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Four Wheels of Scrum

Many scrum teams came to a standstill, unaware that they are riding on one of the four wheels while moving forward requires a synergistic action of all four. What are the “wheels”? What to do when one fails? Who and how should repair a vehicle called Scrum?

Four Wheels

There are four integral components of the Scrum framework, which can be called “wheels”. Not servicing each of them will have some implications for running Scrum smoothly. Here they are:

  1. Theory
  2. Practice
  3. Rules
  4. Values

Let’s look at each “wheel” and find out what to do when it’s not revolving.

Wheel of Theory

The introduction of digital technologies in business, creating new solutions for IT and other industries, requires certain development principles to help thrive in the complex context.

Due to the rapid growth of IT and the emergence of automated solutions, the level of uncertainty will only increase. I’ve seen how new and better technologies may appear just in the middle of the project.

Those companies aware of the high level of uncertainty are much faster and more capable of adapting the product. Their agile teams embraced changes throughout the process, if not after the first Sprint, increasing its value. This is a context for the theory of empirical control.

Companies that do not understand complexity but still want to adopt Scrum will repeatedly turn a crank of the barrel organ. We all remember the first song played on the crank organ, “Charmont Catherine”. However, instead of the charming Catherine, their tune is called “command-control style”.

Turning Theory into Practice

The biggest problem of the “theory” wheel is the reluctance of leaders to transform their management principles. Still, the theory of Scrum emphasizes the constant adaptation of the product taking into account the latest empirical data obtained in each Sprint.

The empirical approach in Scrum has a theoretical basis, stemming from the scientific method, iterative-incremental process, and the concept of self-organized teams. To enable new principles, many organizations are looking for agile transformation, but do we really understand the end state of the transformation? The working theory should have distinctive indicators:

  • Product roadmaps are flourishing with new creative ideas
  • Self-sufficient product teams are driven by data obtained after frequent releases of the product increments
  • Ability to quickly adapt solutions based on empirical data
  • Ability to innovate more in less time, etc.

Wheel of Practice

One of the beginners’ challenges is misunderstanding the difference between the core elements of Scrum and its practices. The practice is not a static aspect but a variable one. Retrospective, for example, is a mandatory element of Scrum with many ways to do it. The last one I used was Pizza Retrospective. Thanks to the creative approach and various ways to use Scrum’s elements, it is more interesting for participants to work and focus on the goal.

To learn new Scrum practices and patterns, professionals attend workshops, training classes, join the communities, consult with colleagues, find ideas and experiment with their team.

The “stick” in the practice wheel can turn development into a highly tedious, monotonous, routine process. New ideas for organizing exciting teamwork can quickly increase motivation. Keeping all the elements of Scrum without evolving the way they are implemented will risk turning development into the triumph of demotivation.

Another dangerous “stick” in the wheel may be the push of one person to use his favorite practices. For example, the method of estimating tasks in story points. The specialist attended a training session or read a book on estimation methods and then imposed it on other team members as the only correct one. The same can apply to colleagues who are accustomed to estimating tasks in man-hours or man-days.

Recently, the “no estimate” pattern has come into vogue. In this approach, it is not necessary to estimate anything in advance. It is required to create tasks so that all of them were approximately the same size. The idea is noteworthy, but some experts absolutize it, considering it the only correct solution, and all other practices are outdated. It is wrong.

Pillars, rules, principles, and values Scrum are fundamental concepts, while practices are flexible.

Wheel of Rules

In Scrum, they are just clearly spelled out. Violation of these rules always has negative consequences.

For example, “The organization must respect the decisions made by the Product Owner“. This rule means that the company is really obliged to do so. The Product Owner is its authorized representative, with whom it must work closely during development.

For example, a product owner, if overloaded, has the right to share his responsibilities with one or more team members. The release strategy can be decided by the whole team. At the same time, the Product Owner remains the central figure for priorities and strategic decisions. This should be respected by the leaders of the organization.

Ignoring this rule will have undesired implications:

  • Interference in the work of the team by different stakeholders
  • Loss of quality in product management (product vision & strategy, prioritization, etc.)
  • Cancellation or replacement of product owner decisions.

Another rule says that “only the Scrum Team can plan a Sprint“. Imagine a situation where a stakeholder violates the rule and repeatedly puts his nose in someone else’s millet. He told the product owner what strategy to implement and what priorities to set, told developers what tasks they should complete. In that case, what prevents him from violating the second rule? For example, coming to the Daily Scrum and pushing his ideas and recommendations, demotivating and disorienting the team?

It is important to note that Scrum offenders can be any team member, including the scrum master and product owner! That’s why Scrum certifies professionals, emphasizing the professional use of the framework.

Wheel of Values

Sometimes the car does not go because the fourth wheel of values is completely blown away.

Let me remind you of the five values of Scrum:

  1. Respect
  2. Commitment
  3. Focus
  4. Openness
  5. Courage

These values should drive collaborative behavior among team members. It depends on how individuals interact with each other, whether the values of Scrum will be ignored, or vice versa – embodied with a further positive effect. For Scrum values to work, all the wheels must work, including the iterative-incremental approach and all aspects of product development.

Consider the situation where in the development process, it turns out that certain decisions, tasks, or practices do not add value to the product but only harm it. The Product Owner understands that the situation is undesirable, but he does not openly tell his stakeholders. Here it is, the wheel of values down.

Values are directly related to the motivation system. For example, the whip and carrot method does not work in Scrum.

Remember the famous dolphin experiment? The dolphin was trained to take out the debris from the bottom of the ocean, and for every piece of waste was given a fish as a reward. Initially, he brought to the surface large amounts of garbage. This miracle of nature soon adapted its behavior to get more rewards. From the bottom of the ocean, a clever creature picked up a lot of debris, but this time left it near the shore, breaking it into several small pieces, then one by one delivered them to shore, getting much more fish for the same amount of work (one for each bit).

Behaviorists have drawn similar parallels with humans. Methods of dolphins, penguins, pigeons in a complex technology product do more harm than good. Without transparency, honesty, and accurate data, one should not count on real success.

As you can see, the values of Scrum include the courage, to tell the truth, as well as respect from management to the honesty of colleagues, which also implies their responsibility for timely finding new solutions to the problem.

Note that not only individual team members but also managers can hide the truth. One way or another, the practice of hiding problems should be eradicated. All team members must cultivate a culture of honesty in their work.

What Shall I Do?

For all four scrum wheels to work perfectly, here’s what to do:

  1. Professional use of Scrum. This means that the team must have an experienced scrum master to maintain four wheels of Scrum.
  2. Develop a Scrum team. By itself, the development team will not become a professional scrum team. The team should steadily grow in communication, agile culture, cross-functionality, self-organization, and autonomy.
  3. Understand and know well the four wheels of Scrum – theory, practice, rules, and values.
  4. Understand the difference between the predictive and the empirical management approach.


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