The difference between a Neurosurgeon and a Scrum Team. A lesson in professionalism.

When comparing a neurosurgeon to a Scrum team, it’s tempting to focus on the obvious clinical differences. However, a deeper comparison reveals valuable insights into professionalism, accountability, and integrity. Both roles, despite their distinct contexts, share common principles that can elevate the quality and impact of their work.

Professionalism and Accountability

A neurosurgeon is a highly skilled, highly trained professional who performs surgeries with utmost precision and integrity. Their work involves meticulous planning and execution, ensuring no tools are left behind and that every procedure meets the highest standards. This level of professionalism and accountability is something that Scrum teams can aspire to.

The Surgical Approach to Accountability

  • Counting Tools: Surgeons meticulously count all tools and materials before and after surgery to ensure nothing is left behind.
  • Double-Checking: They have strict protocols for double-checking their work to avoid catastrophic mistakes.
  • Accountability: Surgeons are held accountable for their work, ensuring every detail is attended to.

Translating Accountability to Scrum Teams

Scrum teams should adopt a similar level of accountability. Every piece of work should be accounted for, double-checked, and completed to the highest standard. Here’s how this translates to Scrum practices:

  • Definition of Done: Clearly define what “done” means for each task and ensure it meets agreed quality standards.
  • Peer Reviews: Implement code reviews or peer reviews to catch errors and ensure high quality.
  • Retrospectives: Regularly reflect on processes and outcomes to continuously improve.

Integrity in Work

Neurosurgeons perform their duties with a high level of integrity, understanding the critical nature of their work. They know that any compromise can have severe consequences for their patients.

Integrity in Surgery

  • Strict Protocols: Surgeons follow strict medical protocols to ensure patient safety.
  • Ethical Standards: They adhere to high ethical standards, putting patient well-being above all else.

Integrity in Scrum Teams

Scrum teams should also maintain high integrity in their work. This means adhering to best practices, even under pressure, and prioritizing quality over shortcuts.

  • Quality Over Speed: Resist the urge to rush or cut corners, even when deadlines are tight.
  • Transparency: Be open about challenges and limitations, ensuring stakeholders understand the trade-offs involved.
  • Professional Standards: Uphold professional standards and refuse to deliver substandard work.

The Wider Impact of Scrum Teams

While a neurosurgeon impacts individual patients, a Scrum team can impact thousands or even millions of users. This broader impact means that the integrity and quality of their work are critical.

Real-World Impact

  • Software Reliability: Poor quality software can lead to significant disruptions, such as users losing access to their bank accounts.
  • User Trust: High-quality, reliable software builds user trust and brand reputation.
  • Long-Term Consequences: Poor decisions in software development can have long-term negative effects on users and the business.

Striving for Excellence

Scrum teams should aim for excellence, understanding the broader implications of their work. Here are steps to ensure high standards:

  • Continuous Improvement: Always look for ways to improve processes and quality.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Keep stakeholders informed and involved in prioritization and decision-making.
  • Ethical Responsibility: Recognize the ethical responsibility to deliver quality work that benefits users and minimizes harm.

Encouraging Professionalism in Scrum Teams

Scrum Masters play a crucial role in fostering a culture of professionalism and accountability within their teams.

Steps for Scrum Masters

  • Set Expectations: Clearly communicate the importance of quality and integrity.
  • Support Team Development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and professional development.
  • Facilitate Open Communication: Create an environment where team members feel comfortable discussing challenges and seeking help.
  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate professionalism and accountability in your own actions and decisions.

Conclusion: Bridging the Gap

While the roles of a neurosurgeon and a Scrum team are different, the principles of professionalism, integrity, and accountability are universal. By adopting these principles, Scrum teams can ensure they deliver high-quality products that positively impact users. This mindset not only benefits the immediate project but also contributes to a culture of excellence and trust within the organization.


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author avatar
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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