Confessions of a Lean/Kanbaner Teaching a Scrum Course

March 26, 2010 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I just finished teaching a 2-day Implementing Scrum for Your Team course. This is not your standard CSM class, but rather a class that teaches teams how to do Scrum. It was particularly interesting because the course sponsor had specifically said I needed to teach a Scrum course and not mix too much other stuff in. I found myself trying to stay in the Scrum arena, but also found at times I just had to talk about some things or would feel I left the teams there unprepared. I thought a blog about this would be useful because it illustrates some of the differences between Scrum and Lean/Kanban.

Limit Work In Progress (WIP) to the capacity of the team. This is a fundamental Lean principle. Scrum doesn't really deal with this within the Sprint. Having too much WIP literally creates additional work to be done. A common Scrum anti-pattern is too many stories getting opened up with few finished in a team's first sprint. Knowing that excess WIP causes problems can be very helpful.

Defined workflow. I have seen that defining one's workflow greatly increases a team's ability to learn. If attending to WIP as well, it also enhances one's ability to improve one's process.

Map your value stream. Although some Scrum CSTs deny one even exists, I have seen many development groups get incredible value out of doing this.

Lower the number of projects given to a team – Attend to Product Portfolio Management. Scrum addresses this by assuming things have been set up where teams only have to do the work that they commit to. Unfortunately, in the real world, there are many teams which have lots of stuff coming at them. OK, so Scrum tells you to handle this impediment – but how? Lean has a lot of insights to provide insights into how to do product portfolio management – something absolutely needed if one is to stop inundating teams with work.

The common Scrum practice of setting up a pilot project where the team only works on only one project is often harmful. True, this pilot gets great success. But the other teams actually now have more work to do. This is why pilots often work but then the organization can't get Scrum to scale. It is not that people aren't motivated or disciplined, it is because no one has helped them see their real problem.

Acceptance Test-Driven Development. Until recently, Scrum has all but ignored technical practices. Uh, guys, teams are writing code – you've got to help them. So I talked about this – in my mind, one of the most important things for Agile teams to do is Acceptance Test-Driven Development. I also went through a little high level architecture stuff, encapsulation and how to avoid the redundancy that is most harmful. You can actually read an article or watch a webinar on this section.  Look for both under the "Testing" heading on our Team-Agility Resource page.

What I didn't say.

I didn't talk about how Kanban was probably better for some of the teams present than Scrum was. I didn't want to open up this can of worms in a two day course. I just didn't have the time and was afraid opening the door would lead to more confusion than it was worth.

So what?

I think what this shows is that I don't believe in the minimalist attitude that Scrum is just a framework and you need to figure out what to put in it. There are several things that you must put in it if you are going to be effective. I don't believe it's all up to the team. There are principles of software development that are out there whether you acknowledge them or not.

Teaching this two-day course just affirms my decision of the need for people to take something like our 3-day Lean-Agile Project Manager course – so they can choose which Agile method is best for them.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


I also just started a project where we were going with scrum, saw the crazy amount of specialist interdependencies, and unceremoniously moved to kanban with an up front value mapping session.

The team lead is a little confused and is having a hard tim adopting, hopefully with continued coaching we will get there.

One of the team members is a real scrum die hard, but he is taking to the lean kanban stuff like a duck to water, so much so that I getting him to champion it on a daily basis.

I think the biggest issue the scrummers have with the leanians is the sound bites of criticism coming from the Internet, once you spend even a little time with the scrummies I find it is really easy to find common ground, there are a lot of common principles. Lean just takes it to the next level, and gives us permission to question things that aren't working in scrum or otherwise.


Thanks for sharing this Jeff. I know I am one of those soundbites and have been trying harder to tone it down.  If you explain Scrum in lean principles people first get validation but then tend to see that Scrum has some things that actually impedes the process. 

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