Large Scale Agile and Scrum vs. Waterfall: Agile is 6X More Successful, 1/4 the Cost, and 10X Faster Payback!

A pair of recent findings from the Standish Group confirm the astonishing success and cost savings of Agile approaches over waterfall.

In the “Chaos Report 2015“, Standish found that large Agile projects are 6X more successful than waterfall projects.  While Standish doesn’t get specific on what is a “large” project, it’s worth noting that “Large” is the biggest size category for projects and their data encompasses over 10,000 software projects.

In a new report called  The Money Pit, The Standish Group studied two very similar large software projects, done at two very similarly sized, mature companies.  One project was done with Agile, and one with Waterfall.  The astounding results they found:

  • The Agile project was 4X cheaper than the cost of the equivalent waterfall project, AND
  • The Agile project was “delivered with high user satisfaction,” while the waterfall project “had a watered-down critical function and the high-value feature was not part of the delivered application.”, AND
  • The Agile Project’s payback was “At the end of two years the application costs were fully paid back and the users were highly proficient” while the waterfall organization estimated the system payback would “break even in 20 years”
* Note that the activities depicted on the graph were done sequentially via waterfall, but iteratively via Agile.

It should also be noted that a survey from Forrester Research showed that of all companies attempting Agile, some 90% are using Scrum.

Just to re-iterate — 6X more successful, cost payback 10X faster, and 4X cheaper.  How is that for Better, Faster, Cheaper?

At, we provide coaching, consulting, and training solutions to help your company achieve the astounding success of Agile and Scrum approaches.  Contact us today for a free consultation.

So, if you’re an organization that is doing waterfall or struggling with Agile, what are you waiting for?  The research is overwhelmingly in favor of Agile and Scrum approaches.  Get on the road to millions more in profit and cost savings.  No seriously, what are you waiting for?

The New New Product Owner: The Product Visionary

In my previous post, I discussed the New New Product Owner as The Product Marketplace expert.  In this post, we explore the “Product Visionary” focus area.

The Product Owner is the chief product visionary. The PO should be able to clearly articulate the product vision to the Scrum Team and key stakeholders, and how that vision aims to maximize the value of the product and of the work the Scrum Team performs.
POFocusAreas_NewNewPOThe PO should communicate and re-iterate this vision early and often, reminding all involved of how to help maximize value.

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Product Owner role(the course is also great for key stakeholders!), see our Professional Scrum Product Owner class and contact us if you’re interested in one.

Utilizing the underlying empirical product planning features of Scrum, the PO should also be ready to make strategic pivots for the product vision whenever there are significant changes in how value can or likely be captured. This vision is brought to life in a more tactical way, via the Product Backlog and iterating towards that vision every Sprint.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the New New Product Owner as the Release Decision Maker.

A Response to Mike Cohns Comments on 64% of Software Features Rarely or Never Used

I have a saying.  “Scrum Trainers usually agree on 99% of Scrum, but they spend a lot of time debating the other 1%.”

Let me say this first.  I’m a huge fan of Mike Cohn.  I teach Scrum and Agile classes all over the country at Fortune 50 companies, and it is very rare for a class to go by that I won’t mention at least one of his awesome books on Scrum.  I also recommend him on my list of favorite Agile resources on one of our web sites.  In addition to all of this, I’ve had numerous personal interactions with Mike one on one, and he’s always been extremely nice to me, traded professional practice opinions/advice, and he even offered to let me attend one of his classes at a “trainer courtesy” discount one time.  Great guy!  In summary, I like the guy a lot personally, and I highly respect him professionally.  He’s done a ton for the software and Agile industry, and no one should forget that.

So, with that said, let’s get back to that 1% debate.  🙂

In his recent blog post, Mike reveals some little known details about the oft cited 64% of features that are rarely or never used in software systems.  His information is factual and likely true.  I’m ok with all of that.

What I don’t understand is, why bother broadcasting this?

This is one of the most credible studies available on the subject.  If you think hard about this data for a minute, you’ll realize why it is incredibly difficult to obtain… No company wants to admit that there is a TON of bloat in their software!  But, what percentage of Microsoft Excel/PowerPoint/Word features do you use and benefit from?  What percentage of Rally features do you actually use and benefit from?  Bloat bloat bloat, negative value, negative value, negative value.   In my recent articles on the New New Product Owner, I’ve talked about the need for the New New Product Owner to be a marketplace expert, so that they can maximize the value and profits from software development for their company.

