Thursday, 31 January 2013

Why Scrum Fails

The general consensus is that Scrum implementations will fail to achieve their goals in at least 70% of organizations (some say 90%). (For other views, or more details, just search for for something like "Why Scrum fails" or "Does Scrum work?" on Google.) What is worse is that, even in organizations which believe that Scrum is working, it is not working or not working anywhere near as well as it could.

The real question is why this happens. Is it because people just don't "get it" or because it will not work in some (most) environments, or is it generally flawed?

Adapting Scrum

Every place I have worked that used Scrum it was claimed that "pure Scrum" cannot work in that particular environment. There is some truth in that but often it is simply reluctance to change. A major part of the reluctance is adapting a new management style where the team self-manages rather than the conventional team leader management approach.


One of the guiding principles of Scrum is that the team is self-organizing and self-managing. The team decides how much work they can do and how they will do it and reports to the PO not to manager(s).

However, there is a reluctance of managers to let go of their control. Sometimes I believe managers are at fault and will even go as far as threatening team members to retain their control. However, most of the time I think developers are not willing to take responsibility and the managers are (perhaps only unconsciously) aware of that and feel they have to fill the gap.

Product Owner

The other problem is the PO. It is essential for Scrum to work that the PO be as close as possible to the real customer, by which I mean the actual end-user of the software. In most companies I have worked, the developers never even talk to a user of the software, and generally are at least 3 layers removed from them. Managers have talked for decades about having a "customer focus" (which I wholeheartedly endorse) and the best way to be customer-focused is to talk to and be familiar with the people that use your product.

Unfortunately, everywhere I have worked the PO is generally an analyst or even a former developer and far removed from the real users of the software. Real users (or at least someone who talks to real users) are invited to the sprint review but often they are not particularly interested or don't turn up at all, because they don't feel involved.

Senior Management

For most organizations Scrum is a cultural change and it is well-recognized that the culture of an organization starts at the top. If senior management are not committed then this is where the problems start. You don't get a proper PO and everyone realizes that Scrum is just a passing fad that the CEO heard about, but was not willing to invest any effort in making it work.

Basically, inertia is the problem. People are stuck in their ways. They may be aware that current processes are not good but they have gotten by with them for many years and there is no motivation to change, especially without management support.