The Main Reason NOT to Read the Scrum Guide

I am amazed at how many scrum team members have not read the scrum guide. One would think a team that is going to practice scrum would read this guide extensively. It provides guidance on how to practice scrum so why wouldn’t one read it? Even more amazing is how many haven’t even read the Agile Manifesto. In one respect I thought this was a travesty. It’s like forgoing reading the instructions on how to operate your TV and then getting frustrated because you think a feature isn’t working properly. It is working properly but you must read the instructions first to know what working properly means. After reading some various blogs where people were taking the scrum guide literally, I quickly changed my mind about reading the scrum guide. It was at that moment I realized the main reason people shouldn’t read the scrum guide. scrum guide book2

Let’s talk about that intended purpose of the scrum guide first for a second. Why was the scrum guide developed? What problem were they trying to solve by creating it? Faster delivery? Higher quality? These are definitively outcomes that come with practicing scrum. Yet, scrum is a process framework for planning not delivering products. The result of planning effectively can be faster delivery, higher quality, continuous product delivery, greater team morale, etc. It is this key distinction that is necessary to understand when reading the scrum guide. Which brings me to the main reason not to read the scrum guide. If you have not developed an agile mindset first, then don’t read the scrum guide yet. Without this mindset, you will misinterpret the scrum guide. Your interpretation may be through a traditional planning lens resulting in undesirable behaviors and thinking.

Just recently I was asked to help facilitate an “agile assessment” survey to some scrum teams. On the surface this may seem like a good idea, getting a baseline to see where we are on our agile journey. Even so, this is a prime example of how reading the scrum guide without an agile mindset will cause trouble. One of the survey questions asked about team co-location. One team answered that they were fully co-located. Unlike other teams who had team members in India, New York and Chicago, all their team members were in the same facility; not on the same floor or in the same room or area but the same building. Technically the team was correct however they lost the intent of co-location, which is an opportunity to quickly collaborate amongst team members to discuss issues, approaches and dependencies. Having people in the same building didn’t necessarily foster the intent of co-location; there was little face-to-face conversation within the team. Their literal interpretation of co-location skewed the survey results. On paper it appeared as though the team was very agile; but in reality they were far from it. Without the clear understanding of intent  and a developed agile mindset, misconceptions will emerge painting the wrong picture of a team’s agile journey.

OK, so I imagine a few of you are asking a few different questions right now like, “What do I do if I don’t have an agile mindset? I need to at least understand what scrum is don’t I?” or “How do I develop this mindset before practicing scrum or agile?” All great and fair questions. Here’s what I recommend. Read the scrum guide and partner with someone who has already developed an agile mindset such as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach. Ask them to help you see the scrum guide with the lens of an agile mindset. Discuss your interpretations of the scrum guide with your partner and discuss the differences. To develop an agile mindset on your own, learn about the empirical process. Scrum is built on this concept and it does aid with switching your approach to planning. Ask yourself what’s important, focusing on time or focusing on flow of work? Is it important to write stories in a certain format or that the team understands the who, what and why? I recommend reading Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”.  It is through this approach of switching your lens of sight that you will develop an agile mindset. When one develops this agile mindset, practicing Kanban, XP, Scrum, etc. will become much clearer and easier to practice. Once you’ve done these things, then read or re-read the scrum guide.

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