When Scrum Is Not The Right Fit: Alternatives For Non-User Facing Projects

Scrum’s Shortcomings for Internal Projects

Scrum is an agile framework designed to deliver working software frequently through incremental sprints. It relies heavily on active customer engagement to continuously prioritize features that deliver the most value. However, for internal initiatives that don’t have an external customer to provide feedback, Scrum can encounter challenges such as:

  • Lack of external customer involvement: Without an engaged product owner proxy for the end user, it becomes difficult to effectively prioritize features and incrementally refine the product.
  • Difficulty prioritizing internal needs: Multiple internal stakeholders may have conflicting requirements, making alignment on priorities difficult.
  • Challenges coordinating across departments: Rigid sprint cycles can impede collaboration across different teams when work cutoffs are mismatched.

Alternative Methodologies Better Suited for Internal Development

When Scrum starts to hamper an internal project more than provide value, it may be time to consider alternative approaches better optimized for the situation – like Kanban, Waterfall, or hybrid models that blend agile and traditional methodologies.

Kanban’s Flexibility and Focus on Flow

Kanban offers built-in flexibility that makes it well-suited for internal development projects involving multiple teams with shifting priorities. Key advantages include:

  • Continuous workflow: Work moves through Kanban continuously without rigid sprint cycles, supporting seamless collaboration across teams.
  • Focus on flow efficiency: Kanban’s main goal is improving the flow of work rather than delivering fixed scope increments, allowing for organic evolution of requirements.
  • Pull-based prioritization: Work-in-progress limits drive pull-based self-prioritization based on capacity, ensuring attention goes to the most important work first.

Waterfall’s Defined Phases and Documentation

For some complex internal product development initiatives, the Waterfall methodology’s structured progression through requirements gathering, design, development, testing, and deployment stages may be preferable. Benefits can include:

  • Clearly defined phases: Phases act as tollgates ensuring key prerequisites are met before advancing, reducing risk for mission-critical initiatives.
  • Comprehensive documentation: Each phase concludes with extensive documents capturing requirements, architecture, validation, etc. crucial for governance.
  • Predictability over adaptability: Waterfall trades agility for reliability in projecting schedule, cost and quality due to deterministic nature.

Hybrid Approaches

For internal teams open to selectively borrowing useful elements from various methodologies, hybrid models can blend agile and plan-driven methods for the right balance. Examples include:

  • WaterScrumFall: Combines upfront Waterfall requirements/design phases with Scrum for development and testing for greater control with quicker delivery once scope is fixed.
  • KanPlan: Brings Kanban’s continuous flow and pull-based work along with Waterfall phases for structure around quality gates and milestones.

When to Choose Alternatives Over Scrum

So when working on internal-facing initiatives, how do you determine when to jettison Scrum in favor of other options? Consider alternatives like Kanban or Waterfall for initiatives like:

  • Development of internal tools and systems: Projects centered on supporting internal business functions over customer-facing features.
  • Projects with stable requirements: Teams working with clearly defined and slowly evolving specifications and scope boundaries.
  • Initiatives involving multiple internal teams: Loosely coupled, intricate efforts coordinating handoffs spanning departments.

Implementing Non-Scrum Approaches

Organizations accustomed to agile ways of working using Scrum can underestimate the deeper operational changes required to successfully deploy non-Scrum alternatives like Kanban or Waterfall. Key aspects to address include:

  • Adapting team workflows and processes: Reconfigure team cadences, reporting, planning, and governance to align with new method constraints.
  • Managing handoffs between phases: Institute oversight and communication rhythms enabling clarity on phase progression synchronization for plan-driven methods.
  • Ensuring adequate documentation: Develop templates, tools, and team skills that remove bottlenecks around creation of method-mandated project documentation.

Supporting Team Collaboration Without Scrum Rituals

Scrum prescribes specific rituals like daily standups, retrospectives, reviews and more that enable transparency and alignment. For methodologies without these built-in synchronization events, focus on mechanisms like:

  • Kanban boards to visualize work: Display initiative status publicly using boards featuring workflow swimlanes, work-in-progress limits, and queued priority items.
  • Internal demos and reviews: Institute informal sync-ups to inspect work as needed without imposing strict cadences detached from progress.
  • Consistent team communication: Rely on conversations via chat apps, email, wikis over formal meetings to share information and decisions.

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