Metrics for Agile Teams — Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations

If you’re looking for metrics to report up or “status” to report up in your software organization, look no further than Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations from  The framework was just recently updated in 2018.  Note that these metrics are gathered at the Product level, not the team level.  If you plan to track metrics like this, and you try to track several teams on the same Product or in the same organization, what you will find is you will create an anti-pattern.  Once teams realize that they are competing against each other, they will stop helping each other!!!  So, don’t do that!  Instead, measure at the Product level, and have the teams retrospect both at the team level and at the product level on how they improve those metrics.  Also, remember that “not everything that counts can be counted”, and always consider subjective data in addition to objective data.  With all of those caveats, I highly recommend you click on the button at the bottom of the EBM page to download the “EBM Guide” as a PDF, and start measuring today!

How to Contact us for Scrum, Scaled Agile Coaching and Training

Contact us at ScrumCrazy to discuss tailoring a training or coaching program to align with your strategic goals. (We do work nationwide in the USA, as well as Internationally upon request.)

  • Phone: 720-443-1923

  • Email: service at ScrumCrazy dot com

Good Resources for Scaling Agile and Scrum

Good Resources for Scaling and Spreading Scrum and Agile

  1. Scaled Agile Framework
  2. Large Scale Scrum(aka LeSS) Resources
  3. Nexus Framework For “Scaled Professional Scrum” from
  4. My Presentation to Agile Denver Comparing LeSS, SAFe, and Nexus
  5.’s “Evidence Based Management for Software Organizations”
  6. Schwaber’s _The Enterprise and Scrum…_
  7. Cohn’s _Succeeding With Agile…_
  8. Kniberg’s “Scaling Agile at Spottify” (Free PDF)
  9. Schwaber’s _Software in 30 Days…_
  10. Larman/Vodde’s _Scaling Lean Agile…_ (Make sure you check out Resources in #1 above before reading #10/11)
  11. Larman/Vodde’s _Practices for Scaling Lean and Agile…_ (Companion book to the above)

ScrumCrazy My Preferred Agile, Scrum, and XP Resources

A friend recently asked me this question:

What would you recommend in terms of the best book(s) to learn about Agile (Scrum) with XP practices? That is, if you had a team of developers who were newbies to Agile, Scrum, and XP, what books/articles would you give them to bring them up to speed on what they should be doing and how they should be doing it?

My Answer

This question from my friend is a very tricky one, in that it is very broad and generic, and my friend gave me no extra team or organizational context to go on, so about all I can do is give a generic answer, and that is what I’ve done below.

My Preferred Resources

All below are in order of our recommendation in each category.


  1. The Scrum Guide (Only 16 pages, Must read for all)
  2. _Scrum: A Pocket Guide_ by Gunther Verheyen (Short book, Must Read for Scrum Masters, Management. Highly recommended for all others.)
  3. Chapter 1 of _Professional Scrum Development_ by Richard Hundhausen (Short read)
    • PDF download, see Chapter 1, which is a “must read” for all roles)
      • Don’t let the “Visual Studio 2012” part of the book cover fool ya — Chapter 1 is about Scrum and there is no tool stuff in Chapter 1.
  4. Doshi’s _Scrum Insights…_ (Short book, Must read for Scrum Masters)
  5. My article called “Scrum For Laypeople” (A good intro for total newbies or people who won’t be on the new Scrum Team. If you’re a manager or PO or someone interacting with the Scrum team, be sure to read #1 above if you haven’t already)
  6. Cohn’s _Agile Estimating and Planning_ (Must read for Scrum Masters, but note that some of the Scrum stuff is out of date, and some of the story stuff is more directed at the PO role)
  7. SSW’s video on the Product Owner Role (Must watch for new Product Owners — only 2 minutes!)
  8. Pichler’s _Agile Product Management…_ (Must read for Product Owners)
  9. Hundhausen’s _Professional Scrum Development_ (The book is a must read for Scrum Development Team Members)
      • If your team doesn’t use Microsoft tools, then just ignore the chapters in the book about the MS tooling.
  10. Cohn’s _Succeeding With Agile…_ (Must read for Scrum Masters once they have a few Sprints under their belts)
  11. Goldstein’s _Scrum Shortcuts…_ (Great read for Scrum Masters)
  12. Derby/Larsen’s _Agile Retrospectives_
  13. Any article, blog post, presentation, or other material on Roman Pichler’s web site.
  14. Our web site, of course!
  15. The web site (especially the articles and forums)
  16. The Scrum Alliance web site (especially the articles)

XP (Extreme Programming)

