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Is Scrum Atomic?


Melanie Silver, in Am I, or Am I Not, Using Scrum? That is the Question, asked what it means to be practicing Scrum and answered that you must be doing all of the Scrum practices for this to be true. Most of the comments left agreed with that sentiment, and a few did not. This question is reminiscent of the early XP debates of whether or not you have to be doing all of the twelve practices to be practicing XP. In the XP community, that has been answered in the negative - you do not have to be doing all of the XP practices to be doing XP. So is Scrum like XP or is it indivisible?

Silver started by defining Scrum as adhering to the values of the Agile Manifesto, and having its own distinct characteristics and practices:

  • Three basic roles: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Project Team Product Backlog
  • Sprint Backlog
  • Sprint Planning Meeting
  • Daily Scrum Meeting
  • Thirty-day iterations, delivering increments of potentially shippable functionality at the end of each iteration
  • Sprint Reviews Retrospectives
She then went on to ask what isn't Scrum and gave three different scenarios where some of the practices of Scrum were used and some were not. In concluding she cited two main reasons why a team should be doing all of the Scrum practices to be doing Scrum:

Abandoning some of the practices that make Scrum successful gives the naysayer more opportunities to claim Scrum doesn’t work. One would have been much better off espousing the individual techniques that were used than claiming that the Scrum methodology was applied.

Using only certain Scrum techniques and adopting only some of the Scrum characteristics may not preclude you from claiming you are agile. However, I would use this analogy to show why you cannot profess to be using true Scrum: Can you say you've made a batch of chocolate chip cookies if you leave out the chocolate chips?

Most of the comments left by readers of the article agreed that it should be an all-or-nothing thing. Jeff Sutherland commented that only a small percentage of companies who claimed to be doing Scrum actually were:

At the QCON conference in London a couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation on Google's Scrum implementation. Out of about 200 people, 30 said they were doing Scrum. When I went over Nokia's requirements for iterative development, only 15 were even doing iterative development. When I asked if they met Nokia's requirement for calling their teams a Scrum implementation, only 3 out of the 200 said they were really doing Scrum." So his due diligence will be finding the three companies out of 30 who say they are doing Scrum!
So, is Scrum different from XP in that it is indivisible? Does it matter to the Scrum community if it is? Does it matter to the Agile community?  An interesting way to think about this problem is to take software out of the picture, Ron Jeffries does so in We Tried Baseball and It Didn't Work.

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Community comments

  • Can the bar actually be lowered?

    by Bruce Rennie,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I mean, it's not all that difficult to implement the Scrum practices. I think the length of a sprint can be argued without any damage, but really, what else is there to discuss?

  • Re: Can the bar actually be lowered?

    by Amr Elssamadisy,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I can think of one valid example off-hand:

    Stand Up Meetings are frequently dropped with very small, collocated teams (usually under 5 members) that have been practicing Agile for a while and grock the culture. Because the entire team is in one room with a common area they are constantly communicating and a Stand Up Meeting becomes redundant.

    So, since these meetings are for synching up, and that goal can be achieved without them, are we still doing Scrum? Does it matter?

  • Re: Can the bar actually be lowered?

    by Nicholas Cancelliere,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    In response to Amr: If you do not have a set time which the stand-up takes place, how do I as a chicken attend? The primary goal of the stand-up is to "plan the day" and let the team self-organize. Having it at the same time every day makes it a commitment by the team to evaluate daily where they are in terms of the burndown, etc., and offers opportunity for non-team members to sit in (which they're allowed to do as chickens).

    Constant communication doesn't gurantee the right type of information.

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