Broken Windows and Broken Scrum

Recently, I was in a conversation with a scrum master that was of the opinion that correcting teams on all the small details of practicing scrum was the best way to develop them into a high performing team. They compared this to the Broken Windows Theory of crime reduction. For example, if someone is a minute late to the daily scrum, call them out. Or the daily scrum must not deviate from the “Yesterday, today, and in the way” script regardless how well the team is communicating.

I can see the merits of developing discipline. However, without explanation or coaching that includes the rational for practicing scrum in such a way, there is a real possibility for negative unintended consequences.

  • The broken windows theory was meant to be applied in situations where the goal was to reduce crime. To apply this approach to scrum practices is to imply that any deviation from the scrum framework is criminal.
  • Similar to how the broken windows theory resulted in the emergence of “zero tolerance” laws, applying such an approach to scrum teams and strictly enforcing how they may or may not follow the scrum framework will result in a lot of command-and-control zero tolerance practices. The guides will become rules and, in turn, inflexible laws.

The approach I’ve found to be more effective is to hunt down the root causes to issues, for which being late to daily scrums or poor communication are symptoms. It’s more like being a big game hunger. Seek out the root of the problem, solve that problem, and many of the lesser issues will resolve themselves.


Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash