Help Your Team Overcome Past Scrum Failures

4 Ways to Overcome Past Scrum Failures

When it comes time to begin their Scrum journey, many teams come with baggage. I often hear, “We tried that, and it didn’t work.”  They may have “tried” Scrum before and “it didn’t work.” They may feel Scrum is yet another management fad.

Like unhappy families, team members may come from other teams that failed for different reasons. Here are some ideas a Scrum Master can use to help their new team overcome past Scrum failures. Through positive experience, help your team give Scrum another, successful try:

  1. Lead with empathy. Listen to your team. Learn what didn’t work before and what they most need now. Try to help them address the problem applying Scrum methods. You may have diagnosed different issues with a Scrum lens, but that can wait.
  2. Lean into exceptionalism. The things holding your team back aren’t unique, but who wants to be told that?  Accept and work into their excuses.  You can also build credibility by championing adjustments that use more common sense and are less rule focused.
  3. Celebrate transparency before results. High achieving individuals are accustomed to striving for the great report card.  Your job as Scrum Master is to decouple that dopamine hit from story points and attach it to the act of finding the baseline and ownership.
  4. Stick with basic principles. Scrum done well has any number of tools, and a Scrum Master should be aware of all of them.  With a new or resistant team, focus on the key few that suit your style.  For me, that is keeping Daily Standup short and effective, holding a regular Retrospective, and striving for predictable delivery.  Other things, even scrumly rituals like sizing, may fall away.  The team will discover them anew as they build trust.

I started working with one of my favorite Scrum teams six months ago. They were reluctant to try Scrum because it had been presented as an all or nothing scheme that would add overhead to existing business processes. Some had been burned by personal experience.

At our Director’s urging, they agreed to try Scrum but admonished me to keep it lightweight. Two weeks later, a reorganization placed them under new management, reducing higher level support for Scrum. The team was at a project phase with high scrutiny where work was driven by urgent issues.  The engineers were experts assigned to specific areas and rarely worked across those boundaries. It was an inauspicious time to demonstrate the value of Scrum. Luckily, the front-line manager decided to give it a try anyway.

I charged in with the religious zeal of a Certified Scrum Master confident of winning more converts. After three months, the team remained highly siloed. The Accept/Commit Ratio hovered around 50%. Overall velocity was stubbornly flat. I expected to see the experiment called off.

However, the team understood what they were up against.  They helped me coach them.  I learned about their challenges with deadlines and validation requirements, and about the mix of skills in the team (empathy). Their company-mandated ticket system was poorly adapted to Scrum. Rather than do data entry in another system, they found a way to make it work, and I built a manual dashboard (exceptionalism).  We focused on seeing and improving the trend in our improvised Scrum board through anecdotes of improved focus and collaboration (transparency).  I kept my promise to keep it lightweight and they readily bought into having regular Daily Standups and Retrospectives (basic principles).

Over time, they developed improvements in tracking on their homemade system and in Backlog Grooming. They found ways to share work fairly across projects.  They engaged their validation team and internal customers as a part of the Scrum process.

After more than a dozen Sprints, the team has hit a groove.  Their Accept/Commit Ratio approaches 90%, and they are developing a discipline to baseline and address their interrupt rate.  What’s more, they have maintained their Scrum practice while rapidly adjusting to working virtually in a coronavirus world.  They are now a team that says, “It works for us.”

Emily Hackett

Emily Hackett

Emily Hackett

Emily is a Technical Program Manager working with the Performance Architecture and Analysis team at Intel.  She has been a Scrum Master since 2016 and has also worked as a Release Train Engineer (RTE) in a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) organization and as a functional manager for a highly effective Scrum team. Opinions presented are her own.



Wanted – Guest Bloggers Passionate About Agile



read more

Part 2: Does Perfect Scrum Practice Make Perfect?

3 Reasons Why My Perfect Scrum Teams cannot Make Perfect

Wow! It’s been 9 months since I’ve written a blog post. A lot has happened since I wrote Part 1: Sometimes Change is Really, Really Hard. I’m still at the same client, finishing up a year of agile consulting. Let me fill you in on what’s been happening there.

Before I get started, I’m excited to tell you about what else has been happening since my last post. Last November, I gave a TEDx talk that explains how to Apply Agile Practices in your Life and be Happier. I share my backstory and describe how agile transformed not only my business life but my personal life too.

That TEDx talk was so well received that immediately afterwards, Gerri and I started to develop a 12-week guided workshop that can help anyone achieve their goals through applying agile principles. If you’re interested in learning more about our upcoming FREE goal setting workshop, contact us and we’ll put you on our brand new email list.

Now, back to my agile consulting client.

Part 1 Challenge Update

When I wrote Part 1, my biggest client challenges were:

  • Teams organized without a permanent Product Owner.
  • Project Management Office (PMO) tracking methods at odds with agile methods
  • Poor Release Management practices.

In the last 9 months, I’ve made good progress in these areas.

I was able to influence team organization through my relationship with the PMO. I helped management see the confusion caused by conflicting priorities when Product Owners are assigned to projects and not teams. I’m happy to say that now my scrum teams have a permanent Product Owner to prioritize project requests coming into the team from across the globe.

I locally fixed the tracking methods issue. The PMO still sizes and monitors progress in Dev Days, but now all the scrum teams at our local office have switched to relative story size techniques. After all the stories are sized, I roll up the story points and calculate Dev Days for the PMO. My teams receive the benefits of relative sizing and the PMO gets what it needs for management reports. Win-Win.

Release management is outside my local sphere of influence. Although I could not change the poor release management practices, I report time lost due to these issues in every sprint status report. This way, I quantify the impact to upper management every 2 weeks. Hopefully, someday upper management will see the light.

Perfect Scrum Practice Doesn’t Fix Everything?

Now, we practice scrum the best way possible. We plan Projects, we write Stories, we groom Stories, we plan Sprints, we Standup, we Demo and we reflect through Retrospective. Then why, why, why are my teams not perfect? Because at the end of the day, we’re building software, and we must follow best software development practices too.

Top 3 Reasons Why My Teams Are Still Not Perfect

The top 3 software development practices that prevent my teams from realizing all the gains from perfect scrum practice:

  1. Skip analysis and design as part of Definition of Done (DoD).
  2. Minimal or no unit testing by developers before passing story to testers for verification.
  3. Maintain unstable Develop and Test (Pre-Production) environments.

In traditional waterfall software development, the entire project goes through a systems development lifecycle (SDLC). One phase in the cycle must be completed for all the requirements before continuing to the next phase.

With scrum and other agile frameworks, every story (or small set of requirements) should go through the same SDLC as an entire waterfall project. Agile does not equate to lack of design. In fact, design is even more important with agile projects, which are built story by story. Without a solid design, the team runs the risk of incrementally developing software that does not fit together correctly at the end. Poor design or lack of design also increases risk of technical debt.

When developers don’t take unit testing seriously, the quality of code passed to the testers for verification is low. The initial builds do not produce code that works the first time. Stories go back-and-forth between develop and test. Stories take longer to close. Maybe the team just likes the drama?

Shared test boxes are wholly maintained by the developers and testers instead of Operations. This causes a litany of issues for version control, upgrades and releases. Issues multiply when multiple changes deploy from multiple teams working on multiple projects in multiple countries. Environments break. Many hours, even days, are lost.

Introduce Changes in Software Practice at Retrospective

At every Retrospective, I recommend appropriate changes when problems are discussed that I believe stem from the lack of best software development practices. Every time. Even if crucial practices are not adopted, I continue to teach until my team is ready to learn.

Environment issues cannot directly be be fixed through internal team process improvements, However, Retrospective provides an excellent opportunity to discuss different ways to approach and work with management. Teams can have powerful influence when they manage up.

As consultants, we always hope we can bring our clients from darkness into the light.
I guess that’s not always possible, even with the best intentions. However, continue to make constructive suggestions and find ways to track then report the impact. Telling a consistent story ensures that when teams are ready, they will hear you and take action.

If you have any techniques that you’ve applied in your own practice that could help, please share,

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn

read more

Part 1: Sometimes Change is Really, Really Hard

Or Can This Client be Saved?

I know that I haven’t blogged for a while. My move from Portland, OR to Austin, TX was a big change for me and it took more energy than I anticipated. I’m finally settled and working on a new contract. My current client moved to scrum without training or fully understanding the agile method. Therefore, they transitioned themselves into a bigger problem than any I’ve had in my move half way across the country.

We like to think that businesses hire consultants at the beginning of their agile transition, to ensure everyone understands how to practice scrum and to reinforce the shift to an agile mindset. But, we know that many businesses just start practicing what they call agile or scrum, and they don’t hire consultants until some aspect of their process is so painful they must change or face even more declines in productivity.

I am usually up to the challenge. I’ve been practicing agile scrum for over 10 years now, and I’ve seen many forms of practice. However, in my new back yard, I find myself in the middle of the biggest mess that I’ve faced in my decade long career.

As change agents, we hope to be brought in at the highest levels of the organization, so we can lead with the support of upper management. However, in reality, we are brought in as scrum masters or coaches, working at the team level without access to upper management. Until now, this has not been much of an issue. Scrum is a team sport right?

Right…but…scrum is an application development method. I’ve written many times about how product management, project and program management, and even release management are Forces outside the team. Yet, these Forces impact the team’s ability to practice scrum in the manner necessary to predictably get stuff done and allow them to leave work by 5 pm and not work evenings and weekends.

The Force is not conspiring to ensure my teams can successfully practice scrum.

Here’s my challenge:

  • We don’t have the right team organization. In this case, the Product Owner is not at the right level of authority.
  • The Project Management Office (PMO) processes are at odds with agile methods: project sizing in Dev Days, story sizing in Story Points (maybe) and tracking task work in Hours.
  • Release Management is chaos. Releasing code to Production after acceptance is so time consuming that velocity is drastically impacted.

It’s easy to recognize the root cause of problems and offer suggestions. It’s not so easy to influence upward and convince senior management that the pain of change is less painful than their current situation where almost every project is yellow or red, with unpredictable delivery and disappointed customers.

Is the problem too big for me to solve from the lowly level of scrum master for 2 scrum teams in Austin while working for a major international company? Maybe. We’ll see.

I heard many times that we aren’t given challenges we can’t handle. So for now, I accept.

I continue to train and encourage my own scrum teams to correctly practice scrum in a way that allows them to be successful in this crazy environment. I am helping them learn how to write better stories, size in story points, use their voice to accept or not to accept a story for sizing or into the sprint backlog, and to time box. Our goal is determine a realistic sprint velocity.

I work with the local Engineering Manager and the PMO Director to outline symptoms, root cause and potential solutions to problems. This is the first step to influencing upward.

I have offered to train as many teams as possible in the GSD Scrum Method, our real world application of scrum. None of the teams have received formal training or coaching.

This is my first in a series of posts outlining my journey.

Hopefully, it’s not too late and I am truly up to the task.

I appreciate any and all suggestions.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn

read more

How Agile Does Your Team Need to be When You First Transition to Scrum?

Your First Transition to Scrum May Need to Evolve in Stages

Are you having trouble with your transition to scrum? Is it difficult to get everyone on board with the agile mindset? Sometimes it’s better to just dive in, do what you can and work out the kinks as you go along. We’re agile, right? Don’t overthink it. We can help our co-workers become more agile as we work through the process.

However, just because you don’t practice every aspect of scrum at start of your team’s transition, does not mean we advocate a hybrid approach. We recognize that ripping off the waterfall bandaid can be painful. So, sometimes you have to start without 100% understanding and buy in.

Don’t wait. Keep your eyes on the prize. The ultimate goal is to practice all aspects of scrum, but first recognize that scrum is a continuous learning method.

I recently worked on a project where the development team complained that the business kept changing their minds about requirements, even through final user acceptance testing. Sounds familiar, right? We all know that in the waterfall world change should be avoided this late in the game. The first phase of the project wound up delivered 6 months late. And guess what? The business still wanted more changes.

I suggested to the team that the second phase begged for an agile approach. So, for the next round of enhancements, which were significant, we went agile. Phase 2 was already underway when we made this decision, but we scrambled anyway to transition to scrum.

We set up Jira as the tool to manage the work. We planned for our first sprint by walking through the high-level requirements and defining the epics and potential stories. To be honest, it wasn’t pretty. The team kept trying to create stories out of tasks instead of deliverables. I spent a lot of time reiterating the concept of slices rather than layers (check out Chapter 3 of the GSD Handbook about story writing).

Our first sprint actually took us about 4 weeks to adjust to the new 2-week sprint format. We didn’t close any stories for the first 4 weeks. However, it was amazing how the daily standups served to bring the team together and smooth the work into an efficient rhythm. The product owner was engaged, the tester stayed involved with everything that was going on, and the development team began to flourish. A forum to ask questions and receive immediate answers to questions saved a ton of rework. In the end, implemented a significant number of large enhancements in almost half the time it took us with the original effort.

Now, as we begin to prepare for our next project together, we are formalizing our team contract and retrospectives. We now are ready to practice the scrum ceremonies as intended. Phase 2 was considered a success and the team is excited about scrum and agile.

Everyone agreed that jumping in (kicking and screaming) to become agile helped the team transition to scrum and adopt and agile mindset, which now everyone can see pays great dividends.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear them!

Gerri Slama Grove

Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove


read more

Core Project Management Functions must Continue after Transition to Scrum

Who on your Scrum Team should Perform these Core Project Management Functions?

You’ve convinced your bosses to let you introduce Agile Scrum into your company and you’ve picked your pilot project. You gathered your team, trained them, you’ve enlisted an enthusiastic Product Owner, and now you are ready to rock.

As you get a couple of Sprints under your belt, you begin to realize some Project Management functions that were performed by a PM in the waterfall world may still be needed. What are they and who performs them now that you’re Agile?

  • Financial Reporting: How much will this feature set cost?
  • Risk Management: Who tracks risks and issues?
  • Documentation: Do we still need documentation and if so, who writes it?

Here at GSD Mindset, we have some practical ideas on how to approach this.

Financial Reporting

There are very few organizations that give you a pile of money and tell you to go have fun. Today, most companies want an accounting of how funds have been allocated. In the waterfall world, Project Managers report out the status of the monthly budget, using techniques like Earned Value to calculate where you are in relation to money spent.

Now that you’re Agile, good Project Management dictates that you still need to keep a financial accounting. In fact, many companies require careful accounting as a legal requirement. It’s not so hard to track and forecast expenses when you transition to Scrum.

After a few Sprints, you use Velocity to determine how many Story Points you can complete in a Sprint. If you know your monthly team budget, you can also calculate the average cost per Story Point. Multiply that cost to the estimated Story Points for the remaining Stories in your backlog for each Feature or Epic and now you have a rough idea of the amount of funding required to complete the remainder of the project.

Keeping on top of the financials will go a long way toward keeping management happy.

Who should track financials? Since calculating cost is similar to calculating Velocity, we believe this is a task best performed by the Scrum Master.

Risk Management

With Scrum, you should have less risk, because you deliver more frequently to customers, but that does not mean you can quit tracking and analyzing risk when you transition to Scrum. There are many ways to identify and track risks now that you are Agile. I find MindTools article on Risk Analysis and Risk Management helpful. 

Risk analysis and assessment should be a team effort. The Scrum Master should lead the discussion during Sprint Planning and conduct a quick checkup at Standup half-way through the Sprint.

Check out our blog post Reduce Risk on a Scrum Team for more ideas.


Most software folks are loathe to create documentation. This goes for writing User Guides and Specs all the way down to including Comments in lines of code. Documentation is an important tool to help future users understand what it’s all about. Documentation is a necessary Evil for those of us who remain in a world where our projects are audited. Even in Scrum, we follow a process and our implementation of that process may be audited.

The level of documentation should be decided at the beginning of the project. There are many tools to help you decide and document the minimal amount of documentation your project should require. Many companies today have Project Management Offices (PMOs), and they provide either written guidance or a tool for capturing this list. The final list of necessary documentation should be a part of your Definition of Done.

Once you’ve determined what needs to be written, you need to figure out who’s going to write it. Writing documentation is the responsibility of the entire team. The task to write or update documents should be included as part of the the Story. Because Stories are small changes to functionality, the level of documentation for each Story will be small compared to the size of documents completed at the end of large waterfall projects.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you figure out how best to tackle other traditional project management tasks that may be missing from your Scrum Team practices. Remember, it’s all about teamwork, team empowerment, and team accountability, so figure this out together as a team.

For more advice on how to transition more traditional project management roles, I recommend our blog post Agile Teams Still Need Traditional Support.



Gerri Slama Grove

Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove

read more