94 When is Scrum Appropriate?

When the process is too complex for the defined approach, the empirical approach is the appropriate choice.*

right conditions are met:

  • members are committed to clear, short-term goals




  • members can gauge the group’s progress
  • members can observe each other’s contribution
  • members feel safe to give each other unvarnished feedback

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman describes stages of group development as “forming, storming, norming, performing.”11 Optimal self-organization takes time. The team may perform worse during early iterations than it would have performed as a traditionally managed working group.12

Heterogeneous teams outperform homogeneous teams at complex work. They also experience more conflict.13 Disagreements are normal and healthy on an engaged team; team performance will be determined by how well the team handles these conflicts.

Bad apple theory suggests that a single negative individual (“withholding effort from the group, expressing negative affect, or violating important interpersonal norms”14) can disproportionately reduce the performance of an entire group. Such individuals are rare, but their impact is magnified by a team’s reluctance to remove them. This can be partly mitigated by giving teams greater influence over who joins them.

Other individuals who underperform in a boss/worker situation (due to being under-challenged or micromanaged) will shine on a Scrum team.

Self-organization is hampered by conditions such as geographic distribution, boss/worker dynamics, part-time team members, and interruptions unrelated to Sprint goals. Most teams will benefit from a full-time Scrum Master who works hard to mitigate these kinds of impediments.15

It is typical to adopt the defined (theoretical) modeling approach when the underlying mechanisms by which a process operates are reasonably well understood.

Figure 15: Scrum, an empirical framework, is appropriate for work with uncertain requirements and/or uncertain technology issues.1617

Scrum is intended for the kinds of work people have found unmanageable using defined processes — uncertain requirements combined with unpredictable technology implementation risks. When deciding whether to apply Scrum, as opposed to plan-driven approaches such as those described by the PMBOK® Guide, consider whether the underlying mechanisms are well-understood or whether the work depends on knowledge creation and collaboration. For example, Scrum was not originally intended for repeatable types of production and services.

Also consider whether there is sufficient commitment to grow a self- organizing team.


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Project Management Basics Copyright © by Sharon Blanchard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.