More thoughts about the so-called daily scrum
Further to my moaning entitled "when is a scrum not a scrum" I have seen people moaning about a related phenomenon that is starting to be called "cargo cult scrum". Now after looking into this for a bit I have decided that my situation is not exactly "cargo cult scrum" but there are some similarities so I will start by talking about it.
The cargo cult
Cargo Cult Scrum is what happens when you adopt the practices,vocabulary, and artifacts of scrum but you don't understand why or how they work. It comes from the phrase "cargo cult", which I only came across a few years ago. Here is a brief summary culled from wikipedia, for those who haven't come across it yet.
The wikipedia article opens with:
"A cargo cult is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth the "cargo") of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices. Cult members believe that the wealth was intended for them by their deities and ancestors."
It talks about the behaviour of Melanesian islanders during and after WW2, living on islands occupied by the military. It says:
"With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised to bestow on their followers deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or other sources, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day to day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses."
Cargo cult scrum examples
Now I hope you understand where the phrase "cargo cult scrum" comes from and what it refers to. I am now seeing blogs appear where developers complain about it and describe it. I suppose I am just adding to that list. Here are some examples I found:
- I recently attended a meeting at a company that considers itself to be agile. It was a regular meeting that occurred every two weeks. It was not attended by a scrum team, but instead by a bunch of people from two different groups. The three questions were not used. The meeting was scheduled for, and took, 30 minutes. Yet the meeting was called a scrum. Other meetings at this company are called scrums, so much so that "scrum" has become a synonym for "meeting". This is a cargo cult. The true meaning of "daily scrum" has been lost, if it was ever apprehended in the first place.
- An example from a [paraphrased] conversation:
Customer: Oh yes, we've been doing agile for a while.
Coach: That's great! So you haven't had any trouble getting the Product Owner to work closely with the team?
Customer: Well, we...uh...don't really have a Product Owner.
Coach: Oh. Well, who keeps the Product Backlog in shape?
Customer: Well, we...uh...don't really have a Product Backlog, per se.
Coach: Oh. So how do you plan your sprints?
Customer: Well, we really don't do that in a very formal way. But we do meet every morning. That's what it's all about, right?
- I saw a good summary by an agile coach which said:
A "good" scrum implementation will be a wonderful experience only if you have people who want to be a part of a cross-functional team who trust and respect one another. You also need a spirit of self reflection, and a desire to always improve and serve the customer. You also have to have leadership that is there for support. If you hate being a part of a cross functional team, and just want to be left alone to code (or whatever) heads down, then any agile or lean
methodology will be sheer torture. If you have a strong team with micro managers, then it will be sheer torture. If you have both...ouch, I feel bad for everyone there.
- Another person summed it up with:
The problem with Scrum and daily scrums is:
1) Organizations that are doing fine do not need to change anything
2) Organizations that are failing want a quick fix. So they choose scrum
3) Now they are doing a bunch of quick fixes, calling it progress, doing Cargo Cult Scrum, and making people miserable
That's what I see in the field. Failed organizations choose scrum because they are failing, and then they fail harder with scrum but pretend they are on a path to salvation.
A name has yet to be invented
So, if I am not in a cargo cult scrum situation, what situation am I in? As far as I know it doesn't have a name yet. One thing it isn't is "ScrumBut", i.e. "we do scrum, but...". That's because there are no scrum practices at all.
The only reason scrum is mentioned is because the meeting is called a scrum instead of being called a meeting. Here are some of the symptoms:
- The daily meeting is called a scrum and consists of "what did you do since the last scrum, what are you doing now?" for each attendee. Everyone waits patiently and politely for the meeting to end, saying the minimum possible when it is their turn.
- The daily meeting gradually reduces in frequency until it is officially only once a week but in practice it is not even that. It is scheduled once a week but is frequently cancelled at point blank range ("we're too busy to have it").
- The meeting is attendees rather than team members. There are no teams in the sense of multiple people pulling in the same direction; rather, there are disparate solo workers that do not communicate with anyone. They're not
anti-social, it's just that the nature of their work is isolated and communication is discouraged by the management.
- It lasts for the scheduled time, no more and no less. People are cut short if it looks like it is going to over-run. As attendees learn that it is has almost no value they learn to speak less and less to avoid the danger of overrun.
- The meeting does not talk about progress, how we are going to get there, the need to improve, remove obstacles etc. Instead it is about what time is being booked to (I worked on blah, today I will continue working on blah)..
- There is no allocation of work from the backlog; there is no backlog! There are no stories and no use-cases and no input from the business. There are no iterations, no releases, no burndown charts. Hence these things cannot be talked about in the meeting!
- People turn up late, the meeting starts late. The non-communication, lack of purpose or value and general lack
of interest and the fact that the meeting is often cancelled at the last minute, means there is little reason to be there on time.
- They are not standups. No one stands up. Everyone is seated. The meeting typically lasts for one hour. Try standing up for that length of time. The word "scrum" is used not but they have not heard of "standups". Or if they have then they agree that one hour is a long time to be standing up! If you were to point out that standups should take around 15 minutes you will be told that with the number of attendees this is impossible. Plus it's impossible because of the time it takes for the management to say its piece.