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Updated: Apr 12, 2021

"Easy to learn while difficult to master"

Anyone of you who ever took a Scrum class has heard this, I bet.

The Scrum guide, by its subtitle, is supposed to be the definite guide to Scrum containing the rules of the game.

It's thirteen pages. Just ten actually, when you take out title page and table of contents at the beginning and the acknowledgments at the end. Not that much when you consider that it's built to help organizations struggling with complex development projects.

How much guidance can you actually get from the guide when your Scrum implementation is in trouble?

From my own experience the answer is two-fold and depends on what you are searching for.

When you are looking for very specific advice on how to deal with a particular situation you will hardly find that in the guide, I am afraid.

What is it that you may expect from the Scrum guide, though?

According to the guide, Scrum is "a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems."

The Cambridge dictionary defines a framework as "a structure around or over which something is built".

For me this means that the Scrum guide provides us with a core structure as defined by the high level definitions for the

  • Pillars of transparency, inspection and adaptation

  • Values of commitment, focus, openness, respect and courage

  • Roles of product owner, developer and Scrum master

  • Events of sprint, sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review and retrospective

  • Artefacts of product backlog, spring backlog and increment

Around these key elements that make your implementation of agile Scrum or no Scrum you may add whatever connects to these elements and serves the purpose of Scrum. Like a mind map that evolves and grows from the core idea and directly related nodes to a wide net of related ideas and concepts.

The Scrum guide describes itself as "purposefully incomplete, only defining the parts required to implement Scrum theory. Scrum is built upon by the collective intelligence of the people using it. Rather than provide people with detailed instructions, the rules of Scrum guide their relationships and interactions."

For me, the sentence "Scrum is built upon by the collective intelligence of the people using it" is key to answer the question in the headline. The answer is no, the Scrum guide does not qualify as a first aid kit when in trouble with your agile transformation.

The guide provides the principles serving as the backbone of any Scrum implementation. To effectively bring these principles alive, though, it requires the "collective intelligence of the people using it". And this collective intelligence works best if it is guided by experienced people.

This is typically the role of the Scrum master who is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.

While the role title Scrum "master" indicates a senior level of experience I have seen very often that this role was assigned to comparatively junior people who were, more or less, making an effort to enforce the principles of Scrum by following the mechanics of the framework. Sometimes they had simply taken on administrative task like scheduling the events, writing minutes, etc. Although these mechanics are critically important they are not even half of the way towards a really successful agile transformation.

It's the right people that make the difference!

Here particularly the Scrum master, a role that, unfortunately, is far too often undervalued and staffed with not appropriately educated and experienced employees.

Short term savings here will not just not pay off. In contrary, they bear the risk of creating huge "organizational debt" that has the potential to negatively affect all the dimensions of work that are supposed to be boosted by a shift towards a truly agile way of working.

My advice, don't save on the Scrum master role! As servant leaders, Scrum masters are sparking and amplifying the good practices while eliminating bad habits within the team, thus having an invaluable impact on the teams capability to maximise business value.

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