Now, the value equation is way more complicated than “rarely or never used”, but still, I think we all know that there is a TON of negative ROI functionality in any non trivially sized application, and there is a TON of software teams with far too little focus on value and profits.  Anyone who has worked on the front lines of software development knows that.  The oft cited study just helps confirm some of our suspicions.  One of our Agile Metrics consulting services at is helping to give company leaders even more transparency into how to extract more profits and cost savings out of all of their software development efforts, whether they be internal or external systems.  Give us a call if you’re interested.

What makes that limited study useful as a teaching tool is it gets people to think about value, and think about low value, low ROI features, and realize that value delivery is important, far too important to ignore.

Newer Study confirms the same idea!

Further, Standish again re-iterated this point in 2014, ostensibly from wider data: — “Standish Group research shows that 80% of features and functions have low to no value.”

There are other “studies” cited in our industry that are totally bogus, software leprechauns if you will, and I’m totally against relying on those.  Things like the “Cone of Uncertainty” and the so-called “Weinberg study” on task switching have shown to be totally made up.  However, the Standish Group study is real, with real data, and it is highly credible, even if somewhat limited in its scope.

So, Mike wants us to stop citing the study, or for us to caveat it with “in the weeds” details.  Of course, that will just confuse those new to Scrum and the teaching value would be lost.  And people would focus less on software value and profits.  I don’t think that’s good.  I’m totally open to hearing about a more credible public study, but I’m unaware of one. 

With all due respect to a friendly colleague, and one of the best Scrum trainers on the planet, I think ignoring or caveating the 64% study is bad for the industry.  Let’s just put this in the 1% bucket that we as Scrum trainers will agree to disagree on.  🙂

If you’d like to disagree with my contrarian view, feel free to sound off in the comments below!

The New New Scrum Master: Two Main Focus Areas

I’m going to take a break from talking about the New New Product Owner to talk about the New New Scrum Master now.

Preface:  In the last 4 years, the Scrum Guide has had two very significant updates, including updates to the Scrum Master Role. In this article and the series that follows, I attempt to describe “The New New Scrum Master” role in Scrum.

The Scrum Master role has not changed as much in recent Scrum Guide updates as much as the Product Owner.  In many ways, however, what has changed, is the number and higher frequency of misconceptions about the Scrum Master role.  This is, in my opinion, due to late adopters to Scrum who don’t take the time or money to attend proper and professional Scrum training.  Yes, this appears to be a completely self serving statement since I’m a Scrum Trainer.  However, the bigger, and more important reason this statement is true, is because Scrum is a much deeper topic than people think.  We often use the metaphor of the difference between a Chess player who knows how the different chess pieces move, and a Chess player that has extensive experience and knowledge about how to be excellent at the strategy and techniques of Chess.  There is a vast difference between those two ends of the spectrum, between knowing the rules and being able to excel at winning.  With Scrum, people and organizations vastly underestimate just how long that spectrum is.  All you have to do to confirm this is to witness or hear about a Scrum adoption that is horribly painful or not working.    So, my hope is that we can clear up some misconceptions for the New New Scrum Master and help reduce some pain and increase some profits!

The two main focus areas for the New New Scrum Master are:

  • Teaching and coaching the organization on how to achieve the benefits of Scrum, and
  • Removing impediments that are beyond the reach of the Development Team.

For brevity’s sake, we will shorten these to “teach/coach” and “remove impediments.”

All of the other Scrum Master focus and duties derive from the above two focus areas.

For a high quality class that focuses exclusively on the Scrum Master role(the course is also great for management), see our Professional Scrum Master class and contact us if you’re interested in one.


One of the main focus areas for the New New Scrum Master is teaching and coaching the organization on how to achieve the benefits of Scrum.  Let’s talk about how this might be done.

The New New Scrum Master knows the “Why’s” behind Scrum.
In my experience, Scrum Masters would do well to understand the benefits of Scrum on several levels, before worrying about specific teaching or coaching techniques.

