Ignoring Scrum to get more Agile?
Killing agility with excessive meetingsDecember 06, 2022 - 1213 words - 7 mins Found a typo? Edit me
Talking to a friend about agile, he asked me a fascinating question remarking how badly sometimes Agile and Scrum fit together, especially regarding meetings. These are my thoughts about this topic.
TL;DR: People become slaves to systems that are supposed to help. Boring meetings are killing agile. Meetings require an active participation from everyone. Otherwise, you might not be essential to that meeting, and rather use your time with something else.
“Do you think it would make sense to just use agile and ignore scrum (sprints) completely in a product based development company. I feel it’s hard to be agile when you have 10 hours of meetings per week.” Filip G.
That is related to the essence core of Extreme Programming, which is the first value: Effective Communication.
“Probably some companies just don’t know how to properly use meetings and just have them out of habit.” Filip G.
I wouldn’t say completely ignore Scrum. Scrum (when done well) is a great “Product Management” Framework. To improve your understanding of Scrum I recommend reading: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.
The main issue with scrum nowadays is that management took control over the whole thing, and developers are not really educated about how to practice Scrum properly (in a real Agile way), and that’s where the problem starts. For this, I recommend a book that addresses pretty well the common issues that most Scrum teams face in a fun and easy-reading book Zombie Scrum Survival Guide: A Journey to Recovery.
It’s not about Agile yes, and Scrum no. They are totally compatible. The issue is to create awareness about how to focus the team processes from an agile point of view.
Agile in a nutshell
I recently wrote a blog post about agile fundamentals, which I recommend you to read to get into the details: Working agile with non-agile teams. But, the tl;dr:
Agile is about keeping these values always present:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
While there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Scrum in a nutshell
Scrum is a framework for project management emphasizing software development, although it is used in other fields like sales, marketing, and more. It’s designed for teams of 5–9 people (see Dunbar number) who are totally autonomous and responsible for breaking down their work into small chunks that can be completed in a time-boxed iteration, called sprints, usually 1, 2, or 4 weeks.
It’s common to find certain ceremonies/meetings like:
- Stand-up: 15 min (or less) to keep everyone in the team sync and updated about the work and call out for action when anyone is blocked or need especial attention or help.
- Refinement: 2h? meeting to make sure the tickets are in a good shape before planning them to be worked on in the next sprint.
- Planning: 2h? meeting to plan the work to be done in the next sprint.
- Demo/Review: 2h? meeting to show the work done for the whole team, stakeholders and other interested people.
- Retrospective: 2h? meeting intended to enable the team to reflect and improve.
The critical question is how your team organizes these meetings and, most important of all, how effective these are. These above are just some of the important meetings you have in any “Scrum Team” nowadays.
Still, apart from those, you might encounter a lot of additional meetings that pile up, and suddenly your entire working day is gone, and you feel you didn’t produce the value you expected. Unless your job is being in meetings every time, like coordinating projects and talking to people all the time, it seems something is wrong.
Have you ever been in any of those meetings and thought, “This is boring, what a waste of time…”. Well, I’ve experienced that more than once. Who’s to blame? That would be the very first question that could come to your mind. Followed by, “My boss, obviously, because he/she organized that meeting, to which I got invited, therefore I am forced to attend, and this wasting time is their fault.”
This is a tricky question, and I don’t think it is an honest answer. However, there is an easy explanation for this answer: pushing away responsibilities and blaming others rather than yourself is way easier.
“I am forced to attend, and this wasting time is their fault” it could be that that’s actually the actual fact. You were really forced, and you’re wasting your time, and there is no other way… but is there no way to act on it, really?
When something doesn’t work the way I expect (e.g., I don’t like the outcome, or I think something is off), before blaming and pushing away responsibilities to others, I want to reflect on it and identify the root of the issue. What could I do to make the situation a bit better?
What can you do about it?
Coming back to this context of “many meetings”, if you see yourself in a meeting again that feels off or boring, try asking yourself:
Am I feeling bored? Why so? Is it possible that I am not participating in the desired outcome of the meeting? And if so, is my presence here in this meeting really necessary? Could I simply ask for a summary afterward and jump outside the meeting to do something more productive?
Contrarily, is it OK to feel bored in this meeting? Or should I participate and engage with my peers to contribute to the outcome of the meeting?
In these situations, I encounter a pattern such as:
- If the meeting is not boring, it is productive and will produce a rich outcome for you and, hopefully, all participants.
- If the meeting is boring, then either A) it is OK to be boring, politely ask to leave, and you will get the summary afterward, or B) it is not OK to be boring. Your participation is necessary for the outcome of the meeting. Try being more engaging with your peers, and the meeting won’t be boring.
In the end, there are a lot of strategies, and it’s up to you to act on them whenever you see something that could be improved.
It’s OK to point out the “elephant in the room” and ask for help to improve any situation you think - or feel - is not working as it should.