Montag 04 März 2019

Hold the sprints!
Avoid the pitfalls of Agile and Scrum terminology.

Imagine you’re a manager, part of the steering committee of a new project done with Scrum. You don't really know what Scrum is, except that it’s a new method for development in sprints with a team dedicated to your project. You don't really care what Scrum actually is, but it sounds pretty cool.

In your mind, sprint is referring to Usain Bolt running a hundred meters race. You’ve got images of running to your fastest, burning every resource available, instead of reaching a sustainable velocity that the team can sustain for as long as needed without being exhausted. After all, Usain Bolt is not able to run another hundred meters straight away. Otherwise, it means that it didn’t give it all in the previous race, right?

The image that “consecutive sprints” make up in our mind is closer to a 4x100m relay race than having the same team running over and over indefinitely, which is closer to a marathon.

"As practitioners, we must be cautious with the terms we use to describe our methods and our ways of working because they will be remembered outside of the room."

The only thing your management board will know and understand of your methods are the words you use to describe them. But they will follow them through their everyday use, culture, and filters and not with the defined sense that is so clear to you.

So what do we do? Should we always define the terms we use or should we find new words? I like the idea of building up new words, but it’s a huge task. Finding the right wording without sounding pedantic, then propagate their usage… 

"Choice of words should be bottom up, anchored in our everyday usage and in relentlessly testing comprehension and removing biases in the mind of the non-experts."

We should avoid being trapped in a metaphor if it does suit our needs. In the case of agile and scrum, it is probably too late to popularize a new word instead of the exhausting sprints ("legs", "drives", "bootlegs"...), but lets at least try to talk about “scrums sprints” or "iterations".

Damien Gauthier, Lean Innovation Consultant, SQLI Switzerland

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