First and probably foremost, the Scrum Master should understand and *be able to succinctly communicate* the *business* benefits of Scrum to the organization. It is important to to be able to communicate these benefits succinctly because, in the wider organization, the Scrum Master will very often be given 5 minutes or less to convey them.

Each Scrum Master should have their own such list of benefits memorized, but certainly some of them should be:

  • Faster time to market
  • Quicker ability to pivot to market opportunities and competitor threats.
  • Higher Customer Satisfaction
  • Higher Productivity
  • Higher Transparency
  • Better Predictability
  • Better alignment between the business and software teams
  • And the list goes on…

A good study of the 11 key metrics in “Evidence Based Management” will help you to be aware of some of the business benefits, but come up with some of your own.  Make it yours!

Being able to rattle a good handful of these off, and then being able to *explain succinctly* how different sub parts of Scrum support these goals should certainly be in the New New Scrum Master’s toolbox.  When facing an organization that has not been to proper Scrum Training, be sure not to use too much Scrum speak — keep it very simple and mostly devoid of Scrum terminology.  Also, definitely focus on the business benefits of Scrum that align with organizational desires and goals.  The more you can point to those higher organizational desires the more buy-in you’ll likely get from those higher in the organization!

The New New Scrum Master should also be able to communicate the benefits that will appeal more to those on and around the team, such as:

  • Benefits to Development Team members
  • Benefits to Business Stakeholders
  • Benefits to Product Owners

Again, the same advice as above, be ready to rattle off a list, be ready to explain how different parts of Scrum support each of the list items, and be ready to avoid Scrum terminology for those who haven’t had proper training.

Knowing the “Why’s” behind Scrum will help convince others of “why” to pay attention to your teaching and coaching.  Notice I said “help convince” — it will likely take much more than that, but knowing these benefits is a “must have” for those conversations.

Knowing the “Why’s” behind Scrum is just one aspect of “teach/coach.”  Don’t misunderstand me, teaching and coaching is actually more than just teaching and coaching — using those two terms is simply a way to oversimplify this focus area.  You might also want to mentor, advise, and facilitate at times.  But even those things can fall under “teach/coach.”  We’ll explore this more in future posts.

Removing Impediments

The second New New Scrum Master focus area is removing impediments that are beyond the reach of the Development Team.

There is a common misconception that the Scrum Master is responsible for removing *all* impediments for the Development Team.  While the Scrum Guide is a little vague on this subject, it is somewhat hard to articulate the fine balance between the Scrum Master’s duty to remove impediments, and the Development Team’s responsibility to self-organize. This misconception drives a lot of failure in Scrum implementations.  We’ll explore this more in future posts.

The metaphor I like to use here is “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  When respecting and coaching on the Development Team’s obligation to self organize, it is important for the New New Scrum Master to realize when is the right to time to give the fish, and when is the right time to teach to fish.  The answer is usually the latter, but sometimes the former.

Remember:  Teach/Coach, and Remove Impediments

I have thought about this a lot, and have even conferred with my fellow Scrum coaches on this.  Pretty much all of the responsibilities of the New New Scrum Master boil down to the two focus areas of “teach/coach” and “remove impediments.”

In future articles, I will go deeper on each of these two focus areas.

In the meantime, do you think any Scrum Master duties cannot effectively fall under those two focus areas?  If so, what are they?  Sound off in the comments below!

User Stories – Focusing on Conversations instead of Writing – Gojko Adzic’s New User Story Book

In my recent article on telling user stories instead of writing user stories, I mentioned that many Scrum Teams focus way too much on documentation and way too little on good collaborations.

More support for this concept comes from the first chapter in Gojko Adzic’s new User Story book, Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve your User Stories.

User stories imply a completely different model: requirements by collaboration. Hand-overs are replaced by frequent involvement and discussions…. If requirements are just written down and handed over, this discussion does not happen. Even when such documents are called stories, by the time a team receives them, all the important decisions have already been made…. Try telling stories instead of writing down details. Use physical story cards, electronic ticketing systems and backlog management tools just as reminders for conversations…Engage business stakeholders and delivery team members in a discussion, look at a story from different perspectives and explore options. That’s the way to unlock the real benefits of working with user stories.

Gojko has been nice enough to publish the “Tell stories, don’t write them” chapter available completely free here!  It is also important to note, that this chapter is tip #1 in his book, as it really sets the stage for the best use of the User Story practice.

The User Story practice was always intended as a very close, verbal collaboration between the Dev Team and the PO/Customer. In modern times, you can achieve this very easily with good Product Backlog Refinement practices.

Anyway, it’s totally worth another five minutes of your time to read Gojko’s free chapter, and be sure to share it with your teams and organizations too!

To maximize your Scrum and User Stories practice, bring us into your company to deliver coaching or our User Stories Class.

Terminology: Definition of Done vs. Acceptance Criteria

I’ve seen many folks imply that

  • The Definition of Done(DoD) is defined per story(or per Product Baklog Item(PBI), if you will)

or said another way:

  • The Definition of Done is different for each story.

I don’t agree with this.

There is a subtle but important difference between the Definition of Done and Acceptance Criteria.  It is summarized as follows:

Definition of Done:

  • The term applies more to the product increment as a whole
  • In most cases, the term implies that the product increment is shippable
  • The term is defined in the Scrum Guide
  • Used as a way to communicate the following to the PO
    • Overall Software Quality
    • Whether the increment is shippable or not

Acceptance Criteria
(aka Acceptance Tests, Conditions of Satisfaction, in some cases “Test Cases,” etc)

  • The term applies to an individual PBI/Story
  • The Acceptance Criteria are different for each PBI/Story
  • Term is not defined in the Scrum Guide
  • Used as a way to communicate to all involved that the requirements for a particular PBI/story have been met

If you wanted to, I guess you could say that part of the Definition of Done for any Sprint is that each PBI/Story in the product increment meets that PBI’s specific acceptance criteria.

However, I don’t know if you could definitely say that the converse is also always true:  “Each PBI must also meet the Definition of Done.”  For instance, one could decide that these things be part of the Definition of Done, but not be part of the acceptance criteria for each individual PBI:

  • Performance Testing on the integrated product increment
  • Exploratory testing on the integrated product increment in a test environment
  • Exploratory testing in a Staging/Pre-production environment

My concern is with people using “Done” and “Definition of Done” like terminology to describe when a Story meets its acceptance criteria, or that somehow the DoD is different for every Story.  The DoD needs to be broadly applied to the increment as a whole, and should stay relatively constant.  Of course, as teams update their DoD(hopefully improving it!), things will change, but it shouldn’t be different for each Story.  Also, when the DoD changes, it is imperative that it be well communicated to all on the Scrum Team, and especially the PO.

If you want a term to describe when a Story meets its acceptance criteria, maybe “complete” or “accepted” are better terms than “done.”

Bad Smells of the Daily Scrum

Are your Daily Scrums not satisfying you?  Does something just feel wrong?  Maybe your Daily Scrum has a bad smell.  I define a “bad smell” as any symptom in a process that possibly indicates a deeper problem.  It doesn’t always mean the bad smell is indicative of a true problem, but most times it is.

Bad Smell:  Discussions or Trying to Resolve Obstacles in the Daily Scrum
Identifying obstacles in the Daily Scrum is ok, trying to resolve them is generally not.  A better way to handle obstacle resolution is to have informal follow-on conversations with those that have an interest in resolving the obstacle.  Some teams simply keep a list of identified obstacles.  Then when the Daily Scrum is officially over, they immediately go into a recurring “obstacle resolution” meeting.  In the obstacle resolution meeting, members are free to sit down, find a conference room, or just stay standing by their Scrum board.  Hopefully someone on your team is good at managing these obstacle meetings (often the ScrumMaster).  Some ScrumMasters will prioritize the obstacles discussions by those that require the most people in attendance, and then work their way down the list until there is really no need for a large group to assemble.  It is important, though, the obstacles get resolved.

Bad Smell:  Obstacles Identified in Daily Scrum but rarely solved in any reasonable time frame
It’s important that someone makes sure obstacles are removed.  If no one else on the The Team takes the lead in this, then the responsibility falls upon the ScrumMaster as “obstacle remover in chief.”  I coach teams and ScrumMasters to encourage individual Team members to take the lead in resolving their own obstacles, as they’re often the most likely decision makers anyways.

Bad Smell:  Always Postponing Obstacle Identification until Daily Scrum
New Scrum teams often decide that if they find an obstacle at 2pm, they’ll wait until the Daily Scrum (and possible follow on obstacle meeting) to identify and attempt resolution.  This is extremely inefficient.  The better practice is for that team member to round up the right people on their team and try to resolve the obstacle immediately.  You’ll notice this bad smell when your list of obstacles in the Daily Scrum starts to be large.

Bad Smell:  Team updates tasks on Scrum board during Daily Scrum
This one is really stinky.  Updating tasks during the Daily Scrum is a bad practice because a) chances are you did not just finish that task, so the board has been out of date for hours, and b) your task update will not be reflected in the Sprint Burndown.  Just think, if everyone did this, your Sprint Burndown would always be 2-12 hours behind, and be inaccurate by a large margin.  The Sprint Burndown is meant to be current at least once a day, and the Daily Scrum is the perfect time to optimize and refocus based on what the burndown is telling you.  Many teams make a policy that the burndown is updated by a certain time, usually 15 minutes to an hour or so before the Daily Scrum, so someone has the time to update the Burndown and the team will be looking at near real time data in the Daily Scrum.

Bad Smell:  Burndown not highly visible at Daily Scrum
This one is also stinky.  How do you know if the team is probably ahead or probably behind?  Sometimes the board will indicate this, but sometimes it won’t.  Make it visible, and hopefully you’re not thinking an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper is “highly visible”.  That’s better than no burndown at all, but a 2ft by 2ft or larger display is what I consider highly visible.  Other burndown tips:  Keep it simple, do it with marker and paper or on a whiteboard, experiment with multiple types of burndowns, plot it manually, and don’t feel like you have to have a discussion about the burndown every day.  If your actual burndown is within your ideal number(assuming you burn down hours) by 10-15%, then there is no reason to make a big deal about it.

Bad Smell:  The PO never attends the Daily Scrum
Ok, so the Scrum Guide doesn’t say the PO has to attend the Daily Scrum.  That’s true, but I consider it a bad smell when the PO never comes to it.  They should at least try to attend 2-3 times a week.  The best PO’s come every day they are possibly available, and they usually also report status in the “Yesterday, Today, Obstacles” format as well.

Bad Smell:  Team Member X seems to go on forever during the Daily Scrum
It happens, some people are longwinded, mostly a carryover from old school daily staff meetings.  Some teams decide to add the word “done” to their format, so it becomes “What I got done yesterday, What I will get done today, and What obstacles are in the way of me getting to done.”  The point of the three questions is to give a summary, not every last detail.  Some teams set a maximum time limit for each person, so that could work too.  One suggestion I give to new teams is to have the ScrumMaster hold up a yellow card (or sticky) when someone seems to be getting too detailed or breaking some other rule of the Daily Scrum.  One of the reasons this might be occurring is because the Team has broken so many other rules of the Daily Scrum (having discussions, resolving obstacles) that this person feels it’s just fine and peachy to be longwinded since everyone else is.

Bad Smell:  No one prevents the meeting from getting off focus or being too long
This is probably the stinkiest of them all.  Short and sweet, that should be the goal.  The ultimate responsibility for this falls on the ScrumMaster’s shoulders, but like everything else, The Team itself is also responsible for optimizing their Daily Scrum, so any team member can act to make sure the meeting stays on focus, not just the ScrumMaster.

May the Sprint be with you. 🙂

© 2010 Charles Bradley.  All Rights Reserved.

About the author:Mr Bradley is an experienced Scrum Coach, Certified ScrumMaster, and Certified Professional ScrumMaster I.  In addition to his Scrum credentials, Mr. Bradley is also a highly capable, full lifecycle experienced, software development team lead that prefers XP for good engineering practices.   He is Sun Certified in Java, and has  13 years of experience in J2EE application development across all tiers.  More recently he has also picked up some good C# experience as well.  In his spare time, he enjoys driving his wife crazy by talking about Scrum, especially when he refers to his “honey do” list as his “personal backlog” and asks his wife to prioritize her requests.  He lives in Denver, Colorado, and he is easily found on LinkedIn.

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