Don‘t ignore the hidden preconditions for Scrum

May 9, 2024 | Uncategorized

Don‘t ignore the hidden preconditions for Scrum

Prerequisites of Scrum

When it comes to implementing Scrum, people often talk about sprints, stand-ups, and story points. But hey, let’s hit the brakes for a minute! Are we missing something crucial here? Absolutely!

Before you dive headfirst into the Scrum pool, there’s some prep work that needs to be done. It’s not just about the rituals and the roles; it’s about the foundational elements that need to be in place for Scrum to really work its magic.

Building Scrum onto a shaky foundation can backfire. The key is to know the partially hidden assumptions Scrum makes.

Many teams jump into Scrum with enthusiasm, only to find themselves tangled in inefficiencies and frustration. Why? Because they overlooked the preconditions that Scrum assumes are already in place. Think of it like trying to plant a garden without fertile soil. No matter how much you water it, without the right base, those plants are going to have a tough time thriving.

In this article, we’re diving deep into what those preconditions are and why they’re absolutely critical for Scrum success. Whether you’re new to this agile framework or looking to refine your current practices, understanding these prerequisites can transform your approach and amplify your results. So, let’s get into it!

1 – The Composition of a Scrum Team

“[The Scrum Team]is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.” – Scrum Guide

Professionalism is key

First things first: your team needs to be made up of professionals. It’s about having team members who grasp their roles deeply and are capable of tackling complex problems with skill and creativity. Inexperienced juniors? They might have the enthusiasm, but without a backbone of experienced professionals, your team will likely struggle. It’s fine to mix juniors and seniors; just don’t expect a team consisting entirely of juniors to thrive just because you add Scrum.

Single-minded focus

Now, let’s talk about focus. In Scrum, multitasking is a major no-no. The team needs to be locked in on one product goal at a time. If your team is juggling multiple projects or products, the divided attention will dilute their effectiveness. Scrum thrives on concentrated effort and collective energy directed toward a singular objective. This laser focus enables quicker adjustments, faster delivery, and ultimately, a more cohesive product.

Apart from the team focusing on one goal at a time, this also means you don’t have people jumping around between three different teams! No split-heads! It’s just inefficient, ineffective and burns out your best people. Scrum teams with team members being “on the team” 30% of the time don’t work.

Clarity in objectives

Lastly, the cornerstone of a functional Scrum team is a clear, well-defined product goal. Ambiguity is the enemy! Without a crystal-clear objective, your team will lack direction and efficiency. Every member of the team, from the product owner to the developers, should understand not just the ‘what’ of their project, but the ‘why’ as well. This alignment is crucial for fostering ownership, motivation, and self-management driving the team to deliver high-quality increments sprint after sprint.

By ensuring these three key aspects are in place, your Scrum team will be much better positioned for success. Professionalism, focus, and clear goals aren’t just nice-to-haves; they are essential ingredients that set the stage for all the dynamic action that Scrum promises. Now, let’s explore the inner workings of a Scrum team in the next section and why traditional hierarchies just don’t make the cut.

2 – The Structure Within a Scrum Team

Many focus on team size and roles, but too few understand the structural requirements of a Scrum Team. Let’s break down why Scrum demands a specific team architecture and how this influences the overall success of your agile efforts.

No sub-teams or bosses

“Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies” – Scrum Guide

The essence of Scrum lies in its flat hierarchy. Within a Scrum team, everyone is on equal footing—there are no sub-teams or hierarchies that segment the group. This structure is crucial because it eliminates traditional bottlenecks in decision-making and ensures that information flows freely among all team members.

Why does this matter? Well, when the Product Owner or Scrum Master acts as the boss, it can skew team dynamics and impede the collaborative spirit Scrum aims to foster. Developers need the autonomy to make decisions on technical issues without waiting for a nod from a higher-up. This autonomy speeds up the development process and boosts innovation. Remember, in Scrum, the team’s strength is its unity and collective expertise, not the authority of a single leader.

Self-management and trust

“They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.” – Scrum Guide

A key pillar of Scrum is the team’s ability to self-manage. This isn’t just about choosing who does what; it’s about embracing a profound level of trust and responsibility. Each team member decides not only their tasks but also the best approach to these tasks, without external micromanagement.

This level of self-governance requires a deep-seated trust from all sides—trust that each member is capable and motivated, and trust from the organization that the team knows how to reach its goals effectively. This is where leadership needs to step back and let the team navigate its path. Command and control leadership styles? They have no place here. They stifle creativity and responsiveness, two hallmarks of a thriving Scrum environment.

Skills and resources

Lastly, for a Scrum team to truly be self-managing and effective, it must be well-equipped. This means having the right mix of skills within the team to create a usable product increment each Sprint. It’s not just about having developers; you need a team capable of handling all aspects of the product lifecycle—from conception to delivery. This could include testers, UX designers, and ops engineers who work collaboratively within the Scrum framework.

A team that’s only geared towards planning or lacks the resources to execute won’t cut it. Don’t ask, I’ve seen “Scrum Teams” consisting of only “subject matter experts” producing nothing but user stories, architectures and plans every sprint 🙈.

But the team must be able to design, develop, test, and deploy within the confines of each sprint cycle. Ensuring the team has what it needs—be it tools, technologies, or information—is a foundational step that cannot be overlooked.

By aligning the team structure with these principles, you set the stage for a Scrum practice that’s not only functional but poised for success. With no internal barriers and a strong sense of autonomy, teams can navigate challenges more flexibly and deliver value faster. Up next, let’s dive into how the surrounding environment and organizational culture must support these agile dynamics to cultivate a truly effective Scrum team.

3 – Environmental and Organizational Support

Achieving Scrum success isn’t just about the team and its internal dynamics; the broader environment and organizational culture play pivotal roles too. This aspect is an important part of my [Agile Coach program]. Here’s how the setting in which a Scrum team operates can make or break their agile journey.

Empowerment over micro-management

Scrum thrives in environments where teams are empowered to make decisions. This empowerment is fundamental, contrasting sharply with traditional command and control management styles that can choke the agility out of a team. When teams are micro-managed, their natural ability to respond quickly to changes is hampered, which is antithetical to the very essence of Scrum.

Leadership’s role in a Scrum environment should be to support and facilitate, not to dictate. This means providing the team with the autonomy to determine the what, how, and when of their tasks, trusting them to navigate the complexities of the work. Such trust isn’t just given; it’s built through consistent positive interactions and by upholding a belief in the team’s capabilities. When teams feel supported in this way, they are more likely to take ownership of the product and drive innovation.

The importance of work being plannable

Scrum is designed for work that can be planned in sprints, which typically implies a type of work that has clear, achievable goals within a predictable framework. This is why Scrum fits so well with product development, where you can delineate tasks that contribute towards a tangible product goal.

On the other hand, environments like customer support or ongoing maintenance, where work is reactionary and not easily predictable, pose challenges for Scrum implementation. In these scenarios, the lack of plannability can lead to frequent disruptions in the sprint, making it hard for the team to maintain focus and momentum. Organizations must carefully consider whether their type of work aligns with the structured nature of Scrum before adopting it. If the core activities of the team cannot be planned a few days in advance, Scrum may not be the most beneficial approach.

Aligning with agile-friendly policies

The alignment of organizational policies with agile principles is another critical factor. Policies that reinforce flexibility, learning, and continuous improvement are conducive to Scrum. Conversely, policies rooted in rigidity, such as strict adherence to predefined processes or heavy documentation requirements, can stifle the agility of a Scrum team.

For instance, budgeting in a Scrum environment should avoid traditional cost-based methods, which often require extensive upfront planning and predictability. Agile budgeting should leave room for flexible plans, allowing for adjustments as the product evolves and new insights are gained. This flexibility supports the iterative nature of Scrum, enabling teams to adapt based on real-time results and shifting priorities.

By fostering an environment that emphasizes empowerment, plannability, and agile-aligned policies, organizations set the stage for effective and sustainable Scrum practices. Up next, I’ll explore a few ideal scenarios for Scrum application and highlight cases where it might not be as effective, providing you with a clearer roadmap for your Scrum strategy.

4 – Ideal vs. Non-Ideal Scrum Scenarios

Understanding where Scrum can be most effective is crucial for setting realistic expectations and achieving results. By recognizing ideal and non-ideal scenarios for its application, organizations can better tailor their agile practices to suit their specific needs. Let me talk about some examples to illustrate when Scrum is a good fit and when it might struggle.

When Scrum Shines

1. Independent Software Development Teams with Clear Goals

Example: A team of experienced software developers, testers, and UX experts developing a new e-commerce SaaS platform. There are no management levels above the team that interfere with daily operations.

Why It Works: This scenario is ideal for Scrum because it involves complex, creative work that benefits from iterative development and frequent feedback. The team’s autonomy and lack of external management layers allow for quick pivots and focused efforts on clearly defined product goals.

2. Mixed-Experience Teams with Strong Support Structures

Example: A team with a mix of juniors and seniors in the automotive industry developing a new car model. Management trusts the team and provides a clear company vision while staying out of day-to-day decisions.

Why It Works: This environment leverages the strengths of both experienced and less experienced team members, fostering a culture of mentorship and continuous learning. The strong support from management ensures alignment with broader organizational goals without stifling the team’s agility.

When Scrum Struggles

1. Customer Support Team

Example: A team of experienced software developers and customer support staff who must respond to customer requests and bug reports while developing new features.

