What’s the Problem with Scrum, and How can we Fix it?

As Agile professionals in Software Development, Project Management, IT Operations, Marketing or Finance we are asked many times to work under the umbrella of the popular Scrum Framework.

While Scrum has some good ideas that can help a company come closer to faster releases, and some level of agility it achieves this goals by imposing a recipe for Agile, a series of rules and practices that many times can become quite demanding, frustrating, and limiting to people who know there is a better way.

Given our extensive experience working with capable, smart Scrum professionals who have shared with us their frustrations with Scrum dogma, some weeks ago we decided to conduct a survey to identify which are the areas that bring the most dissatisfaction among Scrum practitioners. The summary responses are below.

Our approach was to list every possible part of scrum in a long list, and have people identify the parts that were frustrating to them. We were very satisfied with the feedback we received via several professional groups on LinkedIn, totaling 83 responses. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The survey allowed for multiple responses, and while a few indeed see Scrum as awesome (13%) a whopping 87% disagreed, and proceeded to identify which parts of Scrum were a source of frustration.

  • Given the variety of options, we took the time to classify them into different areas:
  • Planning and Estimation. Grouped with the prefix P.
  • Rigid Roles and Difficulty to Scale. Grouped with the prefix SR.
  • Abundance of Meetings. Grouped with the prefix M.
  • Other Problem Areas. Grouped with the prefix Y.
  • Nothing, Scrum is awesome. Grouped with the prefix Z.

When we group the responses this way, the analysis is much more clear. After adjusting the data to base it on a 100% uniform base we obtain the following table:

Survey Responses - Grouped by Type

Which can also be better viewed in the graphic below, click on this to zoom:

Scrum Main Problem Areas - AgileLion-com CC BY NC

It is now quite evident that the majority of complaints and frustrations about Scrum group around Planning and Estimation: 40% of the survey responses relate to that. The other 28% deals with Scrum’s narrow definition of agility that leads them to have rigid roles, and difficulty scaling to large organizations. The last two major items relate to Scrum’s fondness of meetings, there are many and 13% of the frustrations lie in that area. Finally Scrum never intended to have technical practices, that was done intentionally but still this apparent deficiency is perceived as a gap by 11% in our survey.

The Mental Barriers to Overcome: No More Scrumbut

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland start their famous Scrum Guide with the quote: “the rules of the game.” The whole Scrumbut terminology stated that deviating from the rules of Scrum leads to an undesirable state that should be avoided, and even the latest opinions that recommend “Scrum And” still limit practitioners to live inside the Scrum framework.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist wrote: “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” Therefore before you can improve any of the underlying frustrations and limitations of Scrum you must admit you have a problem, and do not allow condemnation from others to prevent you from moving forward.

Decide to start the journey to improve. Be courageous! Rather than criticizing Scrum, I propose you explore ways to first customize it to fit your team and organization, and then consider alternative approaches to move forward if necessary.

A Bright Future Ahead: Scrumban, Kanban Ace and SAFe

We all live in our all cozy worlds, Scrum has great ideas and provides value. Because of this it does take effort to move away from it, or to customize it. But let me assure you that if you take this bold step, your future is bright. In the last 7 years there has been a renaissance of agile and lean methods that are friendly to Scrum, and can work with it to extend it, improve it, or even replace it if necessary.

In future articles we plan to focus on those approaches particularly Scrumban, the Kanban Ace Method and SAFe three methods that keep the best ideas of Scrum, but also move forward to fix the deficiencies it has regarding scaling, planning and technical execution. We are planning a free webinar on Scrumban and the Kanban Ace method in May; if you are interested in attending just subscribe to our newsletter, or join our Kanban Ace group on LinkedIn to receive an invitation.