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The Exciting Exploration

A cold, heartless process framework described in 14 pages. That’s Scrum, right?

Wrong. Scrum is so much more than a document. It’s a systemic, humanistic approach to complex value delivery. Unfortunately, helping people to understand the value offering of a framework is incredibly difficult. Naturally, we are comfortable doing as we’ve always done – and the same goes for the way in which we deliver value in teams. Changing your personal mindset is tough, but changing other people’s is even tougher.

In a previous life, I used to be a Head of Chemistry in a secondary school. When delivering lessons, there was never an expectation that telling students facts would be enough for retention or application, so why do we expect any different when we learn as adults? As we progress into adulthood, we get ‘better’ at learning, but that’s mainly due to improving our understanding of how we each learn. How many times have you been on a training course that delivers content, with maybe a few collaborative activities thrown in to give the trainer a break? Activities and learning should be consistently intentional to allow students to apply material independently so that they are more likely to retain the content.

How can we do this with Scrum? Actually, it’s remarkably simple. Storytelling.

I once saw a brilliant explanation by Derren Brown (a magician and illusionist from the UK) about how he rapidly remembers the order of cards in a deck. He does it by telling himself a story. For example, ‘The Queen of England, who was wearing a red-heart t-shirt, walks into a bar called the Ace of Spades’ (QoH, AoS – two cards) – it might seem convoluted, but learning through personal storytelling enables us to retain knowledge more effectively. Disagree? Try turning on a song you love, but haven’t heard in years…I bet you still remember the lyrics? Telling stories and using metaphors is just as effective for the Scrum framework.

Let me share an example; a developer says ‘Why do we have to have a Daily Scrum every day? We talk all the time so it’s just pointless’. It’s easy to respond and say ‘Well we do it to reduce complexity, attempt to manage risk and make it more likely the Sprint Goal will be met’, but that response is impersonal, and akin to ‘because the Scrum Guide says so’ – this is the worst answer to give anyone, ever. Using a metaphor I might say, ‘The Daily Scrum could be considered to be the helm of a ship. We frequently need to turn it, collaboratively, so that we are more likely to get to the destination we’ve all agreed we’re heading to. If we didn’t tweak our heading every day, it’s more likely we’d go off course’. All of this is personal preference, but I’d stake a claim that they are more likely to remember and understand the second answer.

Experiencing Scrum instead of simply reading the guide is important. Even experienced Scrum Masters need an opportunity to work with others in a safe space to explore Scrum in real life – and that is where these metaphors come in. John Albrecht and I have lovingly crafted ‘Scrum Lake’* – a place where Scrum Masters, Product Owners or anyone just interested in Scrum can explore Scrum through the use of stories and metaphors. It’s not a training session, but it is a learning one. We flip the learning over to the participants, to share their real stories and collectively discuss solutions. We’ll deep dive into Scrum language, using metaphors to help us unlock some meaning. All of the metaphors we use are freely accessible, including the imagery, so that you can take them to your teams to have discussions about the core Scrum framework.

Here are a few metaphors we use in Scrum Lake. How could you use them to explain the purpose of the Scrum framework? What do you think they represent?

Impediments – Large sharks can be seen living in the lake. The explorers are constantly looking out for them on their journey. If any of the crew see a shark, they tell the others in their daily meeting and decide how they will address them. Sometimes they leave it to address at another time.

Increment – The chest is the value that the explorers aim to find/fill during the exploration. They may find multiple pieces of treasure each Sprint and collectively they form a full treasure chest that is inspected during the Sprint Review. All treasure inside the chest meets the same quality requirements as the explorers commit to only delivering valuable treasure.

Commitment – The flag is brought along on every journey. It marks where the explorers get to, and they collectively stick it into the ground. It is so big that all explorers carry it together. Over time, it becomes patchy and worn, but is stronger and more valuable because of it.

Join us for our next Scrum Lake workshop:

*Scrum Lake is not affiliated or endorsed by


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