“All models are wrong. Some are useful” -George Box

The more I try to help individuals and organizations on the path to Professional Scrum, the more I realize that most needless suffering in the name of Scrum is due to a fundamental mis-match of mental models.

To which you might justifiably respond – “Who or what is this mental model, I speak of?” Let me explain…

My copious research on this topic (5 second google search) has yielded this bounty from my personal information butler-

“A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences.” – WikiPedia

Instead of asking people if they believe in Scrum, I am trying another experiment – sharing 10 statements that represent my view of a Scrum-patible mental model and asking for a reaction.

  1. UNCERTAINTY: Teams trying to deliver valuable solutions in rapidly changing environments face uncertainty due to blind spots in the areas of market needs, technology behavior and human interactions. Think about the COVID pandemic – who could have predicted in 2019 how different the whole planet would be in 2020 and how it would completely change the behavior and unmet needs of customers throughout the planet.
  2. RISKS: This uncertainty creates a high risk of wasting precious time and money delivering solutions that don’t generate the desired value. For instance, if you had funded a long 12-18 month waterfall project that began in July 2019 and you were methodically building capabilities phase by phase – architecture, design, infrastructure, coding, unit testing, QA-testing, UAT, etc. etc. you would have exposed your business to the risk of having lots of partially completed, unusable capabilities in Jan 2020 that might have become completely useless because customers no longer needed in Jan 2020 what they might have needed in July 2019, when you started that waterfall project.
  3. RISK MANAGEMENT: One possible risk management approach is to use short feedback loops that shine a flash-light to illuminate what is valuable and what is wasteful. One way to shorten the feedback loop is to ask people close to your customer and users (or ideally, people who ARE your customers and users) what they do and do not find valuable in the capabilities you are developing, so you can adjust what capability you build next. If you use Scrum, this short feedback loop is the Sprint and one of the most valuable events to get feedback from stakeholders is the Sprint Review.
  4. SINGLE SOURCE OF TRUTH: Feedback loops are most valuable when they comes from through frequent delivery of “Done” increments to the single source of truth – the market. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is if / how your customers and users choose to use your solutions that are available to them in the Production environment. All other “expert ideas” about how the customers and users might behave are just untested opinions.
  5. “DONE”: To be “Done”, Increments must meet all applicable quality and regulatory requirements as captured in the organization’s and team’s “Definition of Done”.
  6. VERTICAL SLICING: Teams cannot frequently deliver “Done” increments to the market without vertical slicing which decomposes large, valuable outcomes into thin, valuable, micro-outcomes. If your mental model prevents you from going to your customers and users unless you have satisfied all their expectations, unless you are delivering everything and the kitchen sink, it will expand the scope of work that needs to be done and the amount of time you need to deliver that scope. This will increase the size of the feedback loop, thereby increasing the risk exposure that what you will finally delivery will not be valuable to customers and users.
  7. VALIDATED LEARNING: Vertical slicing helps teams rapidly deploy valuable solutions to the market to gain validated learning about what is and is not valuable and what are the emerging threats and opportunities – like changing behaviors due to COVID. You can’t just spend company time and money delivering something to the market and then move on to the next bright shiny object. You owe it to your customers, users and investors to find out what did and did not work so you test your hypotheses and come back with validated learning you can use to improve the future.
  8. COURSE CORRECTION: Once organizations use validated learning to discover what is and is not valuable and what are the emerging threats and opportunities, now, they have the ability to be “Agile” and course correct by increasing future investments in valuable items and decreasing future investments in wasteful items.
  9. SAFETY: Course correction requires courageous conversations to challenge pre-existing beliefs, often held by powerful people. These conversations require safety so that the truth can be shared without retribution.
  10. COMPATIBILITY: Not all organizations have goals, values, cultures or mental models that are compatible with Scrum. This does not make the organizations bad. Nor does it make Scrum bad. Maybe Scrum is not a good fit for the organization at that point in time. Professional Scrum Practitioners have a responsibility to educate organizations about the what, why and how of Scrum so that each organization can make an informed choice about whether they would like to try Scrum or not. Scrum is not the only framework in town. If it doesn’t resonate with them, they can try something else.