How Can I Improve My Scrum?

Why Scrum Can Fail?

Scrum and its hybrids are the dominant approaches used by teams to work in an agile way today. However, despite Scrum being a seemingly simple framework, many teams struggle to apply Scrum well and fail to achieve the faster delivery of higher value products that are promised.

Why is this, and what can we do about it?

The first reason why this is true is that Scrum forces us to challenge many of the assumptions that we have been taught for generations. For instance that product features can be described in advance; that assembling a team of skilled people will mean they do great work from the start; and that customers won’t use a product until it is complete.

Because these (and many other) assumptions are hard wired into us, it is hard to act against them, and easy for us to make small adjustments toward them (and away from Scrum). For example, we often see teams fail to identify meaningful changes in their Retrospectives that they can action, either identifying systemic things beyond their control or only identifying positive things to continue. Or teams that treat their Product Backlog as a set of committed requirements that must be delivered before they can release the product.

A second reason is that some of the Scrum events can be hard to do well. Coming up with ideas to keep the Retrospective fresh is hard. So is keeping the Daily Scrum on track and on time and making the Sprint Review interesting and relevant enough to ensure the right stakeholders attend (and keep on attending).

The first step to improving your Scrum is to recognize where you are doing well, and where you may be going wrong. Then, identifying exactly how you can improve.


Essence can help you do both these things. Essence is an industry standard to describe practices and methods – Scrum is one of many practices that has been ‘essentialized’. That means that Scrum has been broken down into its various elements (such as the Sprint, the Daily Scrum, its values, etc.) and each is described in a concise and unambiguous way. It’s not just us who recognize that Scrum is often not done well. One of its creators, Jeff Sutherland agrees, and he also agrees with us on Essence being a great solution.

Describing a practice in this way makes it easy for a team to examine how they apply the practice and to identify ways to improve. Essentializing Scrum means more than just describing its component parts – it also captures the relationships between them. This aids understanding of the practice and makes it easy to focus on a subset of a practice to understand it well without the distractions of all the other parts.

For example, imagine a team examines their use of Scrum and finds that they think their planning and retrospectives are good, most of the rest is OK, but they don’t think they are getting the best from the Sprint Review.

Image of the Scrum Practice Sprint Review card. Pulled from the Scrum Essentials Practice developed in conjunction with Scrum Inc.

With Essence, it is easy to see that the Sprint Review involves the Increment, Product Backlog, Product Goal, Sprint and Sprint Goal. The purpose of the activity is to both inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations. The first step to improvement is to focus on just those aspects of Scrum (plus the values) and their relationship with the Sprint Review. The Spotlight game helps us do that…

Image of the Serious Game, Practice Spotlight being played in the Essence in Practice TeamSpace application.

In this game, we arrange all the relevant practice elements around the Sprint Review card and describe how they ought to relate to one another. See below for an example…

Image showing the detail of the practice spotlight game played around the Sprint Review element from the Scrum Essentials Practice

This provides a useful blueprint that we can compare our own Sprint Reviews to, making it easier to see where we can improve. This ability to drill into Scrum and easily select the relevant parts to focus on makes it easy to find ways to improve and easy to involve the team in the self improvement.

This is just one of many ways that Essence can help improve your scrum. For more ideas, check out the different types of games we can play, why gameplay and serious games are a powerful learning tool, learn more about Essentialized Scrum, grab yourself some Scrum Cards, find out more about our tool TeamSpace, and learn more about other uses of Essence.

Please also check out the various other popular practices available for download at our free Coaching Card Download Hub.

download the scrum cards featured in this article here…

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