Gift for China


Gift for China

At the time of my first journey to China, while Lyssa and I were preparing a keynote for an internal company conference and the Shanghai Scrum Gathering, I decided to re-publish the Tao of Scrum, a post which originally appeared in 2010 on the site.

This nod to China was inspired by the realization that, for almost 30 years, I have been a student of deep wisdom traditions — the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, Taoism, Qigong — wisdom that came out of China. And here I was traveling to meet (and to teach) it’s people!

In recognition of the profound influence Chinese thinking has had on my path, I dedicate this post as a simple gift to the joyful, open and eager students we found in Shanghai, China. We think (and hope) we will be back!


I considered the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) as I was preparing to teach a new Agile team and wanted a simple version of the rules of Scrum. I started with the Scrum Guide, which I distilled down into 15 basic rules and 53 sub-rules. The basic rules, in this Taoist-like format, are a kind of Ri (expert or master) version of Scrum.  This post contains the third and final installment, with all 15 rules included.

The Underlying Tao

The Way is Transparent. The Way should be Inspected. What is Inspected should be Adapted to.

The basis of Scrum is that it is transparent:  to the people who pay for development, to management, to customers and users, to the team itself. Of course, this sounds good, but in fact people often hate it. It is hard to give up old ways, to be exposed in our comfy habits. So we don’t always take full advantage of transparency. We want transparency of some things, but not others.

Then, given that we have transparency, we are now in a position to inspect what actually happened. Did our plan work out? Did the change to greater detail in our stories actually make a difference? Were we able to get QA more involved this sprint?

Finally, when we see the results clearly, it is incumbent upon us to make changes, to adapt. If QA did not get more involved this sprint as we wished, what happened? How did we fail? What can we do differently? The questioning mind is an open mind. In the beginners mind there are many options, in the expert’s there are few.

The Tao of People

The Product Owner decides the ‘what’ of the Way.

With only one person making decisions on what to work on (and why), teams are able to get very clear and move very fast. With inspection, everyone  sees whether those ‘what’ decisions actually worked out. The Product Owner is likely to either love or hate this arrangement. If we know where we want to go–and are able to adapt quickly to feedback–it is wonderful to be the driver. On the other hand, if our success has been due to maneuvering around accountability, this will be an unhappy path with which we will likely find fault.

The Team decides the ‘how’ and ‘how much’ of the Way.

In regards to the Product Owner’s direction, the Team decides both how to accomplish the ‘what’ and how long it will take. To do otherwise will tip the scales of power unwisely, in ways that do not reflect reality accurately. Teams feel the integrity of the process when this dictum is upheld. It conveys respect and professionalism.

The Scrum Master serves the Way, and tells others when the Way has been lost.

Ultimately, the Scrum Master must serve the Way itself. For Scrum, the Way is embodied in its rules and in its essence. At times, the Scrum Master may feel like a voice in the wilderness, trying to be heard above the din of ‘deadlines and demos.’ But if she serves the Way truly, her voice will eventually be heard. If it is about his ego (or results), the Scrum Master will fail, both himself and the Team. This is hard for the new Scrum Master to learn. We have been trained that we must be responsible for the team’s results. Ultimately, attempting to do so will compromise our allegiance to the Way of Scrum.

The Tao of Events

Release Planning defines what users of the Way will find of value, and by when.

Release Planning may remind us of the old days, when management asked for dates (and commitments) that we could not give, or could not keep. It can be tempting to skip over Release Planning, especially for a new team. But having a view of where we are going gives us confidence, and helps us know when we have lost our way. Release Planning is not about dates (though everyone wants them), but about sequence and size. Release Planning might be best done during the first Sprint, after we have the chance to get our mind on straight as a team.

Sprints are the Way of the Team, and do not vary in length.

Sprints are the heartbeat of a Scrum Team. They provide the rhythm and backbone on which ritual can form, rituals that teams need as human systems. The Sprint cycle provides a beginning and an end, creating a familiar comfort against which to remember where we are, where we are going, and how we can do better the next time around. Over time, the Sprint may get shorter, but do not let it get longer.

