Podcast Ep. 102: Halloween Special: The Scrum Treehouse of Horrors!

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Episode Description:

This week you’re in for a treat (or trick). It’s the Agile Coaches’ Corner special Halloween edition episode. Joining Dan for this spooktacular episode is frequent guest host, Sam Falco. Together, they will be exploring the Scrum treehouse of horrors.

Throughout their careers, both Dan and Sam have experienced their fair share of horrific Scrum experiences. So, what better way to spend Halloween than to share some bone-chilling Scrum horror stories? From failing your Sprint goal to poor planning, and beyond, come join Dan and Sam by the campfire to hear some Scrum horror stories that will leave you shaking.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Bone-chilling Scrum horror stories:
    • A team that is not allowed to plan correctly
    • A team that doesn’t understand the difference between the Sprint goal and the Sprint scope
    • Failing your Sprint goal
    • Planning a Sprint to 100% capacity and then getting a new request by a customer last minute (which leads to a spiral of frustration, bad morale, inability to deliver, and eventually, a huge quality problem)
    • When a team can’t cut scope and can’t cut time so they cut corners
    • Disrupted work, causing bugs to be let through
    • When Scrum becomes a mechanism for developer abuse instead of a tool for the team(s) to manage their work and deliver a higher return on investment
    • Hearing: “I thought Scrum was just a way of churning through requirements in two-week Sprints.”
    • A bad culture built off ego and pressure
    • A manager that berates the team and tries to control them through power and fear
    • A manager that disrupts the team and creates a toxic environment with poor morale
    • A system based on fear with an emphasis on simply wanting to “look good” and not supporting a culture of safety
    • Waterfalling through an 18-Sprint project (with this, there is no room for improvement, adaptation, and iteration; the team(s) can’t experiment their way to a valuable outcome because they’re simply being given a list of tasks to accomplish rather than being able to use their imagination and creativity to solve cool problems)
  • Don’t fear these Scrum horror stories — there’s still hope!
    • In most cases, a project is never unrecoverable; you can start building trust with stakeholders with just a little bit of openness (and by making sure to not point fingers or cast blame)
    • Honesty breeds more honesty — be as honest and transparent as possible

Mentioned in this Episode:


Transcript [This transcription is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner Halloween edition. We are going to be exploring the Scrum tree house of horrors with a regular guest Sam Falco.

Sam Falco: [00:29] Thanks for having me, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [00:30] I think we’re going to call you spooky Sam today as your screen name. I don’t have a screen name, I guess I’ve never been one for good nicknames.

Sam Falco: [00:40] Well, in the Simpsons tradition, you would just change your name slightly to Da*n Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:46] We could. I don’t know.

Sam Falco: [00:54] We just got our explicit rating. I don’t think so.

Dan Neumann: [00:59]
I don’t. I wonder if there’s the seven words we can’t say on a podcast on Apple? I don’t know. Well, if Dan, the dam gets us in trouble, we might as well enjoy it. Hopefully there’ll be a November, November episode after this. But you know, having been around Scrum and as a Scrum master with, uh, you know, I, I was not amazing when I started out. So I’m sure I’ve, I’ve done some horrific things as a Scrum Master back in the day. And, and now as a, as an agile coach, uh, I’ve probably had my horrific moments there too, but you know, generally I think we’re getting better. Yes. We thought we’d take this Halloween opportunity to share some horror stories from Scrum. Yeah.

Sam Falco: [01:50] Let me tell you a story about a Scrum team that is not allowed to plan correctly. And I feel like I should have a, a flashlight under my chin here, uh, while I’m telling these stories, like we’re around a campfire.

Dan Neumann: [02:07] I have a flashlight right here, so nice. So that’s great.

Sam Falco: [02:18]
Thank you for still listening. Is this thing on, so the Scrum team doesn’t understand the concept of the Sprint goal, being different from the Sprint scope. So Sprint planning is do these 15 things and that’s your goal to do all of the 15 things. If you don’t do all of the 15 things you failed, you have failed your Sprint. Swear to God. That was what people would say. The Sprint failed because we didn’t get all of the things done. You really gotta warn me when you’re going to do it.

