Ever wondered how to apply Scrum outside of software development? Ever doubted the applicability of Scrum in the real world? This article is a Scrum Guide in Star Wars style. I’ll show how the real-world heroes from Star Wars organized their struggles against the Empire with Scrum. They already knew how to Scrum a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
To give you a sense of how Scrum works, I will first introduce the cast and their Scrum roles. After the roles, we’ll look at the recurring Scrum events. Finally, we’ll discuss how they organize their work with User Stories and Epics.
The cast and their Scrum roles
Maximizing the value out of the small rebel team
We’ll start this Scrum Guide with Leia. Princess Leia sees the bigger picture. She has a keen sense of what is right and what is wrong. She knows what is valuable to living beings across the galaxy. That’s why the rebels value her leadership. Her political savviness was of key importance for uniting all rebel factions. In Scrum, Leia is our (Chief) Product Owner.
It’s her responsibility to make the most of the few resources the rebels have. This involves a lot of talking, stakeholder management, and decision-making. When necessary, Leia fires her blaster, but she’s by no means a soldier.
Representing the larger organization and their concerns
Next, we have the leaders of all rebel factions. They have a huge stake in the rebellion: their peoples depend on it. The rebel leaders are Stakeholders because they are only involved, not committed to the action. So they support the effort, but they don’t fly X-wings or swing lightsabers.
Delivering a great outcome
Contrary to the rebel leaders, Luke is committed. He’s in the middle of it. He gets things done. He’s a good shot and an expert at lightsabers. Han, Chewie, the X-Wing pilots, and the droids are committed too. Together they are a multidisciplinary team: the Development Team. They are self-organizing too. Han, for instance, performs best when you convince him of the value of the mission. He does not respond well to direct orders. Just let Han figure out the details with Chewie and the droids.
Finally, there’s Obi-Wan and Yoda. They are the mentors, the masters. They don’t swing their lightsaber often. