Scrum on the Ground: Overcoming common Agile challenges

November 30, 2020

Most IT organizations today have adopted Scrum as the framework of choice for delivering projects. It enables agility by emphasizing teamwork, accountability, and iterative progress toward a well-defined goal. The proportion of organizations already using Agile varies slightly according to the specific survey, but most agree that it is the majority – for instance, this research indicates that 58% of organizations have already participated in agile transitions, while others put it as high as 88%. Scrum is the most used Agile method with 75% of agile executives saying it is their preferred framework.

However, despite its wide adoption, teams often struggle with delivering in line with the vision of Agile development. There are many instances where organizations and teams ponder over whether they made the right decision in moving towards Scrum. In this article we detail some of the challenges typically faced, and propose solutions.

Overcoming common Scrum implementation challenges

While most organizations today are implementing Agile and Scrum, introducing this framework varies according to the needs and specificities of each organization. While some companies already have experience with Agile practices, some are transitioning from traditional frameworks. 

We have identified 5 major challenges when implementing Scrum or Agile practices.

1. Not following Scrum practices correctly and failing to understand what is feasible and what is not

Today, sprint planning and iteration is one of the top 5 agile techniques. However, some organizations still fail to correctly execute it. It is common to see customers push project teams to change scope mid-way during sprints. While Scrum is open to changes, adding new user stories midway between a Sprint, and not removing equivalent story points, exerts excessive pressure on the Scrum team to deliver more than what may be feasible. 

When Scrum practices are incorrectly followed, teams complain of burnout and overwork. They do not see any respite from sprints which go back to back non-stop. The challenge is to ensure that sprints are fully loaded but not overloaded. Incorrectly implemented Scrum also acts as a deterrent to the scaling of Scrum.

2. Misunderstanding the role of the Scrum Master

Understanding how Scrum Masters help Scrum teams requires not only following the rules and practices of Agile, but also a change in people’s mindset. In 2019, mindset was the 4th challenge to business agility and it has moved up to second in 2020. Organizations adopting Scrum that still work and make decisions based on predictability and hierarchy, don’t enable the Scrum Master to help them along the agile software development lifecycle. 

When teams are transitioning to Agile, they often expect Scrum Masters to behave like traditional project managers in waterfall projects. They still seek direction from their Scrum Masters in day to day activities and fail to realize they are empowered as a team. Scrum Masters are servant leaders who inspire and allow their teams to make decisions independently, making sure they have all the resources available to complete their tasks and respond to unpredictable changes autonomously.

3. Teams work separately

Scrum teams might argue they are following an Agile approach when they are really implementing a variation of the waterfall method. It is common to see developers working on features for the next sprint while quality assurance (QA) engineers are reviewing code from the previous sprint. This method just cuts the waterfall framework into smaller pieces but doesn’t provide the benefits of real Agile. Instead, development and testing of code need to happen in the same iteration – enabling teams to truly adapt and respond to changes, and be collaborative, which are key elements in Scrum.

4. Not using story points properly

Story points quickly estimate the difficulty of developing a certain user story, enabling teams to use their time more efficiently. In Scrum, story point estimation is conducted during product backlog grooming sessions and provides teams a rough notion of the time and complexity to get a product backlog item live, without committing to a specific period of time. However, some teams translate story points into hours, which eliminates the benefit of rapid estimation, and commits developers to a fixed time, making it more difficult to reach agreement. 

Another mistake when using story points, is to adjust them based on the work of only one person. Story pointing needs to be an agreement on the estimate established during a planning session. Each story point needs to be assigned according to the experience and expertise of each team member.

5. Failing to understand that product owners can’t dedicate their entire time to one Scrum team

The product owner is responsible for maximizing value and the overall success of the product. This means they are involved in business strategy, product design, product backlog management and other tasks. In their role, product owners prioritize needs based on business value and are accountable for multiple products in parallel. This means they cannot dedicate their time to just one Scrum team.

Getting the most out of Scrum

Make sure your team is using real Agile and implementing this framework correctly. We know it’s easier said than done so make sure to invest in time and resources. Here, we explore some quick best practices you can introduce to your teams to get the most out of Scrum.

  • Hire experienced Scrum Masters who have both the understanding as well as the practical experience in leading Scrum teams. 
  • Have Agile coaches who can help ensure you adopt and adapt Scrum principles and practices correctly.
  • Look to Scrum Masters that can coach team members to help them embrace the concept of empowered teams and take collective decisions in an autonomous way.
  • If you need to add new stories mid-way during a sprint, push out equivalent story points from the sprint.
  • Focus on ensuring that the Scrum team commits to only as much as they can deliver (preferably a MVP) in order to prevent burnout of team members. 
  • Regular Scrum team audits help identify issues, figure out anomalies and take corrective action.
  • Inter-team retrospectives can help identify areas of improvement.
  • Senior management buy-in and training is essential for successful Scrum implementation within the entire organization. You need to establish a plan to ensure Scrum philosophy, principles and practices are implemented correctly.
  • All Scrum team members should estimate each user story and reach agreement as a team. Conduct practices such as poker planning to enable better estimates.
  • Fixed-scope projects need to be tracked closely. A one-week sprint will work better in this scenario. As fixed scope projects usually don’t have very detailed requirements you can use this as an advantage when planning and refining. Businesses can use fixed price engagements effectively together with Agile, although it can be challenging. We explored in detail how to do this in our recent article – in particular changing the triad of “cost, time, and scope” for “cost, time and size”.


While Scrum provides multiple benefits, the way it is interpreted and implemented across organizations makes all the difference. It is essential to invest in building an Agile culture, understand each role, and follow the values of real Agile to bring the desired long term benefits.

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In the fast-changing business environment, it is critical for organizations to be able to adapt, develop resilience and rapidly discover new possibilities during times of uncertainty. The Agile Organizations studio enables organizations to evolve sustainably and progressively to remain relevant in a game that never ends with ever-evolving rules.