Scrum Anti-Patterns Taxonomy — The Big Picture of Why Scrum Fails

TL; DR: Scrum Anti-Patterns Taxonomy

As the editing process of the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide is nearing its end, it is time to take the next step. The brand new Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide offers 180-plus anti-patterns organized by roles, events, artifacts, and commitments. However, the Guide does not create a meta-level or abstract Scrum anti-patterns taxonomy. Consequently, the Guide does not provide an overall strategy to counter or evade Scrum anti-patterns at a personal, cultural, structural, or organizational level. The question is whether it is possible to create such a taxonomy.

Read on and learn more about the first steps of completing the big picture of Scrum anti-patterns.

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A First Draft of a Scrum Anti-Patterns Taxonomy

The first version of the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide provides over 180 anti-patterns, categorized based on roles, events, artifacts, and commitments. It allows us to identify critical issues at a tactical team level at a glance. Moreover, it offers “first aid” by providing a) information on why the behavior can be observed and b) suggestions on how to remedy a specific anti-pattern. That is helpful for any Scrum practitioner.

Conversely, I did not write the Guide with an abstract or conceptual framework for Scrum anti-patterns in mind. As a result, the Guide does not comprise a comprehensive strategy to confront or avoid Scrum anti-patterns at individual, cultural, structural, or organizational levels. It is a tactical book, a field manual.

So, I took the following 30-plus Scrum anti-patterns from the Definition of Done and Sprint Goal chapters for a test drive and started categorizing them. The Scrum anti-patterns from the Definition of Done chapter range from #1-15; the Scrum anti-patterns from the Sprint Goal chapter range from 16-31:

  1. Ignoring the Definition of Done
  2. Multiple versions of the Definition of Done in a single product
  3. The Definition of Done’s sibling (Definition of Ready)
  4. A Scrum Team has no Definition of Done
  5. Lack of collaboration in creating the Definition of Done
  6. The Scrum Team releases Increments that fail to meet the Definition of Done
  7. The Product Increment fails to achieve the desired level of quality
  8. The Scrum Team produces an undone Product Increment, or one that fails to meet the Sprint Goal
  9. Playing safe with the Definition of Done
  10. The Definition of Done is too demanding
  11. Too much ambition, too soon
  12. Not improving the Definition of Done
  13. No common ground in a product group
  14. Dogmatism prevents experimenting
  15. No transparency
  16. “Acceptance” by the PO
  17. The Scrum Team has no Sprint Goal
  18. The Sprint Goal is imposed upon the Scrum Team
  19. The Sprint Goal is overly ambitious
  20. The Scrum Team fails to achieve the Sprint Goal on a regular basis
  21. The Scrum Team changes Sprint Goals in the middle of a Sprint
  22. The Scrum Team does not respect Sprint boundaries
  23. The Scrum Team cannot accommodate work that isn’t related to a Sprint Goal
  24. The Sprint Goal is confidential
  25. Sprint success defined by output, not outcome
  26. The Scrum Team lacks of focus
  27. Cherry-picking Product Backlog items unrelated to the Sprint Goal
  28. No visualization of progress toward the Sprint Goal
  29. Gold-plating
  30. What are we fighting for?
  31. Sprint cancellations without consultation
  32. No Sprint cancellation.

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Based on these anti-patterns, I identified the following first version of a Scrum Anti-Patterns taxonomy:

  1. Defining and Respecting Artifacts: These Scrum anti-patterns involve the proper creation, understanding, and respect for Scrum artifacts. Problems in this category can lead to quality issues, inconsistency, and ineffective Scrum implementation, as well-defined and respected artifacts are crucial for effective Scrum practices. A solution to deal with anti-patterns in this category is to continuously educate the team about the importance of these artifacts, regularly review and update these, and ensure that all members understand and respect them. (Anti-patterns: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 21, 26, 28, 30, 31.)
  2. Collaboration and Team Dynamics: This category involves issues that arise from poor team dynamics and inadequate collaboration. These include creating gatekeeping mechanisms like the “Definition of Ready,” lack of team input in defining the DoD or Sprint Goal, and misaligning Sprint Goals with the Product Goal. Solutions to deal with anti-patterns in this category involve fostering a more collaborative culture, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and emphasizing shared objectives and team decision-making. (Anti-patterns: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 17, 19, 20, 25, 29.)
  3. Transparency and Communication: These anti-patterns pertain to the lack of transparency and communication, such as the DoD being unavailable to everyone, keeping the Sprint Goal secret until the Sprint Review, and not communicating progress towards the Sprint Goal, possibly leading to mistrust, confusion, and disappointed stakeholder expectations. Solutions to these anti-patterns involve promoting open communication, ensuring that all artifacts and decisions are transparent and available to all stakeholders, and providing regular updates on progress. (Anti-patterns: 15, 23, 27.)
  4. Balancing Ambition and Feasibility: One of the challenging aspects of Scrum is balancing ambition (the desire to achieve as much as possible) with feasibility (what’s realistically achievable within a Sprint). Anti-patterns in this category include setting overly ambitious Sprint Goals or failing to achieve Sprint Goals regularly. Also, defining success by output rather than accomplishing the Sprint Goal and not canceling Sprints when the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete fall into this category. To counteract these, Scrum teams could better calibrate their goals to align with their capacity and stakeholders’ expectations and become more adept at recognizing and responding to changes that affect Sprint Goals. (Anti-patterns: 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 28, 30, 31.)
  5. Strategic Focus and Alignment: These anti-patterns concern aligning a Scrum team’s work with the strategic goals of the organization. They include the branching out of DoD to adjacent areas prematurely, not accommodating work unrelated to the Sprint Goal, cherry-picking unrelated Product Backlog items, and the inability to align the business objective with the Product Goal. Without this alignment, teams risk working on tasks that, while completed effectively, do not contribute to the organization’s broader goals. To address these issues, teams should ensure that all their work aligns with strategic objectives, prioritize work that directly contributes to the Sprint Goal, and improve their capability to develop coherent and strategically-aligned Sprint Goals. (Anti-patterns: 11, 22, 25, 26, 29.)

Conclusion

The first version of the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide offers a tactical field manual with over 180 anti-patterns. However, it does not include a comprehensive strategy for confronting or avoiding Scrum anti-patterns at broader levels. Thus, while the Guide is a valuable tool for all Scrum practitioners, an additional effort is required to create a strategic Scrum Anti-Patterns taxonomy.

This is the first step in developing a Scrum anti-pattern taxonomy; over time, I plan to incorporate all 180-plus anti-patterns from the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide into this categorization.

How helpful do you consider the first five categories of the Scrum Anti-Patterns taxonomy? Please share your ideas with us in the comments.

Scrum Anti-Patterns Taxonomy — Related Articles

Nine Sprint Goal Principles to Get Your Scrum Team Going.

Definition of Done Theses: 10 Simple Principles of a Critical Scrum Success Factor.

Definition of Done: Business Agility Abhors Technical Shoddiness.

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