When You Can’t Do It By The Book

Last week, we were facilitating a large Agile for Teams workshop to launch several teams in a marketing organization. Some participants were skeptical, especially early in the workshop, that something from the software world wouldn’t make sense for a marketing team. As one person put it, “we certainly can’t do this by the book here.”

But which book? In our work, the book in question is usually the Scrum Guide, the semi-official definition of Scrum.

Some of our clients see the value in a method like Scrum while also having concerns about how certain parts apply to their unique context. So, what do you when your intuition tells you “by the book won’t work here?”

We take clients through a three part process:

  1. Strip everything back to the essentials. “By the book” often has baggage. People imagine a particular estimating method or facilitation approach is required by Scrum, for example. But when they take a closer look, they find Scrum is agnostic about those things.
  2. Understand why things are the way they are, both in your system and in the practices or methods you’re considering. What jobs are the Scrum events, for example, designed to do? Why is the product backlog shaped the way it is? Why are our teams organized the way they are?
  3. Mindfully solve each of the problems for your context. Once you understand why, say, the Daily Scrum or the ScrumMaster role exists, consider the best way to solve that problem for your team. You may not use exactly the practice outlined in the book, but you probably have a similar problem to address somehow.

We explored this idea in our Humanizing Work Conference Alumni Community last week. The people in this community have been around the block with Agile methods. So we thought it would be interesting to pool our notes about the different variations we’ve seen on the Scrum roles. We all told stories about times we couldn’t do the roles “by the book” and noted what seemed to work and what didn’t work so well. Then, we interpreted all the data to distill some advice for people applying Scrum in a new context. As the advice rolled in, Peter remarked, “these things still apply when you’re doing the roles by the book, too.” It sounded a lot like the list above—understand the job that the roles are trying to do, and address those things as well as you can in your unique context.

This week’s Humanizing Work Show episode is about how to get started as a new PO, whether you’re new in the PO role or just working in a new context. Last week, we answered a similar question for ScrumMasters. A common theme across both was focusing on the underlying purpose of the role. Check out those episodes, whether you’re new in the role or could just use a reset to the essentials.

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