The most widely used Agile method for project management, Scrum, works on the principle of self-organised teams. However, bad behavioural patterns or habits, the so-called anti-patterns, can have a negative impact on team performance. Sylva Žáková Talpová and Tereza Čtvrtníková established a ready-to-use method for the analysis of anti-patterns in Scrum teams.
Although many organisations use the Agile project management approach, only a few meet Agile requirements. Insufficient implementation of processes or inadequate adoption of the elements of Agile thinking can slow team performance. Using our method, we identified the four most important bad patterns that influence performance:
- ad-hoc requests,
- incomplete deliverables, and
- work estimates given to the team.
Agile and Scrum
Agile is a specific form of project management, especially in software development. Its principles focus on customer satisfaction through continuous delivery of results and interim modifications. In contrast to traditional development methodologies, in which all requirements are formally specified at the beginning of a project, an Agile project identifies sufficient requirements to start the project. These are later refined and expanded over several iterations.
The Scrum Agile method was first described in a 1986 article. It is defined as a tool that makes it possible to solve significant, complex problems while emphasising productivity and quality delivered. It is the most prominent Agile framework for organisations today (Hoda, Noble and Marshall, 2012). However, the Scrum is simple to understand but hard to implement. It works on the principle of a self-organised team. The three most important roles in Scrum are product owner, Scrum master, and self-organised team.
Anti-patterns in Scrum
Although Scrum is a well-described methodology, when applied in practice it is often tailored to the specific circumstances of the organisation. These adaptations are often called ScrumBut (“we use Scrum, but …”). Some deviations from the fundamental principles of Scrum, however, may be problematic. These undesirable deviations are called anti-patterns — bad habits formed and influenced by the human factor.
What exactly can we consider an anti-pattern? It can be a disagreement on whether or not the task is completed, a disruption caused by the customer, unclear items in the backlog, the indecisiveness of stakeholders (customers, management, etc.), and lack of authority or poor technical knowledge on the part of the Scrum master.
We collected detailed information in three Scrum teams using a variety of data collection procedures over a sustained period of time — including observation, surveys, secondary data, and semi-structured interviews – to get a detailed understanding of anti-patterns, and their causes and consequences.
What blocks productivity the most?
The first issue it the work estimate given to the teams, which is against Scrum principles and results in overload:
“Very often, it is clear what must be done based on customer requirements or various deadlines about which we do not decide.”
Second, there is an overcommitment on the side of the Scrum team, who regularly take on way too many tasks and move unfinished work forward:
“We do not determine the size of these items and do not consider whether they are achievable in one sprint.”
Third, what is delivered during the sprint is often incomplete and again the team moves on to the next sprint:
“We work here in large batches, so it cannot be divided into small parts.”
Last, there are ad-hoc requests coming, which again is against Scrum principles.
“So, this is something we cannot avoid, because a higher authority comes and says that we must stop doing what we are doing and move on.”
To respond to the problems identified, we suggest the following:
- on the task level, we recommend listing all new incidents as new backlog items that can be further prioritised;
- on the individual level, we recommend focusing on the ownership of tasks for each team member, together with the increased importance of rituals and adequate preparation. This might be achieved by presenting in front of other people from the organisation or other stakeholders;
- on the team level, we recommend defining a common long-term vision and the goals of rituals by the Scrum master. A common vision can decrease passivity (Moe, Dingsøyr and Dybå, 2008).
- to enhance the proactivity of team members, we suggest one-off role rotation, which might be moderated by a professional coach. The goal here is to enable a better understanding of the Scrum master and product owner roles.
- on the project level, we suggest synchronising sprints, which would allow management and team members to take part in demo presentations. Also, it might help to synchronise the planning process. This enables the comparability of speed and productivity.
- on the organisational level, we recommend implementing key performance indicators (KPIs) for teams and Scrum masters, establishing communities of practice and education, including the more efficient onboarding of new members.
In short, we established a set of methods for the analysis of anti-patterns in Scrum teams and their influence on performance. A combination of these methods can be used to analyse additional Scrum teams in the same organisation or in other companies. This evaluation using multiple methods can lead to relevant results and targeted solutions. Our methods identify the causes and consequences of individual anti-patterns, contributing to a deeper understanding of their occurrence and, therefore, to realistic avenues to eliminate them. Basic errors and problems can be found whose solutions are outside the competence of the Scrum master. This person may, however, be a facilitator of a discussion and solutions to these problems.
- This blog post is based on Scrum anti-patterns, team performance and responsibility, in the International Journal of Agile Systems and Management.
- The post represents the views of its author(s), not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
- Featured image by Eden Constantino on Unsplash
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