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Escaping Planet Scrummerfall

Is your dev team stuck on planet Scrummerfall? Scrummerfall is the pithy term given to Waterfall projects hidden inside of Scrum. Scrummerfall projects are particularly nasty because they are superficially agile.

Releases slow down, new features aren’t meeting your customers’ needs, and your development team is cranky. Here are some signs you are trapped on Scrummerfall:

  • Handoffs For example, designers may spend multiple sprints developing pixel perfect designs, and then send an InVision link with 40 screens for the engineering team to implement.
  • Infrequent Releases Instead of a steady flow of working and usable software, stories may take many sprints to get to a releasable state.
  • Siloed Teams Your product team is cross-functional in name only. In reality, designers only collaborate with other designers, engineers with other engineers, and so on.

Aaron Erickson calls Scrummerfall the World’s Worst Software Development Methodology. Large risk-averse enterprise organizations are particularly susceptible to Scrummerfall, but it can afflict startups, too.

The Scrummerfall trap often emerges as a product team scales. As a team grows, members naturally sort themselves into similarly skilled tribes. Senior leaders may also inadvertently force a team into Scrummerfall by demanding gold-plated work. Sometimes this is because they are worried a CEO or board member will judge them for features that don’t feel polished.

So what to do?

  1. Prioritize backlog grooming and break up big stories. A good goal is to get stories down to a size where they can get done in 1 or 2 days.
  2. Swarm. Team members should strive to share knowledge across silos, so the “full stack” of a story is worked on at once.
  3. Limit Work In Progress. Lots of stories in-flight is a sign of lots of individual work. By enforcing a Work-In-Progress limit, you also encourage collaboration and swarming.
  4. Coach senior leadership to the value of frequent releases that get better over time, instead of expensive and risky moonshots.

Expunging Waterfall-type behaviors from your team can take time. Drop me a line with your own stories and solutions off of planet Scrummerfall.

Published 17 Aug 2018

I am a software developer and team lead. I mostly write about managing software teams and keeping developers happy.
Cody Duval on Twitter