Why adopting Scrum is more than a game

Too many people still seem to adopt Scrum by going through the motions, like playing a game of soccer at school because its the team sports lesson. Of course, better results are achieved when players are serious about improving their ball skills and team behaviors. They become invested in the outcome. How do we shift teams beyond a surface compliance with Scrum?

Taking a structured play approach to training goes down really well with many of my clients. Using techniques from Gamestorming, Training from the Back of the Room, and Lego Serious Play, I have brought training sessions to life, made them vibrant immersive learning environments, and had consistently high ratings from attendees. How, though, can people transition from the buzz of a high-energy classroom to business as usual in their everyday team spaces and business processes?

Likening Scrum to a game is a good thing

Let’s first establish why Scrum is like a game, or at least an application of structured play.

Some time ago, I wrote articles on gamestorming and gamification, in which I explored how applying game thinking to business can lead to  effective outcomes. Recently, as I was completing my Lego Serious Play (LSP) Facilitator training, I was reminded of what I had written about structured play at work.

Briefly, games allow us to create an alternate reality within which we have a defined space, set roles, key artifacts, and rules that enable us to either maintain or break flow as required, including when the game ends.

Just as with a field sport or a board game, having these basics defined for a game allows us to talk the same language, follow the same rules, and focus on getting better … and winning!

In Scrum, we set up a space and a time with the Sprint (the container within which everything else happens) and colocating the team physically or virtually. We have the key roles of scrum master, product owner, and delivery team members. We have the artifacts of product backlog, sprint backlog, and product increment. And we have a set of rules for how we behave and work together: our working agreement as a team, our definitions of ready and done, our event durations and timings, that we may ship when we need and in extremis even cancel a sprint.

Likening Scrum to a game in this way helps us to more readily understand and adopt the behaviors and mindset required to excel at it.

Getting beyond the game

Just like learning any new board game or sport, it takes a little time to understand the basics and be able to do it reliably, and it takes longer to truly master it. If teams get stuck struggling with the basics, they will never reach the performance levels of which they are potentially capable. It’s also demotivating to hear that they’ve faced the same problems at every sprint retrospective.

Teams that do reach higher performance tend to focus on continual improvement in their agile and technical practices. They truly understand the value in the sprint retrospective, wholeheartedly own their improvement backlog, and are active in their individual continuing development too.

However, we do need to maintain a balance of having fun while we are doing this. Retaining the sense of play while we master the game will definitely help with this.

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