Asking The Wrong Question: Are We Following All The Elements Of Scrum?

“Have we implemented all the elements of Scrum?”

I hear variations of this question asked all the time and it concerns me.

It concerns me because it places the focus on the elements and not their objectives.The definition of done for a Scrum adoption can easily become ‘implement all the elements’ rather than deliver the results those elements exist to provide.

  • Have a certified Scum master? Check!
  • Have Product owner? Check!
  • Have a product backlog? Check!
  • Conducting Sprint planning meetings? Check!
  • Doing Daily Scrums under 15 minutes? Check!
  • Holding Retrospectives every Sprint? Check!

So… are we productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value?


Hmm… maybe not so much.

Following A Practice != Achieving A Result

It’s not only possible, it’s common for teams to follow every element of Scrum and fail to achieve their objectives.

Dont’ get me wrong; as an Agile coach part of my role is ensuring that teams not only adopt the elements of the Scrum framework but do so successfully. (If it were easy my clients wouldn’t need me).  A focus on practices though can actually be an impediment to helping teams improve.

Here’s why…

Novice Thinking

In adopting Scrum, newcomers invariably pass through the first stage of the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition; the ‘novice’.

What characterizes the novice?

  • rigid adherence to taught rules
  • NO exercise of discretionary judgment
  • Having mastered the rules, an exaggerated perception of mastery

The typical novice frequently lacks an appreciation for the stuff they don’t know that they don’t know. A consequence of this is that having implemented a practice, the motivation to gain mastery and improve beyond the novice level can quickly evaporate – particularly in a climate of heavy deadline pressure. I’ve seen this happen with scrum masters plenty of times. Often, they’re baked before they’ve even have a chance for the dough to rise.

Ask A Smarter Question – Get A Better Result

So here’s a more powerful question I’d like to see every leader engaged in a Scrum adoption ask. A question that earnestly asked, thoughtfully considered, and truthfully answered can drive the right behaviors;

“How well are we achieving the DESIRED OUTCOMES for all the elements of the Scrum framework?”

It may seem like a subtle distinction but framed this way, the question sets a context for the goal of continuous improvement that underlies every successful adoption of Scrum. Implied are important questions that often go unasked;

  • What are all the elements?
  • What are the desired outcomes of this element?
  • How can we tell how well we’re achieving them?

We can do a little better though…..

“What actions are we taking to improve the outcomes for all the elements of the Scrum framework (and how can I help you)?”

Asking the question this way promotes not only awareness of the elements of Scrum but establishes an expectation for action to better achieve them.