Failure Pattern in Scrum

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I recently spoke at a corporate community of practice event.  My session presented a useful model to identify indicators within a system to predict its failure. First, we started by applying the model to everyday systems everyone could relate to.  Next, I asked the attendees to map a system of their own. As I walked them through my model step by step, I used Scrum as my example system. Upon completion of the worksheet (see my completed sheet below), attendees were able to see if there were any “gaps” in their systems. The gaps provided an indication that a respective system was at risk of failure.

To clarify, on a delivery team level, I see the Scrum Framework as a solid method for managing product development. But what about Scrum in the context of the entire delivery organization?  Using both The Three Things You Need To Know To Transform Any Sized Organization and my model, I look at Scrum in a broader context. I can see a potential failure pattern.

Scrum failure pattern


What is the failure pattern I see in Scrum?

My model will segment any system into 5 areas: Clarity, Commitment, Ritual, Progress, and Habit. The gaps that I will note below are those things not mentioned in the Scrum Guide.

Gap 1: Clarity

What does the structure of the organization look like (Portfolio, Program, Product) above the Scrum Team? We need a shared understanding.  What does the governance of the organization look like (Budget, Dependencies, Risks, Quality,…) above the Scrum Team? What are necessary metrics and tools of the organization above the Scrum Team?  Some organizations are very large and heavily distributed.  How will you measure the health of the entire delivery system?

Gap 2: Commitment

In Mike‘s 3-things talk, he calls this accountability. Given the broad applicability of my model, I prefer to call it commitment.  Commitment can be any resource. So, what money and time may be required for Scrum training of all leadership and Scrum teams within an enterprise?  What money and time may be required for procurement, installation, and training of tooling used to manage and report on the health of the delivery system? Lastly, we need agreement from the Leadership team to follow the Scrum Framework (or more particularly respect that the Scrum team is following it).

Gap 3: Progress

As I noted in my post on Productivity Patterns, if you lack progress, you lose momentum. If you lose momentum (or should I be so bold to say velocity or throughput), you will lose commitment to the system. Those who are funding the efforts (those outside the Scrum team) need to know progress is being made in a way that is important to them.  What is the Time to Value?  Is the Scrum team predictable on a release level (Release Burndown/Burnup chart)?  Are we even building the right things? (Product Fit) Are we building things right? (Quality)

Gap 4: Rituals

Rituals can be event or meetings, as part of your system of delivery. First, let’s start with product vision.  Scrum teams have a horizon of a few weeks (the sprint).  Vision is viewed or realized in months, quarters, or years. Read the Scrum Guide and you won’t see Vision mentioned once.  Also absent from the the Scrum Guide is the notion of portfolio or release planning.  Unless you have a delivery capability that allows you to release at the end of every sprint, I can’t champion release planning enough.  In addition to that, good portfolio planning ensures we have a balanced system of delivery and ensures we have capacity to make commitments against a roadmap.

Gap 5: Habit

Given the rituals I outlined above, you should make it a habit to have periodic Vision Reviews, regularly scheduled Portfolio Planning/Reviews, and ensure you’re consistently doing your Release Planning.


I’m not suggesting you abandon Scrum. But after you look at the highlighted gaps I listed above, in a system of delivery larger than a single Scrum team, you should consider more than what is in the Scrum Guide.

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