  1. Jeffries’ “What is Extreme Programming?”
  2. Jeffries’ _Extreme Programming Installed_
  3. Koskela’s _Test Driven…_
  4. Martin’s _Clean Code_
  5. Feathers’ _Working Effectively With Legacy Code_
  6. “The Rules of Extreme Programming”
  7. Wiki entry on XP Practices

Testing – Agile/XP

  1. Cohn’s “The Forgotten Layer of the Test Automation Pyramid”
  2. Martin Fowler’s Excellent article on Unit Testing
  3. Summary of Lisa Crispin’s Presentation to Agile Denver on Test Automation
  4. Cripin’s “Using the Agile Testing Quadrants”
  5. Crispin/Gregory’s _Agile Testing_
  6. Crispin/House’s _Testing Extreme Programming_
  7. Osherove’s _The Art of Unit Testing_

User Stories (which originated in XP)

  1. I co-authored this article, and I’m pretty pleased with our work — a great starting place for learning about User Stories.
  2. My “User Story Basics” article and all of the links at the bottom of that article
  3. Cohn’s _User Stories Applied_ (Book is VERY dated, and definitely the Scrum stuff is way out of date)
  4. Cohn’s _Agile Estimating and Planning…_ (Chapter 12: Splitting User Stories)
  5. Richard Lawrence’s “User Story Splitting Flowchart”
  6. My User Story Maturity Model (Has a list of User Story best practices)

Scaling and Spreading Scrum and Agile

  • Warning: Scaling Scrum is not for people or orgs new to Scrum. The first focus should be on doing “single team Scrum”. After that, when scaling, we strongly recommend getting Scrum Coaching help. The resources below, while all excellent, are dangerous and risky in the hands of people new to Scrum. We realize that this is a self serving statement since we provide coaching services, but we honestly believe it based on our own experiences of having to rescue companies from poor performing implementations. It costs much much less to get started on the right foot than to rescue an organization. Having said that, we love the challenge of rescues, so don’t be afraid to contact us!

This section has a page all it’s own now !

Dispersed, Distributed, Offshore, and Multi-Site Scrum (use only if applicable)

  1. Deemer’s “The Distributed Scrum Primer”
  2. Larman/Vodde’s _Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Large, Multisite, and Offshore Product Development with Large-Scale Scrum_
    • Especially Chapters 12-13.
    • Note: This book is not for Scrum Newbies, but neither is Large Scale, Multi-site, and Offshore Scrum. Hire a Scrum Coach, or maybe a dozen.
  3. Woodward et al’s _A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum_
  4. Cohn’s _Succeeding With Agile…_
  5. Numerous teams have gotten a lot of value out of the “Toss the Microphone ” Daily Scrum Pattern, and not just for Daily Scrums. Some teams use it for Product Backlog Refinement, Retrospectives, etc.

Special Topics of Agile (use only if applicable)

  1. My article entitled “The Role of Managers In Scrum” and all of the links at the bottom of that article
  2. Agile Scrum Contracting Resources

Scrum For System Integration & Analytics Data Warehousing Teams

[TODO: Fix Links.  For more info, see: is Moving…]

–This article was co-authored by Professional Scrum

Trainers Charles Bradley and Mark Noneman.


Things to Think About When Using Scrum for System Integration Efforts

Vendor Platform: Think of something like SAP or SalesForce App Cloud Platform. The platform might have some out of the box functionality, but really, to get the major value out of the platform you need to hook in all of your company’s data sources (usually with the need to do data ETL type work on the incoming data to transform it into the target data model of the platform). You will also need to “configure” (tailor/enhance) the out-of-the-box functionality to your specific organization. For example, using your organizations language for labels, implementing workflows, identifying roles and permissions, adding functionality through scripts or software, etc. Some Business Intelligence platforms (Informatica, Business Objects, etc) also fall into this category (at least in how they affect Scrum).

Since Scrum’s earliest adopters were “vanilla software teams”, often doing full stack development where software programming is the primary activity, System Integration Scrum Teams tend to be late adopters. As such, they suffer from several typical problems that even vanilla software teams suffer from as late adopters to Scrum. See more about that in the Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption. In addition, certain challenges present themselves to vanilla software teams regardless of whether they are late adopters to Scrum or not. Analogous challenges happen in System Integration Scrum Teams, so it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face.

Caveat: The term “vanilla software team” is just a term used for this article to distinguish System Integration Scrum Teams from your basic full stack development software team. Vanilla is not in any way meant to imply that “vanilla software” is easier or harder, only that it’s the more generic kind of software development. Having said that, System Integration, BI/DW, straight web development, and lots of other forms of software development are also extremely valid forms of software development. They’re just other flavors of software development that have some uniqueness about them.

