Art of the Possible

In one of his Google Tech Talks, Jeff Sutherland, co-founder of Scrum, uses the term ‘Scrum-but’ to describe companies that incompletely implement the software development framework. When he consults, he’ll hear, “Yeah, we do Scrum, BUT…” and then some reason why they’re not a pure Scrum shop. In my head, they’re showing Sutherland around and at some point, flash-mob-style, folks congregate around the ping-pong table and sing it a la Annie:

It’s a Scrum-but life, for us,
It’s a Scrum-but life, for us,
Our velocity’s not – so – sweet,
But our process can’t – be – beat,
It’s a Scrum-but life!

And this is the reality of it. Here you are, introducing the new kid process on the block, leading the crew with a new philosophy as a ScrumMaster, or in ScrumOfOne land, at times competing with the existing processes or priorities of life. I like how Ken Schwaber, co-founder of Scrum, discusses it in his ‘Agile Project Management with Scrum‘ book:

…the ScrumMaster has to operate within the culture of the organization.

The ScrumMaster walks a fine line between the organization’s need to make changes as quickly as possible and its limited tolerance for change.

…sometimes these changes are culturally unacceptable and the ScrumMaster must acquiesce. Remember that Scrum is the art of the possible. A dead sheepdog is a useless sheepdog.

Back in ScrumOfOne land, the organization’s culture is… us. This can make it stressful, but it doesn’t have to be!

I used to hold my personal and formal 15-minute stand-up meeting at 5:31am. Past tense. My stories are not complex enough to be broken into tasks. I haven’t invested in any Sprint Burndown chart. I don’t have a formal demo for myself. I don’t always go through and clearly describe the acceptance criteria per story. I have tried each of these things, but none have stuck thus far.

So did I beat myself up for sucking at my own ScrumOfOne?


I’d create stories to add more rigor to my personal development system, and then implement them. Slowly, through practice, I felt more and more in control. Not all processes would stick, though. And did I bet myself up for continuing to suck?


At some point, I stopped feeling like a putz for seemingly setting myself up to fail. At some point, Schwaber’s words sank in with the deeper appreciation of that phrase: Art of the Possible. Via finding solutions that were good enough (better than perfect), and working with myself instead of against myself (tendencies, social pressures, bow tie affinity), I understood that this system is fully mine! I don’t have to be pure Scrummin’ if I am getting stuff done while promoting the principles of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

So you start scrappy, but you’re getting stuff done, a la Jay-Z.