Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Scrum is not for everyone

Some adoptions of Scrum won’t be too effective or simply fail at the studio or individual level. Conditions at a studio might not be at the right place to adopt Scrum. Some teams won’t take ownership of their work. Some leaders want to micromanage within a Sprint. Some team members refuse to participate in any team activity (such as a daily Scrum).

Many times adoption failure happens because studios don’t want to face the cost that fundamentally changing their culture might be. For example, there is a level of employee turnover that can occur adopting Scrum. Studios can expect to lose an average of 5% of their people when they adopt Scrum. More if they have a strong “command and control” culture. Some of these people will be valuable. They will leave because they don’t believe in the Scrum vision.

There are many reasons why people might leave or be let go. Let’s take a look at one common occurance.

Occasionally, the teams will “self organize people off the team”. This occurs between Sprints when teams are allowed to change their membership. Poor performers or poor team players can be “voted off the island” by the rest of the team. Some may view this as a potential HR nightmare, but it is necessary to allow teams to truly take ownership and make a commitment to their work. It can also be valuable for the person being ejected from the team. In most cases I have seen, this event is a true “wake up call” for the person told to leave the team. Usually this person has ignored years of management feedback about their poor performance or teamwork. However being ejected from a team cannot be ignored. It is a strong statement from a group of your peers.

At this point, another team has to be found that is willing to have this person join. They have to be made aware of the issues that led to their ejection from the last team. Teams cannot be forced to accept people they don’t want. The reason for this is you can’t expect a team to take full ownership and commitment in their work if they don’t have control over their own membership.

45% of time this person corrects the issues and becomes a valuable member of another team. Another 45% of the time, they find a team where the chemistry is better (you can’t ignore the fact that team chemistry is important). The remaining 10% of the time they move to another team which then has to eventually ask them to leave again. After a few ejections, it’s common to find that no other team will accept this person on their team. It becomes management’s duty to let this person go from the company. Sometimes the person gets the message and leaves on their own accord before this happens.

I’ve only seen this happen a few times. It’s unfortunate, but it makes a statement to the teams; they control their destiny. They are responsible and have the necessary authority to make changes to improve their performance. Failing to create these conditions for a team can lead to valid excuses not to achieve their potential. “We’re stuck with so-and-so and have to live with it” is a common refrain by teams that can’t self organize. They feel helpless to effect the change they need and therefore can’t achieve a high level of commitment.

When you see the performance of teams that achieve their potential you stop questioning the value of these practices. It does take a leap of faith to allow these practices into your studio. Sadly, some don’t take this leap and don’t realize the potential of hyper-productive teams.

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