When doing System Integration (SI), many teams like to use Scrum for this effort. Many SI Scrum Teams think that the challenges that they face when doing Scrum are unique to SI, but most of those challenges are not unique to SI at all. Having said that, there are some challenges that seem unique, or at least more accentuated, in SI efforts.

Challenges not Unique to System Integration

Here are some challenges that SIPV Scrum Teams perceive as being unique to them, but they really aren’t unique to SIPV Scrum teams at all.

  1. Due to the proprietary unknowns about how the Vendor Platorm(VP) works, SI Scrum teams feel the need to do more spikes, analysis and design when requirement gathering.
    1. Most VP’s, whether due to feature bloat or having to deal with such a wide variety of clients, have several ways to accomplish a particular business need, which prompts teams to do more analysis or design in order to come up with system requirements that describe application behavior. This is understandable. However, when compared to vanilla software dev, the # of ways to accomplish a business goal is infinite, so this should make the number of ways to accomplish a goal in SI teams fewer than in vanilla teams, right?
    2. Due to the vendor product proprietary bits that are hidden from the Scrum Team(think of the VP as a “black box” component), it might take more time for a SI team to figure out good paths forward(analysis/design/architecture). Hopefully this can be mitigated by good platform documentation, team experience with the VP, and/or support/professional services from the vendor.
    3. All of the aforementioned challenges happen in vanilla software teams too. See “Extensive Discovery/Market Research”, “3rd Party Component Analysis/Design,” and “Complex Business Domains” in the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face..
    4. In SI teams you tend to have a higher occurrence of situations where the dev work is small, but the number of User Story acceptance criteria (aka acceptance tests) is very large. The User Storry or effort can be said to be “lopsided.” This is sometimes due to the data heavy nature of SI, and sometimes due to the fact that once the data is in the VP, the VP GUI has numerous ways of viewing that same or similar sets of data. (Of course, the converse can also be a true — a whole lot of data manipulation, but it only shows up in one place in the GUI — that’s just lopsided in the opposite direction)
    5. VP’s usually require extensive configuration that will need to be tested against. This is really no different then finding the right balance of testing as mentioned in the points just above. This also happens in vanilla software teams when the system under development offers a ton of configuration choices. It’s another case where you might end up with lopsided stories.
    6. All of the above happens often in vanilla software teams too — see “Lopsided User Stories” in the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face.
    7. Much more frequent traffic (real time, daily feeds) and volume in those data interfaces, and
    8. Much less knowledge about and control over those data interfaces. (which increases analysis/requirements time/complexity as mentioned in #1 above)
    9. Much higher number and impact from external dependencies on 3rd parties in development coordination, release deployment coordination, and in production support coordination. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is a heavy complexity multiplier that results in less predictability of software schedules.
      1. Even MORE extra complexity and delays here when the 3rd parties are using waterfall.
    10. The upstream/downstream data source challenge happens often in vanilla software teams too. See “Upstream/Downstream Systems”, “Waterfall Organizational Design by Application(WODA), and “External Dependencies”in the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face.
  2. SI Scrum teams tend to have difficulties around writing poor User Story acceptance criteria
      1. This happens often in vanilla software teams too — see “Poor Acceptance Criteria” in the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face.
  3. SI Scrum teams tend to have discomfort around not having “stories” that account for the time spent in refinement, understanding requirements, analysis, and just enough of the design to create proper User Stories with the INVEST attributes.
    1. This happens often in vanilla software teams too — see “Massive Unknowns” in the Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face.

Challenges that are Mostly Unique to System Integration

Now, finally, here are the few challenges that the authors have seen that seem to be mostly unique to SIPV Scrum Teams.

  1. Test automation at the GUI level might be challenging since you may not have as easy access to the undercarriage or GUI of the VP GUI.
  2. SI Scrum teams tend to struggle with incorporating Vendor professional services personnel into their Scrum implementation
    1. This is especially difficult when the vendor is either not Agile friendly or when they want to matrix specialists in and out of the team rapidly like special forces (In Agile we call this “specialist silos”, and it’s waterfall thinking — we want T-shaped skills and long lived team members instead)
    2. Scrum Teams should get to interview and help choose new dev team members, but vendors usually don’t allow for this.
    3. Waterfall thinking in terms of fixed scope/fixed date vendor professional services contracts can misalign with Agile principles.
  3. There is an extremely low amount of “on point” Agile/Scrum literature about how to use Agile/Scrum practices for system integration type work. As we have shown above, many of the Scrum concepts transfer readily, but the literature almost always gives examples from vanilla software development. This can lead to further “snowflake”/ScrumBut thinking (see “The Snowflake Objection” in the Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption)
  4. SIPV teams often feel that their tool is the “Golden Hammer” for all the work related to their domain. For instance, they might be able to solve a particular problem using 15 transformation steps, when they could have written 15 lines of custom code instead, possibly reducing a 6 week story into a 1 week story. This is not a direct threat to Scrum per se, but it can impact a team’s creativity and cause a dysfunction where stories are constantly carrying over from sprint to sprint. Also, it might be a sign that the team is not terribly cross functional, which can cause other complications with respect to Scrum. Last but not least, it could save 5 weeks of dev time and money! –Submitted by Professional Scrum Trainer Jesse Houwing

