Getting dirty with Scrum

Getting dirty with Scrum


I have been the Scrum Master for this one team for several years. The other day I arrived a few minutes early to the room we use for our daily Scrum and sat down to gather my thoughts before the meeting. I was in the room by myself when I noticed all of the scuffing and marks on the walls.  When we started using this room for our daily Scrum meetings, it was freshly painted and hardly used. Two years later, I am looking at the walls of a well-used room, a room that hosts our daily stand-up meetings… a room that gets dirty.

Seeing the dirt on the walls reminded me of how tactile the whole Scrum process really is. In Scrum, you cannot be afraid to get dirty. You work with your hands, body and mind. When Scrum is done well, the team becomes a well-oiled machine that takes on a personality of its own. The seasoned Scrum team reacts organically to change and knows how to process it.

Good Scrum involves taking yourself out of the virtual world and into the real world. Unlike other software methodologies (waterfall), Scrum is the framework that thrives on continuous hands-on experiences, plus tactile and verbal feedback. It works best when people are engaged and physically involved. Collocation, physical task boards, daily Scrum meetings, and customer collaboration all require the team to be there physically.

The scuffs on the wall reminded me also of how regimented my team is. The scuffs were neatly contained in the same areas of the walls, where each person stands on a daily basis. Everywhere I looked around the room; there were various marks from a team committed to making it work.

The area where I stand was the most scuffed. I tend to put one foot up on the wall while I am standing, causing the wall underneath the chair rail to be completely marked with black and grey shoe scuffs. The regimented routine of meeting every day at the same time drives in a sense of consistency.  We are creatures of habit, standing in the same place day after day.

To get dirty with Scrum means getting involved. You are not really a Scrum Master or a Scrum team if you never tried to use Scrum. Getting dirty involves the transition from an academic understanding of Scrum, to a practical real-world perspective. It means trying something and failing occasionally, learning from the attempt, and adapting.

The Scrum team must act like a sculptor shaping a clay model to be later cast in bronze. The team, like the sculptor, uses many of their senses to accomplish the job. They will evolve the product over numerous iterations. They get both mentally and physically involved in the work and respond to environmental and tactile feedback. Neither the team nor the sculptor needs to sit and map out each turn in the model; they simply get involved.

Getting dirty with Scrum does not mean jumping in without thinking. Committing a team to Scrum and using it incorrectly for an extended period will be costly and waste resource time. Think before acting. Make Scrum work for you and your team. Do not follow Scrum prescriptively; tweak it for your unique situation. At the same time, however, do not customize Scrum to point where it is not recognizable or does not align with core values in the Agile Manifesto.

For this particular team, it often felt like we were getting in the ring with those who did not want us around. Our team was the first of its kind in the organization, and we had to introduce Scrum and look for ways to scale it in a very “waterfall” organization. Sometimes our approach was misunderstood, but ultimately we were able to spread Scrum out from our team and into the organization.

During the growth of Scrum in our organization, our team contrasted with many other teams there. Our team talked, walked and collaborated together as opposed to others sitting in their cubicles with heads down. We could be seen with colored smudges on our hands from the many hours of standing at the white board. On our floor lay the post-it notes that fell off our task board. Our team had a distinctive look, like a team that was comfortable with each other and one that respected each other.

Getting Dirty with Scrum is all about getting involved; from user story creation, to estimating sizes, to collaborating at white board, to decomposing stories, to getting feedback from your customers, to demoing your latest release, to listening to new ideas in a retrospective, to moving cards around on a task board. If you aren’t involved and your hands are always clean, then maybe you need to start getting dirty with Scrum!

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