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10 reasons why your Scrum project is failing

Updated on August 19, 2013

When scrum isn't working

You've completed the training and you have your Scrum agile certification. With renewed energy and motivation, you launch your project with gusto and apply everything you've learned. But wait, what's this? It isn't working. The management team are on your back, the customer is complaining and your team is demotivated. So what went wrong? Here are 10 reasons why your scrum project might be failing.

1. Your team is too small / too large

Scrum teams should be between 5 and 9. The perfect team size is 7. The reason 7 is given as a number is because there has been a lot of research done into team working and what an ideal size team is to be effective. A team consisting of fewer than 5 members would be too small for scrum to offer any added value. A team size larger than 9 becomes harder to manage.

2. Your client doesn't know you are using Scrum

Scrum is an agile methodology and as such it requires a change in attitude for those exposed to it. Traditional project methodology suggests a clear split between design, documentation and specification work, core build work, and finally the testing. Agile methodologies break these rules entirely.

It is important the client is not only aware of what you are doing but that they embrace it. A client expecting to see detailed documentation and instead given a prototype will be disappointed, even if that disappointment feels unjustified to your team who have worked hard to produce a beautiful and impressive prototype product.

3. The management team isn't behind it

Scrum is a cultural shift for an organization. If you work in a company where certain standards and processes are in place to monitor and control your projects, it is highly likely scrum won't fit into that. Without the support of management, you will struggle to adopt the change in work practices that scrum requires.

If you are planning on following Scrum on a project, it is worthwhile asking someone from the senior management team in your organization to attend a Scrum training course with you, as only with that level of information and knowledge will they be able to give you the backing and the support you need.

4. The project team isn't behind it

Scrum is about team empowerment. To do that, your team needs to understand what scrum is, how it works and why it works in that way. As with managers, the best way of doing that is to ensure the full team is trained in scrum. By doing that, you'll ensure you get the most out of the teamwork that scrum promotes - for example, the sprint planning sessions.

5. You are trying to manually track the sprint backlog

Sprint backlogs contain all the task details so they can potentially contain not tens but hundreds of items for a sprint. For a successful sprint, this needs to be kept up to date on a daily basis and this is a full time job to do manually, meaning you won't have time to oversee anything else on the project. There are plenty of tools on the market for managing a sprint backlog so they are definitely a worthwhile investment.

6. You keep changing the sprint durations

It's a very simple rule but projects still try to break it: sprints are a fixed duration! The reason they are a fixed duration is that you can begin to measure the amount of work you can comfortably achieve in that period and use that to estimate your next sprint. If you keep changing the duration of the sprints you won't be able to do this, and will lose some of the value scrum provides in estimating work.

7. Some of your team are missing the sprint planning meetings

Sprint planning meetings are a critical aspect of scrum. The most obvious purpose is to get the team to decide on the work that is going to be carried out and, crucially, how long they believe it will take. But the benefit is far subtler than this: what sprint planning meetings do is make sure you have up-front commitment from your team to deliver what they say they will deliver. Absentees don't give you this commitment and may cause you problems as a result.

8. You are not producing a burndown chart

Burndown charts document how quickly you are getting through your work on a sprint. Too slow, and you won't 'burn' through all the work before the sprint ends. They are a simple but powerful representation of whether your project is on track or not at any given moment. Without them, you are effectively working in the dark and you may be in for a nasty surprise at the end of the sprint.

9. The sprints are not delivering value

Remember, at the end of every sprint you should be in a position with your project whereby if you cancelled it, there would still be something remaining that is of value. Software, for example, should be working, albeit with missing functionality. There may be a basic prototype of a product. A website may only contain one web page. What you shouldn't do is finish a sprint with just the documentation, partial coding and no working product. This does not give enough focus to a sprint, and does not add enough value.

10. You're slipping into the waterfall mindset

Sometimes projects just find it very difficult to think agile: building, not documenting. Co-operating, not controlling. If you are used to a waterfall mindset, whereby the project gets designed and documented before a single task happens to build your product, you may find agile too uncomfortable. You may try scrum methodology but try to preserve your waterfall-style traditions. This doesn't work on scrum. If you are using scrum, your project needs to adhere to the agile mindset.

Making scrum work for you

Scrum is like many frameworks for projects. If done well, it can produce excellent results. However, as with any theoretical framework, the success is all in the application of it. Apply scrum intelligently to your project and you will see the rewards.

Further reading

Agile Software Development with Scrum (Series in Agile Software Development)
Agile Software Development with Scrum (Series in Agile Software Development)
Written by Ken Schwaber, the original architect of scrum, this is a good starting point for anyone who is new to the methodology

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