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This blog aims to correct four common misconceptions in Scrum so that teams can work more effectively and deliver more value for their businesses.
- Myth 1: The Sprint Backlog cannot be changed
- Myth 2: The Daily Scrum is just a status meeting
- Myth 3: The Sprint Review is just a demo
- Myth 4: Estimates in the Product Backlog are accurate and guaranteed
Scrum is an agile framework that establishes the minimal boundaries within which teams can self-organize to solve a complex problem. Scrum’s simplicity provides the freedom needed for teams to work both productively and creatively so that they can maximize the value they deliver. However, this simplicity is also the source of many misconceptions and myths surrounding Scrum, impeding teams to realize their full potential.
Myth 1: The Sprint Backlog cannot be changed
Many people, myself included, believe that the Sprint Backlog is fixed during a Sprint: The Team makes a commitment during Sprint Planning to implement all items in the Sprint Backlog. Any changes to the Sprint Backlog is a violation of that commitment and therefore should not be allowed.
Busting the Myth:
To bust this myth, we have to go back to the fundamentals and ask: What are we trying to achieve in a Sprint? According to the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Goal is an objective for the Sprint that will be met through implementing selected work from the Product Backlog. The Sprint Goal is what guides the Team on why it is working on this Sprint.
It should be clear that the Sprint Goal is the backbone of a Sprint, and the Sprint Backlog consists of work selected from the Product Backlog that seek to embody the Sprint Goal. If the Product Owner and the Team think that the current Sprint Backlog no longer accurately represents the Sprint Goal, then they can and should update the Sprint Backlog!
In short, the Sprint Backlog serves Sprint Goal, rather than the other way round. The Sprint Goal is fixed during the Sprint. The Sprint Backlog can be updated, as long as it does not impede the achievement of the Sprint Goal.
Myth 2: The Daily Scrum is just a status meeting
Many people treat the Daily Scrum (or Daily Standup) as just another status meeting to keep the managers happy. But the fact is that the Daily Scrum is actually a collaborative planning session conducted by the Team.
Busting the Myth:
To bust this myth, let’s contrast the Daily Scrum and status meetings to understand their differences:
The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress towards the Sprint Goal, adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary and produce an actionable plan for the next day of work. In a status meeting, the focus is often on individuals giving updates on things they have worked on, but this is often not linked to a common goal of the team or business values associated with the goal.
The Daily Scrum promotes collaborative planning, as all Team members are transparent about each other’s progress towards a common Sprint Goal, and the impediments involved. The Daily Scrum is horizontal, and Team members can readily adapt to changes in a collaborative fashion. On the other hand, status meetings tend to be more top down, tasks or instructions are often assigned to team members, and there is often very little room for members to share valuable insights outside the responsibilities that they’ve been assigned with.
The Daily Scrum is focused on the Sprint Goal, it promotes collaboration and empowers the Team to adapt to changes.
Myth 3: The Sprint Review is just a demo
“Isn’t the Sprint Review just a meeting to show the stakeholders what the Team has done, and hopefully the stakeholders will accept the work?” Unfortunately, this way of thinking misses the entire point of Sprint Review and in fact destroys the purpose of Scrum.
Busting the Myth:
Remember, a key purpose of Scrum is to maximize the value delivered, and values are never delivered in a vacuum, they are the result of collaboration between the Scrum Team and stakeholders.
According to the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Review “is held at the end of the Sprint to inspect the Increment and adapt the Product Backlog if needed”, where “the Scrum Team and stakeholders collaborate about what was done in the Sprint. Based on that and any changes to the Product Backlog during the Sprint, attendees collaborate on the next things that could be done to optimize value”
In simpler terms, the Sprint Review is not a one-way process where the Team shows their work to stakeholders. Instead, it is a crucial opportunity for the Team to communicate with the stakeholders and collect insights on what to do next. The Team and the stakeholders review the current product, and along with the market conditions, budget, and timeline to decide together on the next steps that will optimize value. These insights will then provide valuable input for the next Sprint Planning.
The Sprint Review is not a presentation. It is a collaboration between the Team and Stakeholders to collect insights on what to do next, in order to maximize value.
Myth 4: Estimates in Scrum are accurate and guaranteed
Estimates are important, they help us determine budgets and delivery dates. However, estimates, especially time-based estimates tend to give the illusion of accuracy and predictability and many people take estimates as a “guarantee”.
Busting the Myth:
Accurate estimates are possible in projects that are straightforward, or projects that involve many repeated processes. However, the complex and dynamic nature of the types of projects that Scrum seeks to address, make it impossible to arrive at accurate estimates. And there’s certainly no way to guarantee that the future will not change.
So if we cannot guarantee accuracy, what is the purpose of estimation in the first place? In Scrum, the purpose of estimation is actually to gain a better understanding of the Product Backlog items. The estimation process should trigger conversions within the Team and spark questions such as “How long does item A take relative to item B?”, “Can we find a faster way to do A?”, “What assumptions are we making in regards to B?”. So as you can see, like all Scrum elements, the estimation process should focus on Team collaboration that encourages creativity and problem-solving. The goal is to optimizes value for stakeholders, and not to document an estimated number that is as accurate as possible.
In complex and dynamic projects, the process of planning and estimating is often more important than the estimates themselves. The focus should always be on optimizing value.