Building Good Scrum Habits
At a superficial level, the difference between Scrum and any other process is an assortment of meetings and other rituals. For those seeking an agile approach as a way to avoid process overhead, this can be disconcerting as, on the surface, people just see more meetings. Scrum implemented without an understanding of the purpose behind the elements of the framework can result in a less effective process than the one you started with.
But if you look to the intention of the events in the Scrum framework, you’ll realize that it can help you deliver software more effectively, with less overhead. The framework also includes some key ideas that can help reduce distractions and enforce good habits, both on your team and in your life.
This came to mind while I was reading Indistractable by Nir Eyal. This book is about how to avoid distractions in your daily home and work life, but many of its lessons are applicable to Scrum teams, and many of the concepts in the book seem to speak to Scrum principles and values.
For example, Eyal explains how a timeboxed schedule helps you identify distractions. He goes on to describe how using a timebox, combined with frequent checkpoints to sync up on understanding, can help people manage relationships with employers and other stakeholders.
The timebox and review processes are central to Scrum. During the daily scrum and the sprint review, stakeholders align expectations and evaluate whether the team is working with the right focus.
There can be a number of reasons a team might not have completed the work needed to reach its commitment. We can never perfectly compensate for some technical or organizational challenges. But one thing we can control is trying to avoid distractions, such as work added to the backlog, or overhead activities that appear on our schedules without notice. Addressing distractions is an easy way to improve productivity and reliability of delivery.
Building good habits is also an important part of an effective Scrum team. Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood explores the science of how habits form and why they are valuable. She refers to habits as a form of automation: The more basic processes we can automate, the more we can focus our energy on hard things.
Behavioral habits form from repetition. The Scrum process, with its focus on rituals, helps us both by providing a framework around how to collaborate and making the collaboration rituals second nature, so we can focus on the content and not the format. Agile technical practices focus on automated testing and deployment, so we can concentrate on design and execution.
An underlying principle in Scrum is “Inspect and adapt.” This idea not only provides feedback, but also is a framework for developing good habits that help us avoid distraction. That these exercises can help bring focus to other parts of our lives is a bonus, and one that makes it easier to internalize Scrum values and practices.