Dan Neumann: [02:59]
That’s how it feels when you fail the Sprint. It’s like a weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yeah. Women grabbing small children out of the street and running, right.

Sam Falco: [03:10] And this is, this is a concept I did understand when I first started being a Scrum master, was that idea of the goal being we commit to not the scope. And so we went along like that, but it gets worse because that was bad enough. We finally got to the point where, well, we can kind of get things in if you squint halfway at it, uh, enough split stories in the middle of middle of the Sprint and that sort of thing. When a customer decided that they had to have something new right now, I mean like right now. And so the directive came down, drop what you’re doing, do this new feature. The Product Owner was as horrified as we were, but had to do it. Uh, so, okay. We do the, did the new thing. And then we picked up where we left off and we only got, and I’m using the number 15. Here is the, you know, the round number we got say, 12 of the things done. And the new thing that got dropped on us, you failed your Sprint. You didn’t meet your commitment.

Sam Falco: [04:40] So this caused, as you can imagine, quite a bit of, of Stormont drawing. We had the retrospective of what went wrong while we had this thing dropped in. Well, you can’t use that as an excuse. You know, meanwhile, the organization is pressuring everyone to be at a hundred percent capacity. So we’re planning a Sprint to a hundred percent capacity everybody’s fully utilized and here comes a new request. And instead of learning from this, the organization discovered they could make us dance like marionettes. The customer in particular was pleased that they could throw their weight around and basically say, well, we’re not going to pay you unless you add this requirement because you’re agile, aren’t you? And began just demanding all sorts of things. Sometimes they were bug fixes, but you’d look at it. And the bug was really minor. Like it was a cosmetic defect, but someone didn’t want to look at a grayed out button. So what happens is just a spiral of inability to deliver frustration, bad morale. The team started selecting way less into the Sprint than they thought they could do, just because they knew something was going to come in. And then of course management gets wind of, well, this team is only selecting seven or eight items in the Sprint, that means they’ve got capacity. We can add more stuff. It ended up causing a huge quality problem because when you can’t cut scope and you can’t cut time, the only thing you can do is cut corners. And then that of course leads to more interrupt work because now you’ve let bugs get through. And it plagued that project for pretty much forever for the rest of it. Although we managed to pull out of that dive at some point.

Dan Neumann: [06:27] This is Halloween, no happy ending.

Sam Falco: [06:30] So not happy. Well, the ending is we all got laid off at some point, Hey, you wanted a horror story was going to happen.

Dan Neumann: [06:40] Yeah, I liked it. I liked that. I liked the ending. We all got laid off. And that’s a true story, right? That is a true story. Yeah. That’s not even, I heard it from a friend of a friend who won though. Yeah.

Sam Falco: [06:54] I’ve got a few of those too, but yeah, that is, that is lived experience. And for a while after that, I thought, God, I suck at being a Scrum Master and we sucked at Scrum. And then I got out into the Tampa Bay agile community and started talking to people at meetups and found out, Oh my God, that happens everywhere. I don’t suck. That’s just bad Scrum.

Dan Neumann: [07:14] Yeah. That’s, there’s a, yeah, the Scrum of the Baskerville or something like that. I had the howl sound effect and I couldn’t figure out a better way to use it.

Sam Falco: [07:30] This is either going to be our most listened to podcasts ever, or our least to listen to podcasts ever.

Dan Neumann: [07:36] I’ll give up my Gmail address in case this goes really south.

Sam Falco: [07:44] What about you, Dan? I’m sure you’ve got some too.