Top 10 Challenges That Scrum Teams Face

[TODO: Fix Links.  For more info, see: is Moving…]

Below are the top 10 challenges we see Scrum Teams facing in terms of trying to execute and reap business value utilizing Scrum. These problems are faced by all software Scrum teams, whether the teams are doing more straightforward full stack software development, data warehousing, business intelligence, web sites, system integration, etc. All of these types of Scrum teams see these challenges.

  1. Scrum Adoption Challenges At the Org Level: Almost all Scrum Teams struggle due to organizational level Scrum adoption challenges, and many of the below are just specific instance of those challenges. As such, it’s probably a good idea if you go ahead and familiarize yourself with the Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption.
  2. Leadership Refuses to support Scrum and/or Refuses to get Proper Training/Coaching for Scrum Teams: Scrum is night and day different from what you used to do, and because orgs “don’t know what they don’t know”, they often refuse to invest in proper training and coaching. Learning about Scrum is easy. Doing Scrum is incredibly difficult, but it yields a 3-10X success factor, so it’s worth the effort to do it. A training class or coach can accelerate the learning curve by months or even years.
  3. Upstream/Downstream Systems (External Dependencies):
    1. Some software teams have a large presence of upstream and downstream systems and/or data sources. Most software teams have more control of their own data, but the presence of many upstream/downstream systems means the control of the data can be scattered far and wide across the organization. This is often present in companies/orgs that are late adopters to Scrum. See “Waterfall Organizational Design by Application (WODA) in Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption.
      1. In particular, “vertical slicing” in software development, with respect to User Stories, doesn’t seem to be the best metaphor for stories that have a lot of upstream and downstream system dependencies — maybe “end to end” or “expected inputs / expected outputs of the system” or “I/O channels” are better metaphors for those kinds of stories. See this alternative to the typical User Story Slicing model.
    2. While Upstream/downstream systems tend to be the most damaging External Dependencies, there are many other kinds of external dependencies that can be damaging as well. Delays in signoffs from other departments (legal, finance, hardware/software acquisition, marketing, release management, software operations), as well as delays or errors from dependence on skill specialists (architects, dba’s, other component teams, etc) can also damage flow and value delivery.
  4. Creating Releasable Software Every Sprint: Often times a Scrum team will not be able to create a releasable bit of software every Sprint, even though that is strictly required by Scrum. The impediments to creating releasable software are often due to the above and below challenges or due to more organizational level Scrum adoption challenges. Regardless of the source, teams and Scrum Masters across the org need to band together to attack these impediments to creating releasable software every Sprint.
  5. Poor Acceptance Criteria: Many software teams have trouble learning how to create and communicate well structured Product Baklog Items or User Stories that have good acceptance criteria (aka acceptance tests).
    1. Sometimes stories:
      1. Do not describe system boundaries, but instead intermediate steps (aka acceptance criteria that are really technical tasks, so called “technical stories“, or design instead of requirements, etc) or
      2. Have acceptance criteria that is not described in end the user/domain language — but in technical language instead
      3. Do not respect the INVEST criteria
    2. The above challenges can be mitigated by having a Scrum Master or Agile Coach who is strong in User Story practices and technical enough to know the difference between system boundaries and intermediate technical steps. (As always, there are trade offs: having a Scrum Master who is technical can invite technical micromanagement from that technical Scrum Master)
    3. We put this challenge close to the top because it’s usually the first one you want to tackle with a team new to Scrum(after getting some Scrum basics right, of course). The reason this one is so damaging is not about adherence to Scrum practice, but because the failure to adhere to this particular practice means you lose a TON of transparency onto what is working well and what is not working well in your team’s software delivery efforts. Get this one right early on, and you will have maximum transparency. Get it wrong… well…. get it wrong, and you will have just about every challenge on this page, and several of the challenges that didn’t even make this list. (the decrease in transparency makes it much harder to see those challenges — so they will last much much longer too)
  6. PO Unavailability: Many software teams struggle with getting a business side Product Owner who can engage enough with the team. This creates a huge chokepoint in the most important stream of work — the Product Backlog. This spawns off many other anti-patterns. There are several ways to skin this cat, but a good start is making sure the team has a good grasp on the Product Owner role basics, as well as the modern definition of the Product owner role. There are lots of ways to solve this challenge, but they depend heavily on your organizational context and the root cause of your challenge.
