Project Management
Magdalena Klimza, 2020-10-28

Agile project management. When Scrum does not work?

Agile methods, such as Scrum, have become very popular and commonly used in many projects within the last years. Not only for its simple principles, but just for being ‘trendy’. Most companies that want to be innovative choose Scrum as the method for developing their product, which rarely goes hand in hand with success. That problem often stems from the project type or just the lack of an appropriate mindset within the company employees. Let’s think for a second about situations when Scrum is not the right approach for the product development.

Basic rules

This method is not only about the extra responsibility, like daily meetings or managing product backlog. This is also a combination of human values and features. We can divide Scrum elements into two groups – visible and invisible.

The visible elements can be measured. These are:

- Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team presence,

- Product backlog with user stories,

- Scrum events, like Daily, Planning, and Retrospective.

Invisible elements refer to specific employee mindsets, like:

- Transparency,

- Self-organization,

- Adaptation,

- Being interdisciplinary,

- Flexibility.

It means that the ideal Scrum team focuses on people’s interactions, cooperation with the client, and product quality rather than tools and extensive documentation. 

The whole process is divided into sprints (a particular amount of time, mostly one or two weeks). Within this period, the goal set up in the plan must be reached and there should be no other tasks in progress during this time.

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Implementing Scrum – difficulties

Even if the rules seem to be very simple, their implementation is a hard nut to crack. It requires the work and engagement of all team members. You cannot afford to have someone who just does nothing. When the Scrum statements are convergent with your employees’ beliefs, the entire process is as easy as pie. People will gladly accept additional responsibilities and their cooperation will be highly efficient. But if their mindset has nothing in common with the Scrum approach, it is going to be a strenuous task and most of the workload will be on the Scrum Master’s shoulders. Despite all the obstacles, you can still succeed if the team is sufficiently engaged.

When Scrum doesn’t work?

There are some projects which require a different approach than Agility. The reason might lie in the people included in a project. Scrum demands the Product Owner and Scrum Master’s presence, and if there are no appropriate candidates for these roles or such partners can’t be outsourced, the company should choose another method. When appointing a person with other responsibilities than just Scrum for the SM or PO, the project will fail. However, the problem refers not only to human resources. The specifics of the product type can also be a factor in why Scrum hinders rather than helps. These are mainly projects regarding tangible products, such&nbs as hardware.

Although Agile is useful for preparing the documentation and digital prototype, it is better to choose another ‘philosophy’ when it comes to manufacturing. For instance, let’s imagine a company that manufactures electronic watches. Once all components have been ordered and the form has been prepared, it is hard to fix issues that arise after the sprint. In such a case, the final product will never meet the expectations of the client. If there are things that require alterations, like inconvenient fastening or broken display, the company must react as soon as possible (which conflicts with the basic Scrum statements). It means that products of unpredictable nature, where the priorities change every day or there are additional tasks to do ASAP, shouldn’t be developed with the Scrum method.

Which method to choose instead of Scrum?

Scrum, and other Agile methods, is not the only way to manage product development. It is great for creating software (which is predictable), but in the case of tangible products with a lot of dependencies, like hardware or buildings, it’s worth considering something else, e.g. Lean management. Its primary goals aim at reducing all costs and improving work efficiency. Besides Lean, there are other methods, like Waterfall, Spiral and Iterative.

Each of these methods has a unique approach. For instance, the Waterfall minimizes all risks, every phase is carefully crafted, with a lot of focus on the extensive documentation, but it doesn’t work well with more complicated projects, especially when clients are not sure about their needs regarding the product. The Spiral model is perfect for vast projects since it enables us to react to sudden issues because of the major focus on eliminating risks.

Nevertheless, it requires well-qualified and farsighted employees and doesn’t work well on minor projects. The Iterative model performs great when it comes to growing projects where customers cannot determine their expectations. Even if there are some delays in each phase, it doesn’t affect the final deadline. Its major disadvantage is the lack of independence of every stage and component of the product.


Every approach to project management is good in its own way. The key here is to consider the product type and the employees’ mindset. It is better to choose a model tailored to the company’s needs rather than follow current trends. 

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