Agile and Scrum – A metaphor that works

28 Nov, 2010
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Scrum and Agile are not synonyms. Scrum describes a process ( a set of activities) but its only Agile when you do this activities in an Agile mindset.
You can easily be Agile without using Scrum, and it’s definitely possible to do Scrum in a way that is not Agile.
Having a good metaphor can help speed up the understanding.
If Scrum is like riding a bike, then Agile would be the sense of balance.

In riding a bike you have to move your feet in a certain way to go forward, you move your arms to steer and use your left thumb to get rid of annoying granny’s driving in front of you. This is easy. A simple set of rules to follow. Just like Scrum.
However without a good feeling of balance, you can never become a good biker. Agile thinking in Scrum is like this feeling of balance on a bike.
Small kids that learn how to ride a bike, get to do all the activities themselves even from the very first day. They move their feet, experiment with the steering wheel and try out the bell. But because the feeling of good balance is not yet there, the parent runs after them with his hands on the kids shoulders to prevent them falling.
After that, little wheels are added, so the kid can experiment further in a more independent way. Only after a while, the extra help is no longer necessary and the little biker can ride a bike on his own.
None of this extra support is aimed at helping the newbie to move his legs or arms. Performing the right activities is not the issue. That’s easy. All the support is focused on helping him to find this feeling of balance.
Later, after riding the bike for a good period of time, the little biker might like riding a bike so much that he wants to become really really good at it. Balance is no longer an issue, so now a trainer can improve his position on the bike, the way he moves his legs, … Improve the activities to excel the performance.
Learning Scrum and Agile is exactly the same.
The activities ( process) you need to do to work Scrum are simple. Standups, retrospectives, planning poker, delivering working software … these are the easy things. Every member of a Scrum Team can do this. However the Team and every individual needs to feel the balance, needs to think Agile. First with support and then on their own.
Only when thinking Agile has become a second nature to the Team, it’s worth the effort to improve the actual things they do.
<< You want us to focus on Individuals & Interactions instead of Processes and Tools, but even with the best feeling of balance, I will never win the Tour de France on a crappy bike >> a manager once said during a training.
That’s true off course, nobody can win the Tour de France without a very good bike. But even with the best bike in the world, if your balance is not 100%, you will fall.
Tools can help but it’s the individual that makes the difference. When I get to compete using Armstrongs bike and Armstrong using my grandfathers bike, I’m pretty sure he’ll still be faster than I am.


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