Scrum Guide: A Sacred Text?

Scrum-Guide-A-Sacred-Text?

As practitioners, the Scrum Guide is an important document and embodies core shared values, aims, and language. With any important, foundational text, the question comes up: how should we relate to it? Specifically: should we view the Scrum Guide as something like a Sacred Text, or in some other way?

By “Sacred Text,” we mean a document that is sacrosanct. In other words, a document that so completely embodies our core values and practices, and is so revered that it is unquestionable and untouchable. As a consequence, any effort to grab hold of and alter the way we understand any key ideas in the Scrum Guide would be viewed as a violation. Religious texts are often seen this way: as inspired and unalterable. So any attempt to revise them would be considered reprehensible!

Another way to pose this question is to ask: assuming–which the two of us do–that as a community of practitioners, we deeply respect the Guide, is the best expression of our respect to put it on a pedestal, or to view it as a historically foundational, critically important description of admirable shared values, aims, and language, but not an inviolable one?

To probe the issue, let’s consider: what can happen when we regard a text as quasi-sacred?

Benefits

  • It’s shared. This counts for a lot because sharing the same text means we have a single common source of language about our work, a common reference, and therefore a shared way of orienting ourselves and comparing notes about our daily activities, discoveries, struggles, and questions. That’s invaluable because it makes conversation and shared learning possible.
  • It’s remembered. When we keep returning to the same text, it helps us as a community to remember core principles. That’s priceless in an age of diminishing attention spans and “multitasking.” Remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing refreshes and restores our connection to our work. This encourages us to wake up if we start to fall asleep at the wheel in the daily grind.
  • It gives us a shared perspective. Having a single text gives us a lens to look through at the world, together, and this enables us to evaluate novel circumstances, and compare notes.

Risks

  • Language becomes overly formalized. When a text is regarded as sacred, words that a founding figure may have chosen as the best available description of a situation at that moment can become overly formalized and congealed in the minds of readers. In other words, we can start to shrink our vocabulary and imagination because we assume there’s already a “right way” to think about something.
  • Words that were alive become formulaic. When the words in a text are regarded as sacred, we can start relating to words in a ceremonial way rather than as living expressions of what we see in front of us. Our speech can start losing meaning because we think we need to say things a certain way in order for our observations to be legitimate and to be validated by others. Our words may become ways of signaling our membership in the group, rather than describing, in a fresh way, what’s happening in front of us.
  • Meaning drains from the principles. When a text is viewed as sacred, expressions that were based on the authors’ living observations and insights start to become equated with an orthodox set of practices and attitudes. We start to fit our experiences and observations into a predetermined mold, already anticipating the “right answer” to a new situation, instead of recognizing novel situations. We don’t live in dialogue with the text, viewing it as the written observations of gifted fellow practitioners. We start to see ourselves as practitioners of a static technique, rather than explorers and researchers.

Free your mind and your Scrum will follow

Scrum Guide Sacred Text - Paper Airplane

We argue that valuing the Scrum Guide doesn’t mean making it sacrosanct: on the contrary, valuing it means viewing it as an invitation to further exploration, to keeping our own practice alive and kicking.

To be good researchers, we don’t need a sacred text–instead, we need the insights of those who have explored the terrain before us to inform our own present-day practicing and learning. Scientific inquiry is open-ended! The more we hold the Guide this way, the more it’s a mirror for us to reflect in, not a doctrine for us to uphold.

From this perspective, the Scrum Guide is a great starting point as a description of Scrum. Use it as a first map to begin exploring the territory in your daily practice with teams. That way the Guide, like the Scrum Manifesto, is fuel for your exploration and learning.

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