The Scrum Guide – Pros and Cons and What to Expect

The Scrum Guide – Pros and Cons and What to Expect

The Scrum Guide – Introduction

The term Scrum, in the context of product development, was first used in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in a paper published in the Harvard Business Review. Within the paper was an approach which promised faster product development and flexibility in procedures. It was based on studies on manufacturing processes, much like Kanban and Lean processes. It took another 24 years before the Scrum Guide came to be written.

Although initially presented as a process for manufacturing products, it was extended for software development. Its first use in software was in 1993, by Jeff Sutherland. With the help of Ken Schwaber, Sutherland worked on making Scrum a formal process in 1995. The pair was in attendance when the Agile Manifesto was created by Agile pioneers in 2001. Scrum’s formal existence was further strengthened the following year with the founding of the Scrum Alliance which started offering Scrum Master certification programs. In 2006, Sutherland created the Scrum, Inc., which continued to teach Scrum certification classes. Schwaber left Scrum Alliance in 2009 and started Scrum.org, which also started offering a Professional Scrum series. The following year, Schwaber and Sutherland saw to the first publication of the Scrum Guide.

The Official Scrum Guide defines the current state of Scrum, in the sense that it is updated to keep up with the practice of Scrum in the real world. In the meantime, Scrum has become a platform, and less of a project management alternative. Like Scrum, the Scrum Guide is:

  • Lightweight. It is only 19 pages long.
  • Simple to understand. It defines a set of Scrum rules, processes, and roles.
  • Difficult to master. The parts can be used independently but it is not a Scrum Guide if it is not used as a whole.

Due to the nature of Scrum, it is necessary to have the guide written, and then be constantly revised incorporating what works, and what does not work. It is adaptive in nature, trying to solve for the complex uses and products the Scrum Guide is supposed to address.

Evolution of Scrum Guide

Evolution Of ScrumGuide

Since 2010, the Scrum Guide has had six iterations. It is expected that there will be another iteration in the near future, although there is as yet no word when that would happen. User feedback is one of the driving forces for the iterations, which would determine when the next iteration would be and what it would contain.

The iterations themselves allow for the Scrum Guide to be revised recursively. The revisions are not always major, but they have an impact on Scrum. A case in point is the third iteration which was released three months after the second iteration. It appears to have only minor revisions, but it had a major effect on the future direction of the Scrum Guide. The following are the major points of the Scrum Guide iterations:

  • First Scrum Guide Published, February 2010. There is a reference to “Rules and Tips”. Included is a reference to the old “Chickens and Pigs” joke. There was also a reference to “Release Planning Meeting.” Among the artifacts was the Sprint Burndown and the Release Burndown. Additionally, “Undone work” is also referenced.
  • Second Iteration, July 2011. The second iteration removed several items from the first iteration, including the “Chicken and Pigs” reference. Other practices were also removed including Sprint backlog items, release planning meetings, sprint burndowns, and release burndowns. However, the Conclusion was added and Product Backlog Grooming was elevated from a tip to a practice.
  • Third Iteration, October 2011. Shortly after the second iteration, the third iteration was released with minor revisions. The Guide had less emphasis on the “rules” of Scrum. Removed was the final section, which included the details of revisions.
  • Fourth Iteration, July 2013. “Grooming” was replaced by “Refinement.” After a Refinement, Product Backlog items are considered “ready” for a Sprint. The Daily Scrum’s 3 questions now refer to the team. Sprint Review reinforces “Value.” The section on Artifact Transparency was added.
  • Fifth Iteration, July 2016. Scrum Values are included: Commitment, Focus, Respect, Courage, and Openness.
  • Sixth Iteration, 2017. Daily Scrum questions and the Scrum Master roles were updated. Time-boxes were clarified, resulting in shorter events. Sprint Backlog now required the inclusion of one improvement item. Increment now supports Scrum’s empiricism. “Uses of Scrum” section is also added.

Pros of Official Scrum Guide

Cons Scrum Guide
Pros Scrum Guide

As a published guide, the Scrum Guide offers several advantages.

  1. The Scrum Guide is constantly being improved. This is part of the concept of adaptability embodied in Scrum and Agile. The changes are based on the user experience on how the Scrum Guide was used in real life situations. There have been six iterations which were released at odd intervals.
  1. Evolutionary and adaptive approach. The Scrum Guide uses an evolutionary approach. It emphasizes that each team will use the Guide in a manner befitting the current situation. In addition, the participants will make rules on how they are to conduct Scrum during the project.
  1. User Experimentation. These are Guides without any rigid rules. The participants are expected to use and adapt Scrum to fit their project. If one thing does not work, then it is adjusted in the next iteration or Sprint. The Scrum implementation is also under constant improvement.
  1. Definition of Terms. The Guide emphasizes that the project members have to define specific terms. These include “done”, “releasable”, “shippable”, and “ready.” These definitions are further used in defining the Sprint increments. The team is given the flexibility to name the goal or product delivery of a Sprint, at the same time, the team can also define the conditions for accepting that the increment is finished for the Sprint.
  2. Defines Roles. The roles within Scrum are distinct and unique. It places specific responsibilities on the Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Development Team is also given a clear definition. Additionally, Scrum Masters are given the task of keeping the project within Scrum parameters, as well as educating people about Scrum.

