The Purple Pill in Scrum and Agile

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Scrum is the most popular framework used within an agile environment to convert complex problems into valuable products and services. In this blog, we will examine all things Scrum to shed light on this wonderful organizational tool that is sweeping the globe. There will be engaging articles, interviews with experts and Q&A's. Are you ready to take the red pill? Then please join me on a fascinating journey down the rabbit hole, and into the world of Scrum.

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Categories: Agile, business transformation, Scrum, Scrum Team

When implementing Scrum, there are always challenges associated with people, processes or the technology we use. Starting out with the right Agile mindset is a good start. However, transitioning from the old way we did things will always introduce trepidation and anxiety to some level. Transition programs of any kind usually go one of three ways:

Using a color code from one of our favorite films, the Matrix, we might categorize these as the following:

The creators of Scrum always intended it to be used as per the Scrum Guide, while considering some minor adjustments that may be necessary to facilitate the project. There are some organizations however that sing the praises of Scrum and Agile, but do very little in the way of implementing it into the organization. I have seen many corporate brochures that use the word "Agile" in almost every paragraph, only to find out that Agile is the furthest thing from their mind. The business environment in most cases is hybrid at best, even in the software development sectors.

A case in point was a BPO service delivery firm I dealt with in the Philippines that provided application development solutions to international corporations. They implemented a mixture of Scrum and XP and yes Waterfall. Scrum by utilizing daily scrums, Sprints, Sprint Reviews, Retrospectives etc., XP by utilizing pair-programming, refactoring, embracing simplicity of code, thorough testing etc., and Waterfall by trying to identify all the requirements up-front to lock down scope. This latter practice of course goes against Agile principles of the inverted triangle where time and cost are fixed, but scope may change.

However, a quick look at their flagship newsletter at the end of the year revealed a case study for the same project describing how this "Agile project was a success." I happen to know the project was a success because the client had a deep pocket and was willing to pay the bloated budget to get the job done. This point was of course left out of the case study.

The reality during the project was that the daily stand-ups were in fact sit-downs. Some daily meetings did not happen on time or at all. Retrospectives were almost a repeat of the Sprint Review where the development team talked about the issues the customer raised about the demo more than discussing ways to improve the team's processes and ways of working together. The Product Manager was AWOL for a day or two at a time, and the Scrum Master; well they didn't have one. Instead, one of the development team members who was also team leader no less, assumed the role of "Scrum Coach" to ensure that Scrum and XP principles would be followed. The team member did this by telling the team what processes to do and not to do, while also assessing individual performance as opposed to team performance. A bad idea in Scrum.

This scenario and ones similar to it is what I call the Purple Pill of Scrum and Agile. It is not a hybrid. It is a hybrid excuse for not taking seriously the Agile mindset and giving it a real chance to succeed.

In his book "Succeeding with Agile - Software Development Using Scrum", Mike Cohn outlines why we do Scrum:

  1. Faster Time-to-Market
  2. Higher Productivity
  3. Lower Costs
  4. Improved Employee Engagement
  5. Improved Job Satisfaction
  6. Higher Quality
  7. Improved Stakeholder Satisfaction

    and my favorite...
  8. What we've been doing no longer works

So, if you are involved in a Scrum or Agile project, remember the three golden rules which will help you decide which Pill to swallow:

  1. Ideally adopt a Full Transition: Red Pill
  2. Never Pretend to Transition - Blue Pill
  3. If you're going to take the Purple Pill, at least implement Scrum properly, even if it is in steps, or mixed with other methods such as XP

Cohn, M. (2010) Succeeding with Agile - Software Development Using Scrum. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Thank you for your interest in the Scrumptious blog. If you have any ideas for Scrum topics, please message me here. Until next time, remember, projects can be Scrumptious!
Sante Vergini Signature



Posted on: March 08, 2018 04:23 PM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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Very interesting thanks

Good insights, Sante and thanks for sharing. Anyway I would prefer to swallow the red pill and stay in wonderland.

Good Post Sante.

I started to get worried about you now that you are mentioning Pills. We probably would be calling you soon Dr. Vergini - King of Scrum

Thanks Eduin, Anish and Rami.

Anish, my least favorite color, but definitely the best pill to swallow in Agile projects.

Rami, that has a nice ring to it lol. Nah the only pill I touch is the vitamin pill once a day. I have to say even though the red pill is the best choice, due to organizational culture and reluctance to embrace a new way, I have to swallow Purple Pills the most.

I hear you Sante - You raised some very good points. Cheers !

It doesn't seem the organization is fully aware of just how difficult it is, and how long it may take, to make this journey. That it requires full buy-in from all sides. How often is it waterfall broken into smaller waterfall pieces?

Andrew, this organization woke up on a different side of the bed each morning. I know there's a lot of reports around about the utilization of Agile in corporations, but I wonder how many fit into these three categories when truth be told.

The idea of what organizations think the journey means does not alway align with the reality of it which can lead to panic and skepticism

Two Matrix referenced blogs in one week - nice work, Sante!


Whenever I can fit in the Matrix, I just have to Kiron. I think you might be able to do a really detailed comparison between the Matrix film, it's plot, characters and philosophy, and project management in general. It's almost book material ;-)

Transitioning to Agile in steps is not a bad idea but it requires transitioning to an Agile mind set, empowering team members, courage and the targeting of key issues,reflection, purpose, and projected outcomes. And eventually with determination and will to adapt you will transit from doing Agile to Being Agile.

Good point Najam.

That was nice Rami Dr. Vergini I was scared that Sante would mention "The blue pill" from pfizer :)

Great post sante

Pfizer has a blue pill Riyadh? ;-)

Sante LOL
Well now how about yellow tablet from INDIANAPOLIS now they are in a deal with Eli Lilly and French drug-maker Sanofi to make it sold OTC (over the counter).
I guess now you reconsiders the colours to choose for your project :)

just did scrum exercise last week very interesting and educative.

Now how can I fit a yellow pill into a blog? I will have to think about that one ;-)

Great post yet again, Sante!

Ayodele, I'm happy you enjoyed it.

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