Scrum Insanity

When agile projects go wrong it’s often not a single massive mistake, but a series of small ones that get compounded into something much bigger. Common reasons include:

  • Forgetting to follow the basics
  • Lack of communication
  • The Way of Working isn’t working

No surprises there, but why do we see it happen again and again? I’ve often been told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. In fact, the legal definition is the ability to determine right from wrong when a crime is committed. This means if you are not learning and making changes, you are either insane, making original mistakes or you’re doing something criminal.

By running sprint and project retros we can establish what we should and shouldn’t be doing on projects. It is often very simple to follow but it’s hard to remember it all. But this isn’t exam conditions, so we can build a sprint cheat sheet to help. Building one is simply an iterative process of grouping the output actions of retros for each of the sprint activities. I’ve included my own one, that’s evolved over time.


For each activity, we go through all the bullet points to check that we’re not falling into any obvious bear traps. If we are, we then agree as a team whether to mitigate or accept the risk. The risk points are totalled up for the sprint (one for green, two for amber and three for red), so that we know how risky the sprint is. I think of total risk points, as the height of a swimming pool diving board. It’s OK to jump from 10ft or below, but it starts getting scary above 20ft.

If you are exposing a sprint to lots of risks, make sure the client signs up to that. Retros are a good time to reflect by consulting the check list and see how many of the risks hurt the sprint. One area I’ve excluded from this blog is the wider project, particularly around project kick-off and sprint 0. Both are critical to agreeing an initial Way of Working, but I’ll cover that in a separate blog.

Another top tip is to print your cheat sheet on A5, laminate it and make sure the whole project team have a copy. You can even run all the sessions using the cheat sheet as a checklist. As a minimum capture and communicate the total risks points for the sprint. It takes 5 minutes a sprint; chances are it’s less than an hour for the whole project. To have a simple way to mitigate so many possible project problems, surely, you’d have to be insane not to use the cheat sheet.