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Other Voices: Escape from Scrum Island


Tim Low is a VP of at Daptiv. In his career, Tim has been a Chief, a Scrummie, and a Waterfall, and has many dealings with the PMBOKs.


In a world where the innovative use of technology offers increasingly important competitive advantages, the ability to develop new applications that meet business needs quickly and well is imperative. In the new jungle that is the world of application development, many dangers and many opportunities lurk. This jungle consists of several tribes that are uncomfortable allies, some acting as "frenemies", and some who will only get along if coerced.

The increasing use of flexible, iterative, and agile methodologies, rather than the traditional waterfall methodologies, is creating a new set of challenges. For business and technology product companies to master this brave new world, they must take advantage of the inherent promise of faster-to-market and better quality software that is now available.

Meet the Tribes

While the inhabitants of the business jungle are well known, the application development tribes have existed mostly hidden from the rest of the world for quite some time. Having only limited contact with the outside world, some are still mostly untamed. The first tribe you may encounter is actually the one that intermixes most freely with the rest of the world -- the "Chiefs". The Chiefs are powerful and demanding. They know what they want and they always want it at a certain time -- yesterday. Chiefs are increasingly powerful, and have begun to take more interest in the some of the other tribes because those tribes have the potential to do their bidding.

"Waterfalls" are an ancient tribe. They have lived their lives and practiced their black art of application development largely unchanged for a long, long time. They historically have interacted with the chiefs only to listen to their demands and desires, and to receive a large stack of information from them. This communication however, usually occurs only at the beginning of the process, and the waterfalls will only emerge from the jungle when they've finished their work and are ready to share the results of their labor with the Chiefs. In the beginning this worked. The Chiefs were careful and articulate and provided great detail to the Waterfalls at the start so that the Waterfalls could retreat and do their work undisturbed. But recently tension has grown between the Chiefs and the Waterfalls. The world has sped up, and the work that the Waterfalls now deliver to the Chiefs is often not what the Chiefs want (sometimes, the Chiefs have changed their minds while the Waterfalls were away working, so technically, the Waterfalls delivered what the Chiefs wanted in the recent past, not what they want now -- the difference between the two is often significant). A storm is brewing in the application development jungle.

A distantly related tribe, the PMBOKs, has recently begun to encroach upon those hard at work deep in the jungle. The PMBOKs are renowned for being methodical. They have proven adept and able at delivering large projects for the Chiefs, not just in application development, but also in other areas of the business. The PMBOKs will sometimes take to spying on the Waterfalls to monitor their work and to remind them of the commitments they made to the Chiefs. For obvious reasons, this is an uneasy relationship, and the PMBOKs are often resented by the other tribes for their meddling. Nevertheless, The Chiefs find the PMBOKs invaluable to their mission because of their ability to monitor the other tribes and keep them aware of problems and situations that the tribes don't want to discuss with the Chiefs until it's too late.

A tribe with growing influence in the business jungle is the Scrummies. However, their influence is rarely understood by the Chiefs, the PMBOKs, or the Waterfalls. The Scrummies are so different, and so removed from the rest of the tribes in the jungle that they are confined to an island -- Scrum Island, just barely visible to the mainland jungle on the clearest of days. The goings-on on Scrum Island are as mysterious to the other tribes as the formula for turning lead into gold, and there are many myths and legends about the Scrummies that are intriguing, yet unconfirmed. The reason the Scrummies are so important in the new application development jungle is that they are gaining a reputation as the wizards of application development. In many ways they are eclipsing the previously dominant position and reputation of the Waterfalls who for many years have held sway with the Chiefs.

Why the Scrummies are Ascendant

The mysterious Scrummies would not be gaining influence with the Chiefs if they hadn't proven themselves very valuable. In fact, the Chiefs have tired of the Waterfalls' archaic style of work, particularly their habit of going away for long periods of time. The Scrummies have gained favor for one simple reason: they are fast.

The art practiced by the Scrummies has given the Chiefs better products, faster than the Waterfalls' old way. However, this has come at a cost...

The Uneasy Alliance of Chiefs and Scrummies

Chiefs want what they want, fast, and Scrummies have proven themselves able to deliver faster than the Waterfalls. Whereas the Waterfalls would go away and stay silent for long periods of time, the Scrummies come back to the Chiefs with small pieces of what they want—never the whole thing at one time. So although the Chiefs grew tired of waiting for the Waterfalls, they now are becoming annoyed with the Scrummies for delivering what they want piecemeal. Although they appreciate the fact that they don't have to wait long, they often have to wait anyway before the pieces add up to something they really can use.

The rituals and practices of the Scrummies are not well understood by the Chiefs, and their isolated location and disjointed way of work are becoming as unacceptable to the Chiefs as the Waterfalls' silence and slow-moving pace.

PMBOKs as Overseers and Bridge Builders

Increasingly the Chiefs are commanding the PMBOKs to intercede on their behalf. They need someone to monitor the Scrummies' output and also to think about how it fits the needs that the Chiefs really have. Although they value the speed of the Scrummies, certain chiefs are now becoming nostalgic for their old allies, the Waterfalls. "At least when we got what we got from the Waterfalls, it was complete" say some of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have decided that the PMBOKs have special skills and traditions that might actually help them get the things they had liked from the Waterfalls, but in a much shorter period of time from the Scrummies.

The challenge for the PMBOKs is complex. The PMBOKs, as introduced earlier, are sort of like spies (at least in the eyes of the Scrummies). The PMBOKs' longevity in the jungle is due to their careful and methodical nature, which is often very much at odds with the carefree and collaborative Scrummies. It's not that the Scrummies aren't doing large amounts of work, it's just that they rarely take the time to let the Chiefs know what they're working on. They always deliver something to the Chiefs—sometimes even before the Chiefs expect it—but more often than not, the Chiefs would've been happy to wait just a little bit longer if they could get even two or three of those things at the same time. The PMBOKs are starting to bridge this divide by partaking in the Scrummies' unusual rituals and speaking their language. The PMBOKs are in a unique position to report back to the Chiefs and help them understand what might be coming from the Scrummies in the near future.

Getting Off the Island

As we now know, one of the reasons the Scrummies have remained mysterious and misunderstood is that they live on an island, and rarely escape to the mainland jungle where the other tribes frequently interact.

The Scrummies stay on the island for a number of reasons. First, they like their island. They are comfortable speaking their language and interacting with others that understand their ways. Second, the waterway between the mainland and the island is populated with unpleasant and potentially dangerous obstacles such as "Pirates of Installed Software," "The 'Sticky' (note) Monsters," "Whirpools of Multiple Systems," and the "Bermuda Triangle of Spreadsheets." It should be noted however, that the Scrummies are much more likely to leave the island and engage with the other tribes in the application development jungle if they are encouraged by the PMBOKs.

Does Your Organization Need an Escape from Scrum Island?

You may have recognized certain tribal tensions in this story, as they may exist in a similar fashion in your organization. Scrum is an increasingly popular methodology for software development because it reduces project risk by providing immediate feedback on project successes or roadblocks, and organizations developing internal applications and software firms both use it. New solutions on the market help IT organizations and product teams navigate the untamed jungle of application development by providing tools for the Scrummies and PMBOKs along with special features specifically designed to keep the Chiefs happy so that they have insight into how developers' Scrum projects are mapping to the overall goals of the business.


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