But how do I know it works?

November 21, 2013

Read time 2 min

There is an old joke about a lumberjack who – back in 1950s – got his first chainsaw

I want my money back“, says the lumberjack walking into a hardware store.

Well .. why?“, asks the shop owner.

You promised I can cut and prune ten times more trees with this“, replies the angry lumberjack, “but I barely make the same amount I did with axe and saw“.

OK, let’s take a look“, says the shop owner. He pulls the cord and chainsaw engine starts with a roaring noise.

Hey, what is that sound?“, asks the lumberjack.

Have you ever been in same situation? You take a new tool or a new process into use. The promise is more results or more speed or more anything you want.

Then, after a while, you realize that little has changed or things have gone worse. You fail in all new ways.

I see this when I meet with teams and managers who struggle with their work. They tell me about agility and how Scrum or Kanban is the prevailing way of doing work. “We are Agile“, they say, “but it does not help. Can you tell us what to do next?“.

I ask: “How do you know if Scrum (or Kanban) is working?“. Or more bluntly: “How do you know you are doing it right?

The answer is almost always a silence, followed by a deep sigh and question back to me: “That’s a good question. Could you tell us how it should work?“.

Whatever we do, there must be a way to see if we are getting what we are supposed to get. It must be observable: transparencylearning or responsiveness are nice words, but not enough. How do I know, that I’m getting what I’m supposed to get.

The point of Scrum is not the rituals, backlogs and roles. The point of Kanban is not to hang tasks on the wall on colorful Post-It notes.

For me, “The Meaning of Scrum” is: If you create a potentially shippable increment at the end of every Sprint so that it tells you exactly where you are with regards to product vision, then you are doing Scrum right.

Regarding the purpose of Kanban, please take a look at my earlier post “Importance of pull, WIP limits and Kanban system“.

Final note: It’s more important to do right things that do things right. But you will never get your work working, unless you understand why a method works or does not work.

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