Agile and Scrum: Embracing the Nuances of Practical Application

Agile and Scrum

Agile and Scrum have changed the way projects are managed and executed. Their emphasis on flexibility, adaptability, and continuous improvement has resonated with organizations across industries, leading to widespread adoption and a chorus of praise.

Yet, amidst this very warm welcome, it is crucial to acknowledge the inherent incompleteness of Agile and Scrum, and recognizing them not as rigid blueprints but as flexible frameworks that demand careful tailoring to the unique needs of each project.

The Rise of Agile and Scrum:

The software development landscape has long been in a constant pursuit of efficiency, effectiveness, and adaptability.

In the early days of software development, the Waterfall methodology, with its emphasis on sequential phases and upfront planning, was the dominant approach. I like to think of the Waterfall method as a conveyor belt in a factory; each step builds on the last in a timed, mechanical way - the product slowly taking its shape as it passes from one hand to the other. However, as projects are becoming complex and uncertain by the second, the Waterfall method's rigidity seems like a hindrance to the innovation and responsiveness to change.

You get through horizontal slices of design, development, QA, and release scheduling etc. to find out it wasn't what the client or users actually wanted, or now wants. Realistically speaking, Waterfall deliveries sometimes turn out to be like this:


While this is true just for high paced competitive software development, the impacts can still be seen throughout. Clients don't want to wait for extended times. Some aren't always sure of what they want either. They also have so many other companies and vendors pitching them so they have every reason to cut you out. Tough pickle to be in, huh?

In response to these limitations, Agile and Scrum advocate for an iterative approach that embraces change and values collaboration. Instead of waiting at the end of the conveyor belt, why not stand smack in the middle and get your hands dirty and build what is really needed. Agile principles, such as the emphasis on customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, and adaptive planning, resonate with the evolving nature of software development. Seems like a heaven-sent, right?

Not.. really.

Unveiling the Incomplete Nature of Agile and Scrum

Agile and Scrum are not complete, one-size-fits-all solutions. They are rather families of methodologies, each with its own set of principles and practices, that provide a framework for adapting to the unique context of each project.

Agile Manifesto talks about this in the following way:

While there is value in [process & tools, comprehensive documentation, contract negotiation, following a plan], we value [individual and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, responding to change] more.

By prioritizing certain things over others, Agile acknowledges that it does not provide a complete, plug-and-play solution for software development. Instead, it just emphasizes the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and continuous learning to navigate the complexities of software projects.

Similarly, The Scrum Guide, the defining document for Scrum, puts down the incompleteness of the Scrum Framework like this:

The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete, only defining the parts required to implement Scrum theory. Scrum is built upon by the collective intelligence of the people using it. Rather than provide people with detailed instructions, the rules of Scrum guide their relationships and interactions.

So what now? How can incomplete ideas deliver value to a fast paced, calculated world of software development? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of a framework? It is possible that the implementation of Agile might look like this:

Issues with Agile

Embracing the Nuances: Tailoring Agile and Scrum for Unique Performances

The incompleteness of Agile and Scrum is not a weakness but rather a strength. This incompleteness allows for tailoring these methodologies to the specific needs of a project, considering factors such as team dynamics, project complexity, organizational culture, and industry nuances. This flexibility empowers product managers and development teams to craft a project management approach that aligns with the specific challenges and opportunities at hand.

The successful implementation of Agile and Scrum hinges on understanding the nuances of each practice, evaluating its suitability for the project, and making informed decisions that optimize project outcomes. This requires a deep understanding of the project's context, the team's capabilities, and the organizational culture. Product managers, as the primary actors of Agile and Scrum, must be adept at balancing the principles of these methodologies with the practical realities of the project, making adjustments as needed.

The following are some tips for founders, managers, and developers to realize why Agile and Scrum add value and what do they need from the people and processes and tools to equip them to be able to do that:

For Founders:

  • The organization's overall culture, including its tolerance for risk, decision-making processes, and communication channels, shapes the implementation of Agile and Scrum practices. If there is no risk taking or opportunity exploration going on in the organization, Agile and Scrum might just be Waterfall in disguise. Make sure you cultivate the right culture before you expect results.
  • Understand the team's size, experience, communication styles, and problem-solving approaches for selecting and adapting Agile and Scrum practices. Agile and Scrum implementation isn’t necessary, instilling of the approach and values is. Make sure everyone understands what it means to be Agile and what the limitations are.
  • The complexity of projects, in terms of its scope, dependencies, and uncertainty, influences the granularity of sprints, the frequency of feedback loops, and the level of stakeholder involvement. Do your research before asking your teams to implement Agile and Scrum because they might not really need it or they may be able to generate more value with a hybrid approach.

For Managers:

  • Provide training and resources to help managers, team members, and stakeholders understand the principles and practices of Agile and Scrum. Give them space to understand what self-organization and collective ownership means and then trust them to make the right calls.
  • Be a role model for Agile values and principles, actively participating in Agile ceremonies and supporting the team's adoption of Agile practices. One way of doing this would be to address rigid hierarchies, inflexible processes, or lack of transparency.
  • Talk to your team about what is working and what is not. The implementation of Agile and Scrum can be Agile too. Talk often, pivot when needed and do not expect to implement Agile and Scrum as is. Build your own version based on collaboration and institutional knowledge.

For Developers:

  • Read up on Agile and Scrum principles. Do not think of it as a management tool, think of it as a way to look at things. What are the values are they talking about? Would they help you improve your value? How would you want to implement these principles in your life?
  • Engage fully in Agile ceremonies, such as daily standups, sprint planning, sprint reviews, and retrospectives. These meetings provide opportunities to share progress, identify roadblocks, and make informed decisions as a team. Point out inefficiencies, ways for improvements. These ceremonies are meant to facilitate you, not hinder the value you add to the organization or the product.
  • When push comes to shove, don't hesitate to seek help and support from your team members and Scrum Master. They are there to assist you in navigating the Agile and Scrum process and overcoming challenges.

By carefully considering these factors, all involved parties can effectively tailor Agile and Scrum to the unique requirements of each project, ensuring that these methodologies not only support project goals but also align with the team's capabilities and the organization's culture.

While Agile and Scrum offer powerful frameworks, expecting automatic F500-levels or workplace accolades is an illusion. Their effectiveness hinges on your team's ability to adapt and optimize. We have to let go of the cookie-cutter approach and prioritize expertise in fine-tuning these tools for specific contexts. Be willing to put in the effort to understand Agile and Scrum's nuances and tailor them to your specific needs and you'll be well on your way to unlocking the true potential of these methodologies. So, go out there, experiment, adapt, and most importantly, have fun while doing it.

Tl;dr - Don't be this person: