The Scrum methodology of agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. In fact, Scrum and other agile processes were inspired by its shortcomings. The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities — all attributes that suffer in the rigidly ordered waterfall paradigm.
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I just ran across this post (http://www.infoq.com/news/2009/05/chickens-in-daily-scrum) called “How Many Chickens Are Too Many?” on InfoQ, in which Vikas Hazrati reports on a rather lively discussion that occurred recently on the Scrum Development group. The discussion in question was triggered when one user posted that as many as four to five “chickens” attend his team’s daily standup. Given that his team only consists of five or six individuals, the ratio of mangers to developers is nearly 1:1.
Now, most Scrum literature clearly advocates that if a manager—or “chicken” as Scrum practitioners are fond of referring to them as—wants to attend the daily standup, he or she may do so as a silent observer. The daily standup is a meeting designed for inter-team communication. That is, it’s an opportunity for the team to speak with one another frankly about how the sprint is going. When managers are present, teams may skew the reality of their progress to present a rosier picture of development for them. Or worse yet, the manager may simply usurp the daily standup, using it as a time to micromanage the team. When this happens, Scrum’s emphasis on self-organization—that is, the team’s ability to choose how it will accomplish its sprint goals—is effectively undermined and management reverts back to a traditional, command-and-control approach. In my mind, the issue is clear. A manager should probably not attend the team’s daily standup meetings, but, if it’s essential, he or she should do so as an observer only.
Interestingly, many of the Scrum users who weighed in on the conversation claimed that this is not exactly a black-and-white scenario. Several explained that it depends on the particular culture of the organization. That is, if management is supportive of its developers and empowers them to make decisions (even if they’re occasionally the wrong ones), then there’s no harm in them attending this meeting. Of course, few of us have had the good luck to write software in such an environment. It’s far more likely that your manager or Product Owner is not exactly hands-off.
What do you think? Obviously, Scrum is designed to be flexible so that it can adapt to the needs of specific organizations. But should something as fundamental as this really be up for interpretation? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this one.
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