Dan Neumann: [07:47]
I do. I, one of my favorites? Can you have a favorite cautionary tale that you can I suppose so, yeah, so it was a fairly new Scrum team and a fairly new manager, but, uh, you know, in an organization that had a history of command and control and, uh, you know, water folly chart looking plans where you drive the plan to conclusion and, um, you avoid anything that looks like a plan that’s off track, right? You just, you just adjust everything. And it always looks like it’s on track. And, uh, a manager that had a decided bit of a power trip edge to him and, uh, the team, we had a burn down complimentary practice to Scrum right. Not that prescribed by Scrum, but Sprint burned down nonetheless. And like we know good Scrum Sprint burndown, there’s at that ideal trend line from the work you had at the first day, all the way down to the right to the last day of the Sprint. And it’s a perfect glide path from all the work to none of the work.

Sam Falco: [08:58] So pretty.

Dan Neumann: [08:59] Oh, it’s beautiful. But this team now where they plot their daily effort, boy, some days, some days the line would go down more. And then other days the line would maybe grow they’d discover new work as they went through. And this manager was not okay with the line deviating. Cause it, it looked bad. He was afraid of him reflect poorly on him. And the team was, was doing a bad job. And he would literally berate the team for the burndown being off track, not being stupid people. They have an aversion to getting beaten up on a regular basis. And so they decided all we have to do is break our work down such that we can burn off some of it every single day. And coincidentally, the amount they burned off was exactly enough to give them on that ideal burn down.

Sam Falco: [10:00]
I can only burn off three hours and four minutes today.

Dan Neumann: [10:09] To memorialize this, this we’ll call this person Karl with a K, but I needed a name that started with K because it became known as K agile where the, the manager was disrupting the team and influencing it enough that they just did really messed up stuff. And I wonder if K agile is practicing that today. I think we’re gonna hop on LinkedIn. I’m dying to know what became of this, but yeah, no, it was, the team had to be on the burndown and it was, it was very ugly. I know we’re not allowed to do happy endings on this thing, but, but that person actually got moved off, um, out of the company at one point because it really was horribly toxic that’s yeah.

Sam Falco: [11:04] Still just the toxicity of people having to live through that is. Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that Ron Jeffries is always talking about when he writes about dark Scrum is that Scrum becomes a mechanism for developer abuse instead of a tool for us to manage our work and deliver higher return on investment. No, it is something we use to beat the snot out of some people because we can.

Dan Neumann: [11:33] I have an exciting opportunity. I want to share with you coming up on October 29th, we will be hosting a live global virtual community event focused on the present and future of agile. Since the agile manifesto is creation in 2001, agile has become a household term and agility has reached all of the world. So how has agile evolved in nearly 20 years? How has agile expressed in different parts of the world and in different industries during this agile thought virtual community event, guest panelists, Gabriela Correa from Brazil, Ola Berg from Sweden, Abby Osoba from Nigeria and Chandan Lal Patary from India will join AgileThought’s transformation, consultant, and agile competency lead Quincy Jordan to share their perspective on the present and future of agile. Join us on Thursday, October 29th at noon EDT for this live virtual community event, you can sign up and learn more at agilethought.com/events to reserve your spot today.

Dan Neumann: [12:38] I thought Scrum was just a way of churning through requirements. In two weeks, Sprints.

Sam Falco: [12:43] I will hurt you.

Dan Neumann: [12:47] But maybe you could tell us a story. Sam, a cautionary story about journey through requirements in two weeks Sprints.

Sam Falco: [12:52] Oh yeah, this is a, this is a short, short but sad tale where a team was asked, Hey, how long would it take to do this project? And they looked at the high level requirements and said, that is, that is probably 18 Sprints worth of work. And that became the target. About a month later, they got back here. It is, here are the requirements they are laid out in two weeks. Sprints have 18 Sprints to get this done. And coincidentally, it looked a lot like a Gantt chart. I don’t think we’re supposed to laugh after the screen.

Dan Neumann: [13:38]
Oh, that’s okay. I’m running out of, I’m running out of buttons over here. Newest posts, posts put in some new sounds after that. Oh, water Scrum fall or Scrum fall.

