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Agile and Scrum: Unravelling the Misconceptions

July 25, 2023

Agile and Scrum: Unravelling the Misconceptions

As a Scrum.org trainer, we often come across common misconceptions about Agile and Scrum. The red flags we hear of misalignment and misconceptions when exploring folk's current understanding and definition of Agile and Scrum.  Here are a few but certainly not an exhaustive list:

Agile:

  • Agile is thought of as a methodology.
  • Focus is on new agile tools and practices, not understanding the why, the mindset, and achieving business agility.
  • Neglect on customer collaboration and feedback.
  • Neglect on self-organisation and enabling cross-functional teams.
  • Agile eliminates the need for planning or documentation.
  • Resistance to change and sticking to traditional processes.

Scrum:

  • Scrum is thought of as a methodology.
  • Scrum is an agile project management system 
  • Scrum is breaking work down into small tasks to be delivered faster.
  • Focus is on features being delivered rather than the value being delivered (Feature Factory)
  • No Valuable Usable (Done) increment at the end of each Sprint.
  • No validation happens once an increment (product) is released to the market.
  • Unaware of the true purpose of the Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective.
  • Scrum is applicable for software development only.

These misconceptions underscore the importance of developing a comprehensive understanding of Agile and Scrum beyond superficial practices. It's essential to recognize that Agile is all about fostering business agility. In other words, to adapt and respond to change to deliver value in a fast-moving customer-centric market. Without a solid grasp of this crucial concept, the true essence of Agile and Scrum might remain elusive.

In this blog, we look to explore and clear up some common misunderstandings about Agile and Scrum, which we hear in our Scum training. We'll review some key concepts to help to dispel any confusion. And give you enough to have a far better understanding of the core concepts and help smash those misconceptions into touch.

In our experience, we have found these misconceptions about Agile and Scrum can really hinder the benefits they can bring. So, if you have any of these misconceptions, then this going to help.

Let's dive in and start with Understanding Agile first.

What is Agile?

Agile refers to a mindset, not a set of procedures or tools. In 2001 the Agile Manifesto for Software Development was introduced to encapsulate a new way of thinking with 4 values and 12 principles on how to deliver software products better. Although it had its roots in software development, its values and principles have since expanded to cover various areas beyond just software development.


At the heart of Agile lies a value-driven approach, putting customer satisfaction front and centre. Its main goal is to deliver high-quality products, or services, effectively and efficiently to the market so we can get feedback (validation) from customers. Agile deeply understands the significance of creating real value for customers and strives to align all efforts with their needs.

The Agile Onion

To help understand Agile better and its real purpose, we find it useful to explore the Agile Onion. This helps give us a visual representation that really encapsulates the essence of Agile. It highlights that Agile is not merely about tools or practices, but involves a deep-rooted shift in thinking and behaviour.

Agile Onion

The Agile Onion comprises of five interconnected layers:

  • Tools and Processes: The most visible, yet least influential aspects of Agile when applied in isolation. Examples are Jira, Azure, Whiteboards & Sticky Notes, etc.
  • Practices: Specific practices used in an Agile environment. These become effective when they align with Agile principles and values. Examples are Scrum, Kanban, XP, Story Mapping, etc
  • Principles: The guiding rules derived from the Agile Manifesto which prioritize aspects like valuing individuals and interactions, and embracing change. For example, committing to finishing work before starting, release early and often, etc.
  • Values: The foundational beliefs that build an Agile culture, include trust, respect, courage, and equal voice.
  • Mindset: The innermost layer of the onion is the Agile mindset. It's about fostering a collaborative and transparent environment and promoting adaptability.


Understanding the Agile Onion helps us surpass the allure of cool tools and practices. While they can be important enablers, the essence of Agile lies in its outer rings—the principles and values that drive mindset and behaviour. Embracing these principles and values is key to unlocking the full potential of Agile in your organization and teams. In other words, start with the "Mindset" and work inwards...

Misconceptions About Agile

One of the major misconceptions we hear too often is that Agile is a methodology or a project management approach. However, Agile is neither. It is a mindset underlined by the values and principles that shape the way we work and interact, with a product-oriented and outcome-driven approach over a project-oriented and output-driven one.

The agile mindset is to focus on delivering value to customers, collaborating with stakeholders, and embracing change. It encourages iterative and incremental development, continuous improvement, and cross-functional teamwork.

We'll dig deeper later into the relationship between Agile and Scrum. But what we can say, is that Scrum is one approach (practice) that can help teams implement those Agile values and principles effectively.

Agile vs Waterfall

Agile and Waterfall represent two different approaches. Waterfall follows a linear and sequential design process where progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards, like a waterfall. In contrast, Agile promotes iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams. This iterative approach allows for small experiments and frequent feedback loops, enabling teams to continuously learn, adapt, and deliver value.

The Agile approach is like a speed boat, agile and swift, able to change direction quickly and seize new opportunities. On the other hand, Waterfall is like an oil tanker – once the course is set, it’s hard to change direction swiftly.

Need further help in understanding Agile and exploring how it can benefit your organization and teams?

The Professional Agile Leadership Essentials course could help provide a deeper insight into agile and how agile leadership can support agile (scrum) teams to help enable the shift for organisations, and teams, towards an agile mindset.  Understand what you measure matters! This is what can really drive culture change in your organisation

What is Scrum?

"Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems." - Scrum Guide 2020

The Scrum framework is a lightweight framework as consists of 11 essential elements, the artficat commitments, and the rules that bind them as per the Scrum Guide.

The elements of the Scrum Framework are grouped by accountabilities, artifacts, and events:

Accountabilities: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Developers

Artifacts: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Increment

Events: Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective

In addition, Scrum identifies specific commitments to ensure focus, transparency, and alignment, which are the Product Goal, Sprint Goal, and Definition of Done.

The Scrum values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage underpin the Scrum framework. They shape the behaviour and mindset of the Scrum Team, promoting collaboration, transparency, and adaptability.

 

Scrum does not prescribe specific complementary practices, allowing teams to incorporate other techniques and methods as necessary. This provides flexibility for teams to select practices that best suit their context and work environment.

Think of Scrum as the rules of the game, like football. Every football team plays the game of football differently. Yet all the teams have to play to the rules of the game.

On another note, in football and you picked the ball up and you started running with it and the team allowed you to score, then great. But it is no longer football. Same as if you started changing the rules of Scrum (e.g. drop a Scrum Event or accountability), then fine but stop calling it Scrum. It is no longer Scrum.

Scrum provides a framework for the rules of the game. Implement the framework as per the Scrum Guide, but what you do in the middle and what complementary practices you use or not is entirely up to you.  Scrum basically gives you a foundation to help handle complexity, embrace continuous improvement (empiricism), and achieve valuable outcomes. But purposeful incomplete to allow flexibility and creativity in how you play the game.

Finally, we think of Scrum as being a mirror to help reflect all of the organization's and team's shortcomings. It aids the continuous inspection and adaption needed to improve these dysfunctions. Nevertheless, Scrum isn't a magic bullet. To succeed with Scrum, it takes dedication, discipline, and a genuine willingness to embrace change.

Misconceptions about Scrum

Despite its popularity, several misconceptions about Scrum persist. One common misconception is that Scrum is a methodology or a process for product management. As mentioned above its none of these.  It's a light framework to help you embrace empiricism and self-organisation!

Scrum isn't about promising a faster product development cycle as its main goal. Instead, it's all about empowering teams with empirical process control, continuous improvement, and the ability to adapt effectively to change. But the real magic happens when teams fully embrace the Scrum values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage. These values create an incredible environment of collaboration, transparency, and adaptability, forming the bedrock of successful teamwork that feels truly rewarding and effective.

To obtain a great understanding of Scrum, then recommend reading the Scrum Guide. Read it a number of times and analyse each section. It's an invaluable resource that will give you profound insights into how Professional Scrum should function.

Challenges of Implementing Scrum

Implementing Scrum and consistently delivering a "Done" increment every Sprint can be the biggest challenge for teams yet the most important, especially in the context of software product development. While the Scrum Guide emphasizes the importance of empiricism and the Definition of Done, it does not provide specific instructions on how to achieve a "Done" increment.  If you actually asked me to sum up Scrum as one thing, then it would be to have a Done (Valuable and Usable) Increment every Sprint. Yet so many so-called Scrum teams don't have this?

To address this challenge, teams often need additional support and complementary practices that align with Scrum principles. These practices may include continuous integration, test automation, code reviews, pair programming, and other engineering practices that promote quality and enable frequent delivery of potentially shippable increments.

Our Scrum.org certified course, Applying Professional Scrum for Software Development, is designed to support teams to gain the knowledge and skills to address this challenge. At a hands-on course where teams learn and experience industry practices and techniques that can enhance their ability to deliver a quality "Done" increment at the end of every Sprint.

How Scrum Incorporates Agile Principles and Values

Scrum is a light framework that enables teams to embrace Agile principles and values. Its events and accountabilities are specifically designed to uphold and enforce these principles and values. By embracing Scrum, teams can foster a culture of collaboration and self-organisation, transparency, and continuous improvement.

One of the key principles of Agile is continuous improvement, and Scrum provides a dedicated event to support this principle.  One example is the Sprint Retrospective event. During this event, the Scrum Team reflects on its process, practices, Tools, Definition of Done etc to identify areas for improvement, and commits to making adjustments in the next Sprint. This event promotes a culture of learning, adaptation, and relentless improvement.

By teams embracing Professional Scrum and leveraging events and Scrum accountabilities, teams can start to harness the power of Agile principles and values to deliver value more effectively, adapt to changing requirements, and continuously improve their processes and outcomes.

Agile and Scrum

Understanding the Relationship

Agile is a way of working with a set of underlying values and principles that promotes an iterative and incremental approach to product development. It promotes flexibility, collaboration, and customer satisfaction through the continuous delivery of valuable solutions.

Scrum, on the other hand, is a lightweight framework for teams to implement. Scrum incorporates the 3 pillars of empiricism (transparency, inspection and, adaption), Scrum Values, and self-organization to enable teams to respond effectively to deliver high-quality products continuously in a fast-changing market.

Scrum is based on empirical process control, where decisions are made based on observation and feedback, enabling teams to continuously improve their work. Scrum aligns with Agile principles by promoting iterative development, frequent inspections, and continuous adaptation. It provides a framework that empowers teams to embrace Agile values and deliver value incrementally.

Scrum is a widely adopted framework, but it is not the only way to practice Agile. There are other agile approaches such as Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming (XP). Each with its own set of principles and practices but they're all aligned with helping to achieve the agile principles & mindset.

Understanding the relationship between Agile and Scrum helps teams choose the right approach for them for their context and needs. The key is to embrace the Agile principles and values.

Which Came First: Scrum or Agile?

A trivial question I know, but it can help appreciate the connection. Many say agile came first but Scrum, developed in 1995, predates the formation of the Agile Manifesto in 2001. Interestingly, the creators of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, were among the founding signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

Summary

Embracing the Agile mindset, values, and principles is key to unlocking the full potential of Scrum and driving successful Agile transformations

Navigating the world of Agile and Scrum can be challenging, but by dispelling misconceptions and gaining valuable insights, we can embrace the fundamental concepts. Agile is a mindset that shapes how we work. Understanding the relationship between Agile and Scrum helps us choose the right approach, fostering collaboration, flexibility, and customer-centricity in product development.

To move towards an agile mindset, we should focus on:

  1. Focusing on the Agile Values & Principles: Understanding the Agile values and principles as per outlined in the Agile Manifesto. These are the foundation for adopting an agile mindset.
  2. Defining clear goals: Clearly defining goals and aligning them with the values and principles of agility helps teams stay focused and motivated.
  3. Embracing change and learning cycles: Agile teams embrace change as an opportunity for growth and learning. They adopt iterative and incremental approaches to development, allowing for feedback and adaptation.
  4. Promoting collaboration and teamwork: Agile teams prioritize collaboration and effective teamwork. They encourage cross-functional collaboration, knowledge sharing, and collective ownership of deliverables.
  5. Fostering an open and learning-oriented culture: Agile teams create an environment that encourages learning, experimentation, and continuous improvement. They value feedback, encourage learning from failures, and celebrate successes.

Scrum may help you achieve some of these.

If you are looking for further help with your understanding of Scrum and Agile, they are a range of certified courses and coaching services we can offer to help:

  1. Certified Courses: Explore our full list of certified courses. Yet the key ones that could help are:
    • Our Agile Leadership course empowers leaders and managers with the knowledge and skills to drive organizational agility, foster a culture of innovation, and enhance customer satisfaction. 
    • Our Professional Scrum Master course provides a deep understanding of Scrum and Scrum Mastery to support teams and organizations in applying Scrum.
  2. Agile Coaching Services: We provide Agile coaching services to help organizations embrace a new way of working and cultivate business agility. Our experienced Agile coaches offer personalized guidance and support to teams in their Agile journey and help them achieve their Agile transformation goals. With a focus on collaboration, adaptability, and continuous improvement, our coaching empowers teams to navigate the complexities of Agile and drive successful outcomes.

We hope you enjoyed the read and help provide some clarity and guidance.

Alex is an experienced Developer, Scrum Master, and Technical Agile Coach trainer at b-agile. With extensive firsthand experience, he firmly believes in the significance of learning from practitioners who have put the theory into practice, enabling them to incorporate valuable insights from both their failures and successes in their application. 

Check out his upcoming Scrum.org classes here.


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