Sprint Planning defines the Way for this week, and for next.

The Sprint Planning meeting begins the cycle. It says this is a new day, we can do anything, together. It lets the business customer tell their story and the team ask their questions. It gives the team their marching orders, and the Product Owner, hope for the immediate future. It is the project community’s central ritual, along with the Sprint Review. It should be adjusted to fit the community, whether with food, music or anything that connects people’s hearts.

The Daily Standup helps the team Adapt to the Way, for today.

The standup is the place where accountability within the team becomes real. Those embarasssed to ask for assistance will be stuck on the same task, day after day, while declaring ‘no impediments.’ Some will be vague when declaring what they will do today, unsure of themselves and of their support. For others, the standup is a celebration of how well they work together and how much they can conquer as a team. If everyone does not learn something during the standup, there is either a lack of real listening, or the team is talking only from rote. Perhaps there is a lack of trust?

The Sprint Review helps the users of the Way Inspect what has been done in two weeks time.

We come back to inspection. The Sprint Review is for the project community–as many of them as possible–to come together and see what has been done. Real feedback is essential: the good, the bad and the controversial. Senior leaders are sometimes reluctant to attend. That is a shame. This is where the ‘real’ work gets done. Perhaps they haven’t heard?

The Retrospective helps the team decide the Way forward, by Inspecting the Way that is past.

The Sprint Review is to the project community what the Retrospective is to the team: it is their inspection (and introspection) process for themselves. Did they get better this Sprint? Did they accomplish all they could as a team? Did they have fun and feel relaxed? Where is their cutting edge? And how can they get over it?

The Tao of Things

The Product Backlog is the Way, in order.

The Backlog is a garden that must be weeded and watered. Sometimes we only develop as much Product Backlog as the team will need for the next Sprint or two. This may work for a time, but we need to plant more seeds. The thinking that creates the Backlog should be allowed to run its course, or the Way will be inarticulate. A finished Backlog is an oxymoron: this is not the goal. Do plant more seeds.

Likewise, the Backlog may be relatively full, but not in order. This is like weeds in our garden. The Backlog must be nurtured each Sprint by the Product Owner, and by the Project Community.

The Sprint Backlog is the ‘How’ of the Way, for two weeks time.

The Sprint Backlog is to the team what the Product Backlog is to the project community.  It too must be nurtured every day. Do we have all the tasks? Are we keeping track of where we are? It is easy for us to get lost in our own tasks and forget the big picture, but ‘seeing from the whole’ is what makes us truly a team. If we don’t see, the Scrum Master will.

The Product Burndown shows the Way of the Product Backlog.

The Product Burndown can be tedious. Who wants to calculate all that’s been done and all there is left to do? But seeing how much value is left, and how much effort it will require, is what keeps us honest about business decisions: is this still the most valuable product to pursue?

The Sprint Burndown shows the Way of the Sprint Backlog.

The Sprint Burndown can seem annoying to update every day, even pointless, especially after 12 Sprints. But the burndown is not just for the team: it is for the stakeholders, patiently trusting that the team is making progress, silently biting their lip so as to not interfere, now they have been told they are ‘chickens.’  Try seeing what the pattern of your burndowns are over 5 Sprints. What do they tell you? How could you get better?

The Tao of Endings

The definition of Done must be agreed upon by all who follow the Way.

Deciding the rules for when we are finished — with a task, a story, the Sprint, or even the product — should be decided at the beginning, but discussed repeatedly. Were we really done with this task? Did our team think so? Did we use too much effort to finish this story? What do the tests say? Have we gotten as much value as we need, for now?

Are there greater horizons ahead?

How can we get even better?

  • Ilja Preuß
    Posted at 11:51h, 06 June

    Very nice!

    I’m missing one important thing, though: the Sprint Goal. The “next step of the way”?