The preconditions of Scrum

Every team can use Scrum - true or false?
The answer isn't just as simple. In this article, I will spell out some of the preconditions required to be successful as a Scrum team.

Let's make this article a little more fun by adding a quiz onto each section.
Each section has a brief explanation and number of questions. Rate your organization on a scale between 0 (really bad) and 10 (extraordinary). Let's check the results later.

Psychological safety

The Scrum values aren't optional. Commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are essential in three different ways: Producing results, addressing problems and improving things which matter.

The team must operate in an environment where:

  • Commitments are honored rather than weaponized
  • Courage is a virtue rather than a stigma
  • Focus is appreciated rather than demeaned
  • Openness is reciprocated rather than exploited
  • Respect is offered rather than demanded
When these preconditions aren't met, the team can't develop the necessary level of trust. Scrum teams are most effective when they can eliminate all kinds of CYA behaviours and fully dedicate themselves to delivery of value.

The Scrum values are a two-way street. If you see any of these signs, Scrum is up for a rough start:

  • When the surrounding organization can't commit to let people reach their goal before changing direction again
  • When people courageously taking the first step find themselves standing alone against adversity
  • When management can't define where the focus should be
  • When managers filter communication and openness is considered a one-way street
  • When the hierarchy makes respect a directed process

  1. How well can the organization grant consistency?
  2. How positively does the organization deal with unpopular ideas?
  3. How likely do things get done before something else becomes important?
  4. How transparent does management behave and communicate?
  5. How directed would a respect map (who respects whom) of the organization look?


Scrum can be used in many contexts, hence the Scrum Guide isn't specific on any kind of skill required by the Development team. What the Scrum Guide is specific about, though, is that "The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of Done product"

The team absolutely must consist of people who possess the aptitude to get something to "Done" rather than to a certain stage where problems within the product persist.

On a technical level, Scrum teams need a foundation of:

  • Domain expertise: Delivering a great product means you need to understand your domain: You're not going to build a great web platform with people who don't know what the Internet is.
  • Technical expertise: While learning is possible, the team must be sufficiently firm with the tools of their trade to get to Done in a short timespan.
  • Quality expertise: The team must have ways of knowing what quality is and also the necessary means to achieve sustainable high quality.

  1. How well do team members understand the product?
  2. How high would you rate the technical skills of developers in your organization?
  3. How effectively do you deal with quality issues?

Ways and means

No organization is perfect, and if we had already achieved perfection, why would we bother with Scrum? At a minimum, the organization must have a willingness to let the Scrum team succeed. When severe impediments become visible, they need to be resolved in a short period of time, otherwise Sprint Goals will become un-achievable, leading Scrum itself ad absurdum.

Successful Scrum team need strong support from the organization in:

  • Processes: Many organizations have accumulated so much ballast in their process that getting even simple things done becomes impossible. There's no change without change. If processes can't change, you will fail with or without Scrum.
  • Tools: One agile principle is "maximizing the amount of Work not Done": Surely, we can chisel away a mountain with a fork and spoon, but when the team needs dynamite to get stuff Done, Give them Dynamite!
  • Information: There's nothing worse than developing the wrong product because important facts were missing. Provide the team with whatever they need to know to succeed.
  • Learning: Learning is always a natural part of development. This includes both individual and organizational learning.

  1. How easily can the organization make unbeauraucratic changes?
  2. How fast can a person obtain new tools within the organization?
  3. How transparent are communication streams within the organization?
  4. How good is your track record as a learning organization?

Team purpose

Scrum teams are intended to deliver a valuable product rather than just work off tasks. The team needs to know what they do why, and be able to identify with this.

Successful Scrum teams need:

  • Meaningful purpose: Scrum teams should form around a specific purpose, and that purpose should be sufficiently important to warrant dedicating a team to it.
  • Clarity of purpose: The team should be able to answer how their work contributes to something greater than getting a task moved into the "Done" column.
  • Constancy of purpose: The team needs to be working towards short-term goals ("Sprint Goals") which align with mid-term goals ("Milestones") which align with strategic goals ("Product Vision").

  1. How important is the reason for having a Scrum team to begin with?
  2. How well can you state the intended outcome of the team's work?
  3. How closely aligned is the team with a relevant strategy?
  4. How clearly can you draw the roadmap upon which the team is operating?


Scrum teams deliver in an incremental, iterative way. Increments allow us to backtrack to anchored successes whereas iterations allow us to maximize feedback learning. Working with increments and iterations can be challenging for organizations not used to this approach.

Successful Scrum teams need to:
  • Be user-centric: Technology is fascinating, but not to everyone. The team needs to get out of the technical domain and learn to understand users, their needs and problems.
  • Get meaningful feedback: Stakeholders and/or users should offer important feedback to the team frequently, promptly and in ways which help do things better.
  • Deliver small increments: The more work is done between feedback loops, the more likely the cost of change will be too high to undo and do the right thing instead.
  • Focus on value: The amount of work is infinite - it's up to us to decide how much we do. Therefore, we should focus on valuable things instead of just getting work done.

  1. How well can technical people in your organization understand the users?
  2. How important is user feedback for technical teams?
  3. How much time passes between idea until a first version is visible?
  4. How strongly is value of the outcome emphasized in doing work?

Quiz score

Your score should be anywhere between 0 and 200. You may get a more accurate representation by asking others, averaging the score and having conversations about outliers.

Don't expect much except a bloody nose by starting Scrum. The problems you will face have nothing to do with Scrum. They are caused by the organization itself! 
Please do some groundwork before getting started. You may want to reconsider how and where your organization is stepping on its own feet. In all likelihood, you can't do this by yourself, otherwise you would have scored better. 
Simply training some Scrum Masters won't cut the cake. We're talking serious Organizational Change Management.

Your Scrum team will face serious challenges and even a very good and seasoned Scrum Master won't be enough to deal with the impediments the team will face. Don't count on the Scrum team to succeed. 
Doing more groundwork in terms of creating a proper culture and a bit more flexibility will go a long way before throwing a Scrum team into the ring. Probably the most sensible thing you can do is get an experienced agile coach to work with managers and see how the score improves. 

You're in the range of most companies who are still unfamiliar with agile processes. Challenges are what makes life interesting. Be prepared for innumerable smaller and bigger frustrations which need to be overcome, and work strongly on setting the right tracks.
Always be aware that the Scrum team is influenced by the surrounding organization as well, and that the team's success depends on both strengthening positive and dampening negative external influences. 

There is a solid basis for teams to build upon on when starting Scrum. Many things can still be improved, but since Kaizen is a neverending journey, that's nothing to worry about. With a good Scrum Master, an astute Product Owner and a motivated team, the rest can be worked out over time. Beware the Unknown, however!

It's like you've already prepared the car and the Scrum team just needs to get in and win the race. 
Get the right people and get going!

Are you sure you accurately see your organization? 
Just get started and see what happens!

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