Sam Falco: [13:52] And they were proud of it actually. Uh, you, they called it Wagile not ironically. No, the, this is, this is our version of agile. We’ve put our own flavor on it and I’m looking at this going, no, that’s just waterfall with some Scrum terms, smeared on top, like a little veneer.

Dan Neumann: [14:13] Uh, I’ve seen that. That’s really sad.

Sam Falco: [14:17] They did complete the 18 Sprints, but nobody was happy about the outcome. So, uh, not a good way to go. It’s so sad. Depressing myself. I kind of want to give a why that’s bad and what you can do about it lesson, but this is a Halloween episode and it’s all about horror, not hope.

Dan Neumann: [14:44]
Yeah, no, if people can’t see the water falling through an 18 Sprint, I guess that’s an opportunity. Everybody’s at a different spot in their agile journey. There might be somebody listening. Who’s like, yeah, that what’s wrong with that.

Sam Falco: [14:56] Yeah. Well I think first of all, you’re, you’re losing the value of learning as you go. You’ve, you’ve made the assumption that, you know, everything that you need. And in fact, that project, it was a project, not a product was, was broken out so that nothing of real business value was delivered until the end. Anyway, they had their Sprint review that demonstrated some things for the first several Sprints. It was, you can’t see what’s happening behind the scenes, but trust us, there’s some XML going on. Yea stakeholders get super excited about hearing that there’s XML happening behind the scenes. And none of the learning from the feedback from stakeholders was even available. The Scrum team themselves couldn’t learn from experience or experiment their way towards what would be a valuable outcome. It was just put your head down, do the work you’ve been given. And one of the members of the Scrum team actually said, this is not why I got into software development. I wanted to use my imagination and solve cool problems. And instead I am being given a list of tasks to accomplish. And that developer left actually he wasn’t the only one.

Dan Neumann: [16:11]
Yeah. It’s interesting to see the carnage that that bad culture can leave behind is talent that decides they’d be better off somewhere else. Yeah.

Sam Falco: [16:24] Yeah. This next one is, I don’t know. This is kind of amusing in a way. It is horrific. I joined this organization. I was really excited. This is I’m fairly well along in my Scrum career at this point, I understand things better than I did in the past, but I still have a long way to go. Meet your new Scrum team. Okay. And I get introduced everybody and they really smart bunch and all right. Let’s uh, let me start getting a handle on what it is you’re doing. Uh, show me, you know, your Sprint progress. Well, we’re still in Sprint one. Oh, you’re you just started. Well, no, we’ve been together for a while and like, there’s a little voice that’s saying you’ve made a horrible mistake in the back of my head. And I say, well, what do you mean you’ve been together for a while, but you’re only on Sprint one. And they said, yeah, how long is a while

Dan Neumann: [17:27]
I’m trying to just talk over the sound effect at this point.

Sam Falco: [17:34] So I’m trying to like, in my head, I’m thinking well, because that’s the only place you can think is in your head. But I’m thinking were they together for a while? And they just adopted Scrum and they just started Sprint one. So I said, when did you start Sprint one? And they told, and it was almost six months prior. They had started with the best of intentions. We’re going to do a two week Sprint. And they selected the items into their Sprint and they got towards the end of the Sprint and they weren’t there yet. So they said, we’ll just pause, pull in the end of the Sprint another week. Great management said, that’s fine, but you need to add something to your Sprint. If we’re going to give you more time, you have to deliver more stuff. So they added more stuff into their Sprint. And by the end of that third week, they still weren’t done even with the old stuff. And certainly not with the new stuff. So we need another week. Great. Add a little more to your Sprint. This had gone on for almost six months before I came in and I said, tell you what, why don’t we just put a pin in this Sprint and start over with the Sprint two. We can’t do that. We’re not done.

Dan Neumann: [18:46]
In a quiet night. You can still hear them Sprinting today.

Sam Falco: [18:52] They’re still Sprinting to this day.

Dan Neumann: [18:56] Oh no, I have not encountered that particular variety of dysfunction yet.

