Scrum: A Value-Driven Approach

By Jimi Fosdick  |  Posted 2010-10-29 Print this article Print

Scrum: a value-driven approach

The belief is, that a value-driven approach like Scrum, which dispenses with a "complete plan" up-front, sacrifices the predictability of a plan-driven approach. This belief would have merit if there were any evidence that software and other complex creative development projects were predictable even in principle. The history of software development suggests strongly that they are not. The work of software guru Steve McConnell (building on the work of Barry Boehm) suggests that project estimates at the beginning are wildly speculative (wrong by a factor of four).

Based on Barry Boehm's well-known Cone of Uncertainty, which is predicated on a single-pass, phased development model (aka "the waterfall" approach), we can see that we don't have anything like predictability until perhaps halfway through the project timeline. Not only that, but the observed rate of project failure in the software industry (according to recent reports) tells us that only 32 percent of software projects are successful. This implies that achieving predictability and control using a plan-driven approach is the real myth.

In addition, Scrum provides its own set of metrics (based on empirical observation of sprint results) that absolutely allow strategic planners to monitor project health and progress as well as, or better than, traditional methods. So, then, it's clear that the bar is pretty low for increasing project performance. The truth of the matter is that Scrum will not greatly improve the initial predictability of our projects but it certainly can't do worse.

That said, with Scrum's emphasis on delivering the highest value features first, eliminating features that contribute negligibly to ROI and continually evaluating what's most important, Scrum will deliver the best product we possibly can-with the time, money and people we have. In addition, Scrum doesn't make us wait until halfway into a project to tell us if we're in hot water or not.

Jimi Fosdick is a Certified Scrum Trainer at CollabNet. With more than 14 years of experience in product development, Jimi has worked in a wide range of industries, including publishing, software, advertising, and the public sector. As one of the Certified Scrum Trainers on CollabNet's ScrumCORE team, Jimi conducts dozens of public courses around the world each year, helping organizations to surface dysfunction and improve processes through Scrum. Before joining CollabNet predecessor Danube in November 2008, Jimi spent four years advocating agile approaches to project managementÔÇöfirst as a program and project manager, and later as an independent agile and Scrum consultant. During this time, Jimi worked with companies such as CIBER, Avenue A | Razorfish, MTV Networks, and Microsoft, helping them transform to more agile ways of working using Scrum. Prior to these consulting engagements, Jimi spent a decade working in various capacities in software, including as a program manager of software product development and solutions architecture at the Riverside Publishing Company, and as a senior staff developer at Polycom, Inc. Jimi is a PMI-certified PMP, and received his MBA in Project Management from Keller Graduate School of Management in Chicago. As an undergraduate, Jimi studied mathematics and computer science at Loyola University in Chicago. For more of Jimi's thoughts on Scrum, visit his blog at He can also be reached at

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