Why It Fails: Scrum is less effective here due to the unpredictable nature of customer support tasks, which thwart planning and disrupt the sprint’s flow and focus. The team cannot commit to sprint goals when urgent, unplanned tasks frequently arise. Team’s in this scenario typically turn to Kanban or similar approaches.

2. Fragmented Teams with Handoffs

Example: A team of software developers who complete features only to hand them off to a separate test team not involved in the initial development phases.

Why It Fails: The lack of collaboration throughout the sprint and the sequential work (rather than parallel) introduces delays and diminishes the benefits of iterative feedback and adjustments that Scrum promotes.

3. Teams Focused Solely on Planning

Example: A group of product experts who spend each sprint creating detailed user stories and plans without actually delivering working increments.

Why It Fails: Scrum emphasizes the delivery of usable increments at the end of each sprint. Teams that focus solely on planning and fail to produce tangible outputs do not leverage the framework effectively, leading to stalled progress and theoretical outcomes.

4. High-Control Environments

Example: A team of skilled developers, testers, and UX designers working on an innovative e-commerce platform, but under tight management control that dictates every detail of the product development process. To top it off, management provides individual bonuses to best performing team members.

Why It Fails: This scenario contradicts the self-managing principle of Scrum. Excessive control and micro-management hinder the team’s ability to adapt and innovate, ultimately reducing the effectiveness of the Scrum methodology. The bonuses also aim to control, diminish intrinsic motivation and divert away from team and company goals.

By recognizing these ideal and non-ideal scenarios, you can assess whether Scrum is the right fit for a situation or if adjustments are needed to create a conducive environment for its principles. This understanding will help in avoiding common pitfalls and setting up your Scrum initiative for success. Next, we’ll discuss how aligning company culture with the principles of Scrum can further enhance its effectiveness.

5 – The Broader Organizational Culture

To fully harness the power of Scrum, an organization’s culture must align with the core principles of agility. This involves cultivating an environment where trust, openness, and flexibility are not just encouraged, but embedded in the way the organization operates. Let’s explore how cultural elements impact the success of Scrum and what specific cultural attributes support its effective implementation.

Culture of Trust and Positive Intent

A successful Scrum environment is underpinned by a culture of trust and assumes positive intent (API) from every team member. Trust enables teams to take risks and experiment, which are essential for innovation and rapid problem-solving. When team members believe that their colleagues, managers, and the organization as a whole are assuming their best intentions, it creates a safe space for creativity and honest feedback.

Leaders within the organization play a critical role in fostering this culture. They must model trust by delegating authority and responsibility, allowing teams to self-manage their workflows and make decisions without fear of repercussions for honest mistakes. This level of empowerment is crucial for Scrum teams to thrive, as it encourages accountability and ownership of both successes and setbacks.

Self-managing teams, like Scrum Teams, simply cannot exist without decision-making power and trust.

Budgeting for Flexibility

Traditional budgeting methods can often be at odds with the agile way of working. In Scrum, the flexibility to adapt to changes and pivot based on feedback is vital. Cost-based budgeting, which requires extensive upfront planning and produces rigid plans, can restrict this flexibility. Instead, organizations should consider adopting more agile budgeting practices that allow for continuous reallocation of resources based on shifting priorities and evolving project scopes ([Beyond Budgeting] is one such approach).

This approach not only supports the iterative nature of Scrum but also aligns financial planning with the dynamic environment that Scrum teams operate in. It ensures that resource allocation and targets can be adjusted to support the most valuable and immediate needs, enhancing the team’s ability to deliver impactful results quickly.


Implementing Scrum is more than implementing a framework; it’s about embracing a cultural shift towards greater agility, collaboration, and transparency. Organizations must not only provide their teams with the structures and practices outlined in Scrum but also cultivate an environment that supports these methods at every level.

Before considering Scrum, we must look at the preconditions this framework assumes. Recognizing the prerequisites and ideal scenarios for Scrum, understanding its limitations, and aligning organizational culture with Scrum principles are all essential steps on the path to true agility.

If we lack a clear product vision, experienced professionals, have trouble trusting people or are entangled in an ancient budgeting process, Scrum won’t help much.

Of course we don’t have to wait for all of Scrum’s assumptions to be met before we start. But if we expect results from Scrum, we must at least make a commitment to develop these preconditions parallel to learning Scrum.

Remember to keep an eye out for the assumptions Scrum is built on. And if you don’t see your or your client’s organization meat these, talk about it. Make clear to everybody what Scrum requires. Then make an effort to build the foundations on which Scrum can thrive!

What is your last experience with implementing Scrum? Which preconditions were or were not in place? What followed from that? Hit reply and let me know.

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And here is a little bonus meme to remind you that it‘s less about the framework or method than we often want to believe. Click on it to read more:


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