  7. Little Access to Users and Key Stakeholders: This is an age old problem in software development, exacerbated by Waterfall habits. The Scrum development team members should have direct access to the users (if they are internal to their org) or at least direct access to user analytics (if users are external to their org). Sometimes built in telemetry and A/B testing can help with understanding the user viewpoint as well. When choosing which Scrum team members to talk to the end users, you definitely want to pick ones with good comm skills as well as coach them to never make forecasts or commitments on when particular functionality will be delivered. The goal is to get super early, super direct feedback from users as early as possible, preferably as early as during the release planning or Product Backlog Refinement process and definitely in the Sprint Review. It’s also worth noting that this challenge, along with “PO Unavailability”, create another large challenge: the Development Team has no idea what business value their Product is delivering. This is very very damaging to the overall effort and wastes a massive amount of product development money.
  8. Scrum Outsiders: People who are outside the Scrum team often attempt to apply Waterfall management practices onto the Scrum team, without recognizing they are almost certainly harming the Scrum Team by doing so. These are usually front line management or project management who has never been to Scrum training and/or never practiced Scrum. These people need to compensate for this lack of experience by doing some deep learning on Scrum, and accept coaching from their Scrum Masters and Scrum Coaches. It’s worth noting that the Scrum Master has a specific duty in Scrum to coach those outside the Scrum team on how best to reap the benefits of Scrum. A good, cheap, entry level learning experience would be for all involved management to get the PSM I certification, which only costs $150 to attempt the cert exam.
  9. Massive Unknowns: Some software teams, during certain development periods in the product’s lifecycle, will go through a period of having a massive amount of unknowns (people, requirements, infrastructure, technologies, green field development, etc). Truth be told, all software development is complex and has significantly large unknowns, so the issue we’re describing here is when there seem to be a massive amount of unknowns. There is often a discomfort on Scrum Teams around not having “stories” that account for the time spent in refinement and discovery understanding these unknowns (discovery, requirements, analysis, and just enough of the design) to create well structured User Stories with the INVEST attributes. Teams will be tempted to create “Analysis Stories”, “Design Stories”, and “Spike Stories” to account for this time, thought this is really just a waterfall habit. (“Technical Stories” is sort of the “broader term” to describe this waterfall habit of feeling the need to create stories for any team activity that takes significant time)
    1. This one is especially damaging because many orgs decide to try Scrum for the first time with a “new project” or major new product development effort. Due to the organizational pressure exerted around such efforts, often times management and teams are very quick to backslide into waterfall thinking and feel the need to create a story to describe every significant activity of the team. This is really just a sign of thinking the Product Backlog in Scrum is the equivalent of a traditional Project Management project plan. That is not what a Product Backlog is at all, and because the Product Backlog is the centerpiece of work in Scrum, this is a particularly harmful anti-pattern that spawns many other anti-patterns. See the discussion on “Treating the Product Backlog like a Project Plan” in the Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption.
    2. 3rd Party Component Analysis/Design: Many software teams choose to use 3rd party proprietary software components (libraries, frameworks, web services, API’s created by another organization or from outside the organization), or even open source components that are not well documented/supported.
      1. These components often behave like black boxes with proprietary bits that are not visible to the component integrators, which creates challenges around how to use the component wisely, This often requires more analysis/design up front about how best to learn and use the component. This work can be folded into Product Backlog Refinement.
  10. Extensive Discovery/Market Research: Some teams have a challenge where more refinement and analysis might be needed than other teams in order to understand the target market for the product. This is especially challenging for product companies that sell software or products to the public.This can be mitigated by having more personnel committed to market research or by having market experts working closely with or on the Scrum Teams. This can also be mitigated by simply having market experts take the time to teach the Scrum Team about the market.


What Now?

You may be asking yourself, or asking us, “Ok, so great, but how do we solve these challenges?”. The best way to solve these challenges is to find people inside or outside of your organization who are heavily experienced and/or heavily certified in Scrum techniques (preferably they have both heavy experience and heavy certification). Obviously we provide those services (see links above), but we don’t want this article to be a sales pitch about us. First, listen to the Scrum Experts in your organization, then partner with them and accept coaching from them. They will lead you down the path that will enable your best understanding of these large challenges to Scrum Teams.

A Few More Challenges

Below are a few more challenges to Scrum Teams that we found to be of interest.