Sam Falco: [19:04]
I was so stunned. Like I didn’t even know what to say at first. I had to have heard that, that wrong. Maybe they said six weeks, which is bad enough, but surely they didn’t say six, six months. And the date they had given me was six months prior and wow.

Dan Neumann: [19:22] I have one. Okay. This is a story of the stoplight status report. Oh, Oh yeah. So, uh, we were at it on an effort that could best be described as a cluster and, uh, which, you know, we’re a, we’re a PG show. So it was, it was just a mess. Right. Um, and we dutifully report reported our status, every Sprint, um, as this project’s pretty red, it’s a multi-team project. There’s lots of teams that are off track. So it’s, it’s red. Then the, the layer of management above us decided, well, if it’s red, but you have a plan, then it’s more yellow. And the layer above that was like, well, if it’s yellow and you have a plan, it must be green. And this was an effort that was big enough that the CEO cared about it. So boots on the ground, a red next layer’s, yellow CEOs hearing green. And then the date got missed on a project that was green to the CEO. It was, it was bad. The fall, the fallout was so not good.

Sam Falco: [20:51]
That ground is still radioactive to this day.

Dan Neumann: [20:53] Oh, it’s still, it’s still glowing. It’s still still get night sweats. When I think about it.

Sam Falco: [21:00]
These are the types of things we hear and, you know, people say I hate agile or agile can’t work. And it’s because of stuff like this that I don’t know, you’re supposed to say that, Oh, they meant well or have some empathy, but sometimes it’s really hard to have empathy for people who are essentially, uh, kicking down and just deciding that exerting authority is the way to go.

Dan Neumann: [21:24] Yeah. I mean, for me, I think it’s, uh, it was not agile. I mean, newsflash, that was not an agile project, uh, that was, that was a system that was based largely on fear and wanting to look good to the next layer and people were afraid, no one was going to take a, red a dashboard and go, this thing is a hopeless dumpster fire. We need to reboot completely. Um, and so everybody tried to everybody between like the people who knew it was a mess, uh, up to the C-level then was trying to kind of position it in a way that supported their best interest. And, um, yeah, it, it was, it was not a culture of safety. Yeah. Oh yeah. And speaking of lack of safety, I not a Scrum thing, but watched ’em on Netflix, the challenger, um, the last flight series, it covers the space shuttle challenger that exploded in 1986. And, um, man, if you want to watch a powerful, uh, retelling of, of mistake, that was heaped upon mistake, that was problematic from culture and ego and, and resulted in a true tragedy, not just, Oh, you know, Dan’s feelings got hurt because the project was late. Like that’s, uh, that’s, that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Sam Falco: [22:54] Yeah. I’ll have to, I’ll have to check that out. Yeah.

Dan Neumann: [22:57] And it’s, uh, yeah, it’s just, uh, you know, so much of it is cultural and, um, egos and pressure right. From, from outside. Cause yeah. I don’t know how to respond to that either. Apparently,

Sam Falco: [23:12] Apparently you just triggered Alexa somehow.

Dan Neumann: [23:14]
Apparently Alexa decided she needed to weigh in. I don’t know how to respond to it either, but you know, if we could figure it out.

Sam Falco: [23:22] It’s always listening, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [23:23] Yeah, it is. Yeah. Um, but you know, you, you, you kind of look at those, um, those tails where somebody knew things probably weren’t right. Um, yeah. Yeah.

Sam Falco: [23:36] Boeing is another example of that fairly recently when you read some of the information about that, I’m trying to read the name of the company that claimed to be able to do the blood tests and uh, I read a book on that. And in that several people try to speak up, Hey, this is not, something’s not right. And the entire culture was built around you, don’t, you don’t dare contradict to the people who have power and money and influence. I am important and you are not. And therefore you will not allow anybody to know about this.

