Doing perfect Scrum doesn’t mean you are delivering value

Scrum Jan 25, 2021

Stop obsessing over the exact mechanics of Scrum

Scrum Masters love talking about Scrum like it is the solution to everything. Master Scrum and the delivery of value is inevitable. I’d actually argue the opposite. When you obsess over perfecting your Scrum, you will never deliver value.

Photo by Andrew Wilus

Let’s perform a thought experiment. Imagine you work in a perfect Scrum Team, that flawlessly executes Scrum as it is intended by the Scrum Guide. Ken and Jeff would struggle to hold their tears of joy if they would witness our imaginary team in action.

You’re at the Sprint Review of the immaculate Scrum Team, and nobody is surprised when they present the following:

  1. There is a Product Increment that meets the Sprint Goal.
  2. The Product Increment meets the Definition-of-Done.
  3. There is significant progress towards the Product Goal.

Everybody attending the Sprint Review is ecstatic. Now comes the million-dollar question: did the Scrum Team deliver something of value?

Think long and hard about that one. Here’s a follow-up question to help you along: what does Scrum offer to ensure you deliver value?

Here are some more hints. Does Scrum provide answers to any of the following questions:

  • How to create a compelling Product Vision?
  • How do you come up with an effective Product Strategy?
  • What is your product?
  • Who is your customer?
  • What does value mean for your customers and the business?
  • How do you arrange your Product Backlog to deliver the most value?
  • How do you increase confidence that what you’re working on will be valuable?
  • How do you validate what you’ve delivered actually is valuable?

Let me spoil it for you: no. Scrum provides zero answers to any of these questions.

Perfect Scrum only ensures the following:

  • You’ve built a Product Increment that satisfies the Sprint Goal and meets the Definition of Done. The Sprint Goal is a step towards realizing your Product Goal and Product Vision.

Scrum helps you deliver what you’ve agreed together to achieve. Whether what you’ve agreed to deliver matters or not, that’s something else. As Paddy Corry has beautifully said, the done in the Definition of Done doesn’t mean done. It means ready for feedback.

At the end of the Sprint, you’ve delivered a Product Increment that works, that’s all. Did you follow the right steps to increase your confidence that it will be valuable? Will you validate it afterwards to ensure it is valuable?

That’s something where Scrum has surprisingly little to say. Apart from claiming it’s the responsibility of the Product Owner. How does the Product Owner do that? Don’t read the Scrum Guide looking for answers to these questions.

When you implement Scrum perfectly, there still is a giant value delivery chasm you need to cross, where Scrum (and most Scrum Masters) can’t provide answers. At the end of the day, Scrum is garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t know what needs to happen to ensure delivery of value, then your perfect Scrum implementation will totally miss the point.

The biggest obstacle to delivering value isn’t doing Scrum right. It’s crossing the value delivery chasm. How do you figure out a way of working that doesn’t just deliver something, but that increases confidence that you’re delivering value? This is where the world of Product Management comes in.

Scrum doesn’t ensure that what you’re doing is valuable and that’s by design. It’s a purposefully incomplete process framework after all. Value depends on your context. This then leads us to the next question: who will help enrich the Scrum process so it can result in the delivery of value?

The Scrum Masters who are not experts in Product Management? The single Product Owner who owns the whole product and doesn’t have time to educate the whole company on how to deliver value? The developers who already have enough on their plate trying to deliver a Product Increment that meets the Sprint Goal?

Let’s talk less about Scrum and talk more about how we can deliver value better. How do we come up with the right Product Vision, Product Strategy, Product Goals and Sprint Goals? That’s not where most Scrum Masters are experts in, but that’s how value actually gets delivered.

Perfect Scrum is like writing a book with flawless grammar and zero spelling mistakes: it still doesn’t mean anyone will care to read it. The biggest obstacle to delivering value isn’t doing Scrum right. It is coming up with a way of working that optimizes the probability that you’ll deliver something of value to your customers and the business.