refer to avoiding doing “the hard stuff”. The words are used to emphasize that the rules do not apply to “real world” or “particular context” – being it a company or a team. But let’s try to dive deeper in the explanation here.

Not Doing Scrum by the Book

The “Scrum book” is in fact the Scrum Guide which is only 17 pages long (or short, depending on how you look at it) and it does a great job explaining what the Scrum framework is – and that’s it. It’s almost like a description of a bare minimum of what the car is and the basics about how to use it (e.g. start the engine, basic steering, stopping the vehicle etc.)

And yet again, most of the people take a look at “the book” and decide that they would love to use that increasingly popular Scrum thing, but at the same time they decide that they do not like what is in the book. It simply requires too much honesty and leaving the comfort zone of self-delusion. So they decide to modify it so it would fit their context or their version of reality. That leaves them dealing with “modified Scrum” (?!), which nobody knows what exactly is, but most certainly it is not what will deliver on the Scrum’s promise. However, this will not prevent blaming Scrum for failure. In the end of the day, it was easier to bend some rules than to deal with the real issues, right?

If you decide to go down this path, you will end up with something new. I don’t know what it is, but it is not Scrum anymore. As Ken Schwaber (co-creator of Scrum) said it – “I equate Scrum to the game of chess. You can read the official rulebook for chess. The moves, players, sequences, scoring, etc. are all specified. Learn them. Then you can play chess. Maybe your chess game isn’t so good, but you can study great games, strategies, and tactics, and practice to get better and better. However, you are playing the game of chess, so you don’t have the option of changing the rule book. If you change the rules, it’s not chess any longer. Just learn how to play the game with excellence, which is enough of a challenge.”

To further the chess analogy – the rules are quite simple. If you change them, you’ll have nobody to play against.

The same thing is with Scrum. It will show you the problems you have (most likely the biggest ones first). If you chose to ignore them and modify the framework to make them invisible – do so, but don’t fool yourself that you are doing Scrum and don’t expect the promised benefits of it. If you decide to modify it and your modification doesn’t work, don’t blame Scrum – blame your modification instead.

Here is another one from Ken – “If you don’t like Scrum, we welcome and invite you to devise something else. Just don’t call it Scrum.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Not Doing Scrum by (Other) Books

The sad truth is that most of the people trying to implement Scrum or modify it because “it doesn’t work”, have never read the Scrum Guide. They have read some other book(s) and they blame Scrum for the practices or recommendations described in those books. In fact, if you choose to talk to some of the people that “fixed” Scrum with “it cannot be implemented by the book” excuse, most certainly you will not get a sound explanation or reference to the Scrum Guide and what is wrong with it. You will get some reasons which have never been a part of the Scrum Guide. The deeper you go, the more likely the emergence of absurd arguments.

So, first get to know what you are trying to do. Then learn why are you trying to do it. And then decide whether you actually want to do it.

Scrum is a fantastic framework for new product development. It is not a silver bullet for every kind of work – even though it can be used in other context with varied effect. Jeff Sutherland (co-creator of Scrum) with others explained it really good in this article.

The “Agile Book”

There are some people arguing that agile software development cannot work as described and has to be adapted. So, apparently even that agile thing cannot be done by the book!

The “Agile book” is the Agile Manifesto – 4 values and 12 principles! What is there that cannot be applied? Why? Answer those questions and you are good to go.

By Other Books

So, whatever you choose, there is a book describing what the thing is. If you can’t apply it, try to understand why it doesn’t work. All good frameworks are designed to emphasize improvement opportunities and all you should do is to actually act on them. Just don’t ignore them, and try to modify the rules of the game. All rules of agile frameworks and methods are really lightweight and optimized themselves. Apply them – don’t try to reinvent the wheel.