Cons of Official Scrum Guide

There are several issues with the Scrum Guide. These stem from its nature as a guide to a platform which follows a mindset. Those who are new to Scrum have a hard time understanding Scrum because of its freeform nature. The following is a list of disadvantages about the Scrum Guide.

Pros Scrum Guide
Cons Scrum Guide
  1. The Scrum Guide only serves as a guide. It leaves the implementation to the Scrum practitioners. There is no template, only a discussion of an overriding mindset or philosophy. In this light, the guide serves as an outline, with almost all the provisions, terms, definitions, processes and procedures considered optional, and for consideration by the users.
  1. Definitions. There is no real definition of terms. The definitions for words and terminologies are in terms of the contents of other words, process, action or event as they are used in Scrum. In object-oriented programming, it is as if object or class is defined by the methods and properties. In this manner of defining terms, it eschews comparisons and analogies with terms in other older methodologies, or anything outside of Scrum or Agile. It has a whole new class of words and definitions and new users are hard-pressed to understand it because the terms are defined by new terms as well. The Guide does not take the time to give a specific definition which is anchored in existing paradigms.
  1. No mistakes. Scrum as a framework lets the users adapt to different circumstances, and to experiment as needed. The Scrum process is defined by the participants and if a process or procedure does not work to their satisfaction, it is adjusted accordingly. The Guide does not provide rules for adjustments, or whether what is in use is no longer Scrum. Inherently, the Scrum Guide tells users that the participants cannot make mistakes because are not rules which can be broken. Instead, it is a Guide where participants can stretch the guidelines.
  1. Learn on your own. The Guide only serves as the basis for understanding the platform. Newcomers will have to navigate their way through the Guide and to read other materials for a better understanding. The Guide is not meant to lay down theories and applications. It is not meant as a repository of hard and fast rules. The best way to understand the Scrum Guide is to practice Scrum. This makes it hard for the new Scrum practitioners because they are learning from Scrum veterans who usually do not understand the Scrum Guide.
  1. Under Development. Scrum is dynamic and it is always under development. It is not a mature technology, instead, it is adaptable and adapting. The elements of the Scrum Guide is defined by the practitioners. Their practice leads to a discussion on how the Guide is used. The resulting feedback from the actual practice is incorporated into the Scrum Guide. This constant improvement results in older books about Scrum becoming outdated and no longer in touch with the current version Scrum.

Conclusion: What Are the Realistic Expectations of This Guide?

The end goal of Scrum is to provide a mechanism of development which adjusts to the needs of the client. Most projects have a defined initial goal, which changes over the life of the project. The changes are expected to be different, surprising and unpredictable. Scrum addresses this unpredictability by incorporating the requested changes in the succeeding Sprint. Once a request for change is added to the Sprint backlog, the end goal no longer looks like the initial objectives. During the life of the project, the objectives will also change. This unpredictability allows the team to develop an end product which is not defined at the beginning of the project.

The Guide takes the unpredictability and adds it to the project mix. An unfettered approach like this can result in projects going over budget without meeting a fixed end goal. However, since it acknowledges that the project itself is a moving target, then the development also moves, but the end date and cost does not.

The Guide acknowledges that “in complex environments, what will happen is unknown.” Ultimately, the Guide provides a platform where the development efforts take into account the project inclusions when the unknown becomes known.

Alternative Resources to Official Scrum Guide

As stated above, the Scrum Guide is the official handbook in working with Scrum. It also happens to reflect the current state of how Scrum is implemented. If a book were written about it, the book would be obsolete before it got printed. To keep up-to-date, the book has to use Scrum during the writing process. Websites about Scrum meets these criteria.

After having said that, the best way to understand Scrum is to make use of other resources. Users would understand Scrum better by using resources which would explain more about Scrum than what can be written in 19 pages.

For a beginner, the following websites can provide additional information with real-world examples about Scrum Guide:

  1. The Scrum Master. https://www.thescrummaster.co.uk/
  2. Serious Scrum. https://medium.com/serious-scrum
  3. Emerald Hill. https://www.emerald-hill.co.uk/
  4. Visual Paradigm. https://www.visual-paradigm.com/scrum
  5. Scrum.org. https://www.scrum.org/resources/

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