Your Ticket Out Of Crazy Town:
How Scrum’s ‘Guardrails’ Protect Teams From Chaos

As we stated before, Scrum is for developing in Complicated/Complex environments. This ties nicely to the Cynefin (ku-NEV-in) framework, which breaks Decision-Space into four areas: Clear, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic.

The detailed definitions aren’t important to us right now; the only thing we need to know is that Chaos is very bad. Chaos makes things unpredictable and unmanageable. And we mean “unmanageable,” not simply “hard to manage.” In Chaos, the noise overwhelms the data, and we can’t trust anything we think we know. Many phrases describe this situation: from “Fog of War” to “uncertainty in situational awareness” to FUBAR and SNAFU – but we’ll simply call it Chaos. When we’re in Chaos, we might say that “we’re in Crazy Town,” because that’s what it feels like.

How To Prevent Your Team From Wandering Into Chaos

Now, the universe gives us enough Chaos, so we don’t want to create it ourselves. Scrum is designed to help us out here. To prevent a Team from wandering into Chaos under its own power, Scrum has set up three guardrails:

  • The Scrum Team is Self-Contained, which means that we don’t have dependencies on others
  • The Scrum Team uses a Standard of Care so that it won’t create Technical Debt it will have to deal with later; and
  • There is Product Ownership that is protecting the Team and making good decisions about what to do.Scrum’s ‘Guardrails’ Protect Teams From Chaos Diagram

Within these Guardrails, the Scrum Team Self-Organizes to manage complexity and do its job. Here, we see a simple diagram of this; the Self-Organized Team within its Guardrails, surrounded by Chaos.

What Happens Beyond the Guardrails?

“Why does the Chaos in our picture stop?” you may ask. Well, in the Organizational context we are in, we can’t survive in Chaos for too long. If we get into Chaos, and can’t somehow scratch and claw our way back into the safe zone within the Guardrails, we will eventually die. In other words, there is another step beyond Chaos; and that step is Death. Being in Chaos too long will kill us. Depending on what context we’re in, Chaos will kill our Projects, our Products, and our Organizations.

So, what am I saying here? Well, first of all, use Scrum to manage your work. Stay within Scrum’s guardrails and, when you break through them for some reason (either by accident or on purpose), use Scrum to get yourself back inside them as fast as you can. If you remain in Crazy Town too long, your Product or Organization will die.

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