Dan Neumann: [24:20] I’m thinking of Theranos, Yeah. Yeah. So I think that’s, you know, the, the, just kind of knowing what type of, uh, soup you’re in, you know, there’s the stuff you can and can’t influence. And I think that’s where for me, it’s important to know, Hey, what, what, what can we do? Where can we get wins? Where can we get leverage, um, versus not. So I don’t know, hopefully some cautionary tales of, uh, of things done, not so well. And so, uh, you know, trying to avoid those,

Sam Falco: [25:02] I keep wanting to end this on a happy note, Dan,

Dan Neumann: [25:07]
It is Halloween.

Sam Falco: [25:09] I will say this, that It’s not in most cases, it’s not unrecoverable. Yeah. You can start building trust with stakeholders with just a little bit of openness. And sometimes that means you have to, you have to take a, a bit of a risk. Um, and if you, if you do it in such a way that you are not pointing fingers, not trying to cast blame, but here’s a problem. And I think we can fix it. I think that helps. I think that being just a little bit honest leads to more honesty, and I’m not saying we should, but when I say a little bit honest, I’m not saying we should shade the truth at all. I’m saying just a little bit of, let me give you some, some bad news. What do you want to do about it can help. There are places where it’s not at all possible, but I think most of the places I’ve been at, we get into these situations through the best of intentions on all parts, but there’s just a lack of communication. And there is, there is a fear, even if it’s unfounded of shaking the shaking, the cage, because we’ve been at places where shaking the cage did get us hurt, so we don’t want to do it here. And so the, the happy note, uh, I was at an organization where there was some serious dysfunction and three people got together and started talking about this themselves and realized very quickly that the gripe session wasn’t doing them any good. And so they said, well, what, what could we do? And decided to go to their manager together and say, we’ve been talking about this problem. We’d like to take this first step in making things better. That manager was receptive to that idea. And slowly the culture of fear began to change because people saw that those three people was not expecting that the culture of fear began to change because those three people had had the courage to speak up. Other people saw it, it was rewarded by the manager who was not happy to hear this news by any stretch of the imagination, but recognized that, you know, we weren’t trying to sabotage anything. We were trying to make things better. And it built from there.

Dan Neumann: [27:38] Yeah. It’s a matter of getting, getting a foothold and then sometimes taking a risk. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s good. So like a little, little treat there to go with the tricking or trick or treating. I don’t know. That’s our, Oh yeah.

Sam Falco: [27:52] That’s our all saints day that follows all’s Halloween.

Dan Neumann: [27:55]
Much less fun though. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if trick or treating is a global phenomenon or not.

Sam Falco: [28:04] It’s really not. As far as I know, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be dead in the water this year, but.

Dan Neumann: [28:10] Yeah, I was just, I was trying to figure out how to Chuck candy at that small children going down the street and a.

Sam Falco: [28:17] Candy catapult.

Dan Neumann: [28:19] That was like a trebuchet, a little, little, a little more complex. Why would we do it?

Sam Falco: [28:25]
Yeah, we were looking forward to this year because we live on a fairly main street. And so, um, usually it’s not a lot of, lot, a lot of traffic to begin with foot traffic. And when it’s on a school night or whatever, it was like Saturday night. And usually when it’s Halloween falls on a Friday night, we get a lot of visitors and the kids’ costumes are cute and we’re like, I’m not sure we’re even buying candy at this point. Yeah. If we do, we’re going to buy stuff. I don’t like. So then if it’s leftover, I don’t eat it.

Dan Neumann: [28:51] Oh, that’s messed up, man. I see. I just buy the candy so I can eat it.

Sam Falco: [28:59]
I worked really hard to lose this weight, Dan, I think we’re going way off on tangents, wind this up this down.

Dan Neumann: [29:07]
But if you have a favorite Halloween candy, you can tweet it to us with the #AgileThoughtpodcast or email us at podcast at podcast@agilethought.com and yeah. Hey, and if somebody wants to share a horror story or a not horror story, we’d love to hear about that too until next time, Sam.

Sam Falco: [29:23]
Thanks, Dan.

Outro: [29:26] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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