“All models are wrong. Some are useful” -George Box

The more I try to help individuals and organizations on the path to Professional Scrum, the more I realize that most needless suffering in the name of Scrum is due to a fundamental mis-match of mental models.

To which you might justifiably respond – “Who or what is this mental model, you speak of?” Let me explain…

My copious research on this topic (5 second google search) has yielded this bounty from my personal information butler-

“A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences.” – WikiPedia


Instead of asking people if they believe in Scrum, I am trying another experiment – sharing 10 statements that represent my view of a Scrum-patible mental model and asking for a reaction.

  • 1-UNCERTAINTY: Teams trying to deliver valuable solutions in rapidly changing environments face uncertainty due to blind spots in the areas of market needs, technology behavior and human interactions.Think about the COVID pandemic – who could have predicted in 2019 how different the whole planet would be in 2020 and how it would completely change the behavior and unmet needs of customers throughout the planet. How does this compare to your view of uncertainty?


  • 2-RISKS: This uncertainty creates a high risk –  the possibility of wasting precious time and money delivering solutions that don’t generate the desired value.For instance, imagine you had funded a long 12-18 month waterfall project that began in July 2019. Your teams started methodically building capabilities phase by phase – architecture, design, infrastructure, coding, unit testing, QA-testing, UAT, etc. etc.Then COVID hit and the needs of your customers and users changed. The capabilities that they needed in Jan 2020 are now irrelevant and useless. They have a whole new set of needs in the post-COVID era.You might have exposed your business to the risk of having spent time, money and reputation on lots of partially completed, unusable and possibly useless capabilities. How does this compare to your view of risks ?


  • 3-RISK MANAGEMENT: One possible risk management approach is to use short feedback loops that shine a flash-light to illuminate what is valuable and what is wasteful.One way to shorten the feedback loop is to ask people close to your customer and users (or ideally, people who ARE your customers and users) what they do and do not find valuable in your solutions. Once you know this, you can adjust what capability you build next. How does this compare to your preferred approach for risk management?


  • 4-SINGLE SOURCE OF TRUTH: Feedback is most valuable when it comes through frequent delivery of solutions to the single source of truth – the market.Ultimately, the only thing that matters is if / how your customers and users respond to your offerings. All other “expert ideas” about how the customers and users might behave are just untested opinions. How does this compare to your view of the single source of truth for a business?


  • 5-QUALITY: Before you can release a solution to your customers and users, it must have the appropriate level of quality. Under no circumstances must we harm our customers, users and communities by releasing solutions with unacceptable levels of quality.To achieve this outcome, we should have a clear, published, easily accessible standard of what quality means for our solutions. Everyone working on the solution must have the same understanding of this standard. How does this compare to your view on quality standards?


  • 6-FOCUS: Teams might not be able to frequently deliver valuable, high quality solutions to the market if they try to do too much and satisfy the expectations of every single stakeholder. They need to focus on the single most valuable improvement they can deliver with the shortest possible investment of time, money and reputation. To achieve this focus, teams need to apply vertical slicing – decomposing large, valuable outcomes into thin, valuable, micro-outcomes. How does this compare to your approach towards focus?


  • 7-SELF-ORGANIZATION: In today’s knowledge economy, the best way to deliver a solution is to create cross-functional teams, set an inspiring target, provide a clear set of boundaries and then get the heck out of the way so they can self-organize to find the best path to the destination. How does this compare to your preferred approach of building teams?


  • 8-VALIDATED LEARNING: Focus helps teams rapidly deploy valuable solutions to the market to gain validated learning about what is and is not valuable and what are the emerging threats and opportunities – like changing behaviors due to COVID. You can’t just spend company time and money delivering something to the market and then move on to the next bright shiny object. You owe it to your customers, users and investors to find out what did and did not work so you test your hypotheses and come back with validated learning you can use to improve the future. How does this compare to your preferred approach of discovering what does and does not work in the market?


  • 9-COURSE CORRECTION: Once organizations use validated learning to discover what is and is not valuable, they have the choice to course correct by increasing future investments in valuable items and decreasing future investments in wasteful items. How does this compare to your preferred approach for course correction?


  • 10-PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY: Course correction requires courageous conversations to challenge pre-existing beliefs, often held by powerful people. These conversations require psychological safety so that the truth can be shared without retribution. How does this compare to your views on psychological safety?



The intent of this blog was to educate you on what kind of a mindset might be more compatible with Scrum. As you reflect on these 10 views, realize that not all organizations have goals, values, cultures or mental models that are compatible with Scrum. This does not make the organizations bad. Nor does it make Scrum bad. The process of comparing and contrasting the organizational mental model with a “Scrum-patible Mental Model” might help organizations make an informed choice about whether they would like to try Scrum or not. Scrum is not the only framework in town. If it doesn’t resonate with them, they can try something else.


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