  1. 3rd Party Component Testing: There is a question as to how much testing should be done against the component since in it’s already been tested by it’s creators.
    1. Most teams use a “spot check” mentality when testing includes 3rd party component behavior, with a focus on
      1. More testing on the extensions/glue code that your custom code brings to the table.
      2. Lots of end to end testing that also does “spot checks”
    2. Speaking in terms of the Test Automation Pyramid, this would call for a heavier focus on “Integration” and “UI” testing that is more end to end focused. Both of those higher levels of testing end up using more tools and scripting languages rather than programming languages (programming languages are generally more focused on unit testing ). Compared to Unit testing, “Integration” and “UI” tests are more expensive to create and maintain (but the excellent ROI of automated testing is almost always present once learning curves are dealt with)
  2. Complex Business Domains: Some software teams operate in automating business domains that are extremely complex. Examples are: aerospace, medical, telecom, embedded devices, or domains where compliance rules are complex — banking, security, etc. Examples that might not be as complex are: social media, retail, web sites centered around content, education, etc.
  3. Lopsided User Stories: Most software teams experience situations where a particular User Story seems extra heavy in either the coding or testing effort. A good rule of thumb for the number of acceptance criteria(aka acceptance tests) for a single User Story is somewhere around 3-5, which usually reflects a “little bit of coding”, and a “a few acceptance tests”. However, sometimes one line of code can spawn dozens of acceptance tests, and sometimes a ton of code results in only two acceptance tests. This “lopsided-ness” will also probably heavily influence how you split the story.

Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Adoption

[TODO: Fix Links.  For more info, see: is Moving…]

Organizational change is hard, right? When adopting Scrum in your team, or in your organization, you will often encounter many challenges moving to the new way of thinking. Knowing these challenges helps you improvise, overcome, and adapt to solve these challenges. We’ve been working with Scrum teams since 2008, so our view of the top challenges is certainly colored by our own experiences. We chose not to directly address the “scaled Scrum” (i.e. multiple teams closely coordinating on the same product/system/value stream) challenges. That might be the subject of a future article.

