Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Scrum Wall (another Agile failure mode)

I recently came across the expression “The Scrum Wall”, as in the expression “Hitting the Scrum Wall”. Its akin to “the pain barrier”, or “feel the burn” in aerobics workouts of old.

Once I heard it I knew what it was, I’ve talked about this before, now I know it has a name.

The Scrum Wall is the thing Bob Martin described at the ACCU conference. And it is probably why Jeff Sutherland endorses Test Driven Development and other technical practices from XP.

You hit the Scrum wall when you adopt Scrum and everything goes well, then, after a few Sprints things don’t work any more - to use an English expression, they go pear shaped. You can’t keep your commitments, you can’t release software, your customers get annoyed and angry, it looks like Scrum is broken.

This is what happens when you adopt Scrum without technical practices such as Test Driven Development, continuous integration and refectoring. When teams adopt the Scrum process, they go faster, show progress, things look good... and then the quality becomes a problem. Now the team are fighting through quick sand.

The code quality is poor and developers are expected to continue to make progress. Maybe the Scrum Master/Project Manager reverts to past behavior and demands overtime and weekend working. Maybe the team start busting a gut to keep their commitments. Either way the team is heading for burn-out.

That’s the wall.


  1. Hi allan,

    To use your metaphor, I think that there are further walls once you start to adopt technical practices and tools. An example I see is unit testing failing due to poor editor knowledge. Once unit tests start to build up it can take a long time to make a change because of all the tests you need to change. It can end up being a lot of text editing. Unless you can know all the features of the text editor it can take so long that unit testing itself falls into disuse.

    I've started to think about this in terms of biology and genetics. Like mutliple genes that co-operate and evolve together (e.g. gene for developing meat chewing teeth and genes for developing meat processing gut) certain technical practices require other practices or tools to work at their best. On their own the practices 'hit the wall'.

  2. Hi Allan,

    Interesting thoughts! The first question that came into my mind when I read the fourth paragraph was - "Is the ScrumMaster sleeping?".

    Although Scrum doesn't (officially) specify Agile practices - like TDD, continuos integration etc - it expects the ScrumMaster to gaurd the gate of quality and team morale either in daily stand-ups or retrospectives. If this is not done, the ScrumMaster is "really" sleeping!

  3. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

  4. Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting. I tried to add your RSS to my feed reader and it a few. take a look at it, hopefully I can add you and follow.


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