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What are some of the disadvantages or drawbacks of using Scrum?

What are some of the disadvantages or drawbacks of using Scrum?

Welcome to part 50 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

As an interview question, I actually like this question because you need to have actually done something with scrum to answer it well. You couldn’t just read the scrum guide or attend a scrum course to have a valid answer to this question.

It can be hard to get started.

Scrum requires you to fill a backlog with at least 3 sprints’ worth of work to get going with sprint planning and build momentum.

I’ve witnessed newbie teams battle to get started because they don’t have enough clarity around the work they need to fill a sprint, which could be a 2-week period, and they aren’t able to plan effectively around what needs doing now and what needs doing in the future.

These teams go into sprint planning and include their whole backlog in the sprint, because they don’t have enough work items in the backlog to begin with, and then half way through the sprint they are on the hunt for more work.

In this kind of a scenario, where work comes in dribs and drabs, you probably want to look at a more lightweight framework, such as kanban, to help you manage that work but you don’t need scrum for this kind of an environment at all.

You don’t need to plan out work for a few weeks in advance if you only have a couple of days’ work to deal with. Just map it out on a kanban board and pull from the system whenever you are ready to move to the next item.

So, one of the drawbacks of scrum is that the system needs enough work to keep engaged for at least 2 or 3 sprints in advance. You need a clear roadmap to success and a clear idea of what needs doing in the future.

If you absolutely do need to use scrum, fair enough, just make sure you have at least a week’s worth of work in the system to get going. You can set the sprint at 1-week intervals and slowly build momentum as you move along.

Volatility

In scrum, within the sprint planning event, we are going to develop a sprint goal. What is the most important thing that we need to achieve within this sprint? If all else fails, if we achieve the sprint goal, the sprint can be considered a success.

We aren’t committing to individual items, we are instead committed to the sprint goal.

If the environment you are working in is so volatile that the sprint goal is regularly changing within a 2-week to 4-week cycle, then scrum won’t be a great solution for you.

There could be several reasons for the high cycle of change within the environment.

  • This is just a period of unprecedented change, and it will stabilise in the future.
  • Managers and stakeholders may be used to simply changing their mind frequently.
  • The organization have never needed long term goals or objectives because of the rate of change in the environment so responsiveness is more important than planning.

And so forth.

So, scrum may not be the right answer in this moment of time but may present itself as a valuable framework for down the line when things are a touch more stable.

So, scrum isn’t a great framework when things change daily and remain consistently volatile. You want to be able to plan and you want to be able to pursue a reasonable, solid goal that is achievable within a couple of weeks to a month’s worth of work.

Scrum is great for product development but doesn’t work in a high-intensity, service driven environment where you need to respond at a moment’s notice to something which has been designated a high-priority item within the past hour.

Scrum as a commodity

This might sound weird, but in circumstances where scrum has become so popular, it can become a drawback. I’m talking about environments where people have adopted the language of scrum but failed to master the practices and processes associated with successful scrum.

I come across a lot of clients and scrum masters who don’t actually know scrum.

They know elements of scrum, or they like this event for X reason but don’t know it’s true purpose or how to deploy scrum effectively.

People feel like they understand scrum even if they have never done it correctly or harnessed it’s true capabilities. It’s part of the fabric of that industry and people mix and match as they see fit.

That can be a serious drawback because it’s the illusion of scrum that permeates the environment rather than the rock solid, deeply practiced, and evolved version of scrum that is so powerful.

In some environments, it’s traditional waterfall style project management masqueraded as sprints and sprint reviews. They may have the same name as scrum events, but they don’t work in the same way, nor are they effective to the same degree.

If you’re an experienced scrum master or agile coach engaged to start working with a scrum team where people aren’t doing scrum, but think they are, that can be an incredibly hard place to start.

So, for me, these are the 3 top drawbacks to scrum that could make your life fairly difficult as a scrum master or agile coach.

About John McFadyen

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.

For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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