  1. Leadership that Refuses to get Agile Coaching and Training specifically for Leadership
    1. In the “2017 State of Scrum” survey, the #1 most important consideration when adopting Scrum was “Active senior management and support”. #3 was Participation of experienced Scrum trainers and Scrum coaches. The TOP 3 items causing tension between Scrum teams and the wider organization were: Top Down Command and Control management, Resistance to change (by the org), and lack of understanding or support (from the org). The #1 motivator for undertaking an Agile adoption was “Active senior management sponsorship and support.” Related article from Harvard Business Review:
    2. This challenge is best described with a true story we heard from a well respected Agile thought leader.
    • Company: “We want you to come teach your Agile Leadership class, but instead of 2 days, we’d like you to shorten it to a half day.”
    • Very well respected Agile thought leader/trainer: “Why only a half day?”
    • Company: “Our company leadership doesn’t have enough time to sit through a two day class on Agile.”
    • Agile Thought Leader: “Then we don’t have enough time to get involved with your failed Agile transformation, because that’s what will happen. Let us know when your leadership is ready to succeed instead of fail.”
  2. Waterfall Thinking
    1. In the “2017 State of Scrum” survey, the #2 reported Challenge to implementing Scrum was the difficulty of transitioning from Waterfall to Scrum.
      1. Because this anti-pattern is so prevalent, there are many names used to describe this phenomenon: Scrum in Name Only, WaterScrum, Scrummerfall, flaccid Scrum, the Methodology Facade Pattern, Cargo Cult Scrum, Half Baked Scrum, Fake Agile, Faux Agile, FrAgile, Agilefall, Agile Hybrid, waterfall backsliding, waterfall inertia, etc.
        1. The “Agile Hybrid” is one where your organization is sort of thinking halfway in Agile, halfway in waterfall. Some orgs try to blend Agile/waterfall, but that in and of itself is Waterfall Thinking. Agile approaches like Scrum form an ecosystem of interlocking parts. Remove even one of the more important interlocking parts, and the ecosystem will degrade over a period of time and then fail altogether, and it will be an absolute morale killer. Because the failure sometimes takes a while to occur, it is sometimes hard for the Agile beginners to know why it failed.
      2. Note that there are many other spinoffs of waterfall: RUP, Spiral, Iterative, traditional Project Management, and some people even consider Kanban a spinoff of waterfall. So, when we talk waterfall here, we are also speaking of waterfall’s “children” too.
  3. Assuming Agile is quick or easy to Adopt
    1. Many orgs, and indeed some Scrum Coaches, act like a team or an org can adopt Scrum or Agile techniques within a few months, AND reap all of the benefits of Agile in the same time frame. It doesn’t work that way. First you have to learn to walk, then jog, then run, then fly. While a few benefits can accrue early, it often takes months or years to get good enough at these techniques to reap the 3-10X more successful benefits.
  4. Waterfall Organizational Design by Application (WODA) (aka “Too many Component Teams”, creates unmanageable “External Dependencies”)
    1. In the “2017 State of Scrum” survey, the #1 reported Challenge to implementing Scrum was organizational design.
    2. WODA is present in an org where there is a team, dev manager or project manager who “owns” one or more applications (systems/products, etc). in the org. or where applications live in silos and have a ton of upstream and downstream connections to other applications. Features often cross multiple apps, apps owning a particular set of biz logic or functionality. This creates a traffic gridlock pattern in the organization where no one is able to make much progress on anything. While people and teams appear to busy, overall value delivery slows to a crawl and software deliveries are constantly late and impacted by each other. Simply starting to use Agile terminology and practices won’t solve this problem, though it will make the problem much more visible.
    3. The other big problem with WODA is that it often involves dev managers who “own” an application. These app owner dev managers often interfere with the Scrum roles as such:
      1. Interfere with Product Owner: Assigning work to the Scrum Team without going through the Product Owner.
      2. Interfere with the Scrum Master: Allowing Dev Team members to escalate impediments directly to the dev manager rather than to the Dev Team first, then Scrum Master, then the dev manager if needed.
      3. Interfere with Dev Team: These well meaning managers often try to manage day to day tasking or by misinterpreting Scrum artifacts and techniques. Another way to interfere is to use performance appraisals of Dev Team members has a way to maintain command and control authority over the team.
      4. It’s important to note that many of these managers have good intentions. In many ways, these managers are still being judged on their ability to “own” an application or function, so they think they are doing the right thing for the company, but they are not. The root cause of this problem is usually a lack of Agile/Scrum knowledge on the part of the managers and the leadership/people those managers report to (See #1 above). Managers need to learn how to be effective leaders in a Scrum organization.
      5. WODA is a larger version of a strong preference for Component Teams in an organization, again, a Waterfall holdover(hangover?). The org needs to move to Feature Teams instead.
  5. Waterfall Organizational Design by Function (WODF)
    1. In the “2017 State of Scrum” survey, the #1 reported Challenge to implementing Scrum was organizational design.
    2. WODF (just as bad or worse than WODA) is when your organization is trying to do Scrum or be Agile, but the structure of the organization is still designed for waterfall. The worst examples of this are functional silos, where the people in different functions (architecture, programming, testing, UX design, business analysis, project management, release management, DBA) are all in different departments and/or report up to different functional hierarchies. This dysfunction can also present itself as:
      1. Individual functions sit together, rather than cross functional teams sitting together.
      2. Teams that are highly dispersed/remote in multiple locations and timezones rather than being co-located in the same room or Agile Team Workspace. Truth be told, dispersed teams don’t work well in waterfall either.
      3. Misaligned guidance coming down to teams from differing functional hierarchies.
      4. Annual budgeting processes that involve wishful thinking predictions about schedule, scope, and cost.
      5. Too many layers of functional management
      6. Too much authority being projected onto individuals by their functional managers who write their annual performance reviews.
      7. A separate department or team for any of the above mentioned functions. Ideally, in Agile organizations, all of those functions for a particular team would report to the same management regardless of their function.
      8. The other big problem with WODF is that it often involves functional managers who “own” a particular function (Programming, Testing, Arch, etc). These functional dev managers often interfere with the Scrum roles as such:
        1. Interfere with Product Owner: Assigning work to the Scrum Team without going through the Product Owner.
        2. Interfere with the Scrum Master: Allowing Dev Team members to escalate impediments directly to the dev manager rather than to the Dev Team first, then Scrum Master, then the dev manager if needed.
        3. Interfere with Dev Team: These well meaning managers often try to manage day to day tasking or by misinterpreting Scrum artifacts and techniques. Another way to interfere is to use performance appraisals of Dev Team members has a way to maintain command and control authority over the team.
        4. It’s important to note that many of these managers have good intentions. In many ways, these managers are still being judged on their ability to “own” an application or function, so they think they are doing the right thing for the company, but they are not. The root cause of this problem is usually a lack of Agile/Scrum knowledge on the part of the managers and the leadership/people those managers report to (See #1 above). Managers need to learn how to be effective leaders in a Scrum organization.
  6. Waterfall Organizational Design by Matrix (WODM)
    1. In the “2017 State of Scrum” survey, the #1 reported Challenge to implementing Scrum was organizational design.
    2. WODM is essentially a special case of WODA, where a brand new “team” of “silo skill specialists” is assembled for each new “important” project, where the new “team” is formed by cannibalizing members from other existing teams, or worse, by cannibalizing people from other teams by saying things like “you are now dedicated 30% to this new project A, while maintaining your 40% on project B, and 30% on project C). The rest of the problems suffered by this design are described in the WODA section elsewhere in this article.
  7. Big Bang Release Strategy(BBRS)
    1. This dysfunction is characterized by orgs attempting to change to Scrum but keeping the waterfall habits of big bang releases. While some improvement can come to Scrum teams in these scenarios, often the big bang waterfall bias will make these teams operate more like waterfall teams. (aka FrAgile, WaterScrum, etc — see “Waterfall Thinking” above) If your org is planning releases for a single product that span more than ~2 months, you are still doing big bang releases.
    2. Also prevalent in this challenge is the failure to understand vertical slicing of PBI’s/User Stories that have INVEST qualities, Minimum Viable Products, and the inability to recognize the value of incremental software delivery and short feedback loops from end users.
  8. The Snowflake Objection
    1. This is the “Scrum won’t work for us” mindset that usually sounds like “Our team/org/business domain is ‘different’ than everyone else doing Scrum, so Scrum won’t work here without serious modifications. This also known as “ScrumBut,”, “Incorrect Scrum”, etc
    2. Scrum has been proven to work in ALL software development efforts in all industries. Vanilla software development, System Integration, Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, Analytics/Reporting, small orgs, large orgs, external software, SaaS, internal systems — you name it, Scrum works great. Just do a google search and you can find people who have done it and written about it. You can also check out the Scrum Case Studies web site.
      1. A project mindset instead of a Product mindset, and the failure to recognize how early and often value delivery to end users is a huge business advantage of Agile practices
  9. Adherence to Failing/Legacy Project Management techniques
    1. The Iron Triangle. Another key sign of Waterfall Thinking is any kind of preference for fixed date/fixed scope deliverables(aka the “Iron Triangle”). In the Agile space we call this “wishful forecasting” or “wishful thinking”. Software development is an inherently complex activity. Only 14% of Waterfall projects are able to meet the schedule/scope/cost iron triangle. Agile Scrum approaches are 3X as likely to meet the iron triangle, but this still is not a very accurate way of judging software success.
    2. Projects instead of Products. Communicating in terms of “Projects” (Waterfall) rather than Products (Agile) or Product Value Streams (Agile). This is often tied to Waterfall funding mechanisms like Annual Budgeting, and funding projects(Waterfall) instead of teams(Agile) or sets of Teams (Agile).
    3. Treating the Product Backlog like a Project Plan. Many orgs assume that the Product Backlog is a project plan, thus including every single activity on a team that takes time. One huge indicator of this is product backlog items or stories that do not represent software features (Technical stories, Analysis stories, etc) This is a huge misunderstanding. The Product Backlog is a Feature Breakdown Structure (Agile), not a Work Breakdown Structure(Waterfall). It’s focus is on feature delivery times, not tracking everything a team does.
  10. Lack of User/Business Engagement
    1. Especially damaging are these mindsets from business side stakeholders and end users
      1. “You’re doing a rewrite/upgrade — just make it work how the old system worked with a few tweaks, and call us when it’s all done.”
      2. “We’re going to need all of the functionality before it’s useful to us or before we’ll give you feedback. Call us when it’s done.”
      3. “We’re too busy doing our day jobs to collaborate and give feedback to you every Sprint”
      4. “We are on board with Agile, but we don’t have time to participate in that ourselves”

What Now?

You may be asking yourself, or asking us, “Ok, so great, but how do we solve these challenges?”. The best way to solve these challenges is to find people inside or outside of your organization who are heavily experienced and/or heavily certified in Scrum scaling techniques (preferably they have both heavy experience and heavy certification). Obviously we provide those services (see links at top of page), but we don’t want this article to be a sales pitch about us. First, listen to the Scrum Experts in your organization, then partner with them and accept coaching from them. They will lead you down the path that will enable your best understanding of these large challenges to Scrum Adoption.

Also, see our list of Top 10 Challenges to Scrum Teams for some team level challenges.

Some other Challenges

Here are some topics that didn’t make the top 10, but are likely in the next 10 challenges to Scrum Adoption: Dev Manager Mindset Change, Component Team Preference, Failure to Embrace Scrum (CoP, dedicated SM’s, New Career Pathing, etc)Waterfall Annual Budgeting Systems, Managing via Waterfall Metrics, Status Report thinking, Lack of Test Automation Skills, Slow/Dysfunctional Value Streams, Manufacturing Mindset, System Re-Write Death Sprials, Death March Scrum, Technical Debt Buildup, “I” shaped teams/people, Technical Stories, Software that is not Releasable.

%d bloggers like this: