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The Reflective Rulebook

Over the past few months, I believe I’ve moved to a place in my agile journey where I’ve started to question the norms and innovate my practice. I don’t say this arrogantly, in fact I mean this in a humble way because recently it seems like I have more questions than answers. This blog post is actually more for myself (at the time of writing I’m not even sure I plan on sharing it), to force me to coherently explain my thinking around Scrum improvements. Fair warning, don’t expect any answers from this blog. My aim is for personal reflection, and nothing more.

Going back a year or so ago, I challenged an experienced Scrum Master with a question. Recently, in a completely different scenario with a different person, that question came up again, and so I wanted to write about it. That question was:

‘Is there a point where the Scrum framework itself becomes an impediment to continued improvement?’

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m out of my mind. But let me explain why I asked the question and then you can make your judgements.

To me, Scrum is about empirically making small improvements both to a Product and the process we use to deliver it. Scrum is awesome – its results are proven – I’m 100% sold. It is not prescriptive (after all, it’s a framework!) but it provides lightweight guidance on how you can move towards maximising value. However, I am also a proponent of the Shu-Ha-Ri (SHR) way of thinking, so the question I asked stemmed from how Scrum and SHR could co-exist (as I’ve been told countless times that they work ‘hand-in-glove’).

At a basic level, SHR is ‘Tradition’ (following the rules), ‘Innovate’ (challenging the status quo) and ‘Transcend’ (creating your own rules). As a Scrum Master, my goal has always been to create an environment where creativity and self-organisation is at the core. Therefore ‘Shu’, where the team observe the ‘norms that our forebears created’ is 100% applicable. Beyond that though, I’m not sure how applicable Ha and Ri are to Scrum? I’ve been coaching lots of teams recently on the Scrum framework and I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve said ‘self-organise, but within the Scrum boundaries’. If I reflect on telling them that, am I restricting them to ‘Shu’? Am I preventing their ability to ‘Innovate’ and ‘Transcend’? If the ‘forms may be broken’ (Ha) or ‘completely depart from the forms’ (Ri), would that mean they aren’t doing Scrum if they are operating outside of the boundaries? Is that a problem? AHHH! So many questions!

I think I’ve settled on my opinion that even if the Product is ‘complex and adaptive’ and is the perfect fit for Scrum, restricting the team to only organise within the boundaries risks a glass ceiling of progress. The reason I think this (my opinion will likely float like a feather in the wind on this matter) is because I view ‘following Scrum’ as meaning simply, ‘make your process empirical’. If the evidence suggests that a team can improve Scrum application in their domain…should they trust their empiricism and adapt?

Going forward, if my team were: consistently delivering potentially releasable increments; steadily improving their quality and processes; living the 5 Scrum values (all the while being empirical) and said, ‘We know X is outside of the Scrum framework, but we think it will make us better’, would I try to remind them of the framework boundaries? The old medefinitely would have, and I think I still would now. But would I try and get them to follow textbook Scrum application even if they think they can ‘Transcend’? Probably not.

At the start of this blog I said the purpose of writing this was to make me reflect. And I have. The question I asked to my senior colleague was flawed. Scrum isn’t the impediment, in fact the framework clearly tells us what to do when you’ve turned your work to Done, ‘inspect and adapt’.

I’d like to analogise my thoughts on this topic to an ‘Easter egg’ in a video game. When you’ve gone as far as you can by following the storyline (Scrum framework rules; Shu), you must look for other opportunities to make your experience interesting (innovating and adapting with freedom; Ha). Eventually, you will outgrow the game and look for something better (Ri).

Having said that, I’d like to change my question please:

‘Is there a point where a team can outgrow the Scrum framework?’

….and I think that is a topic for another blog.


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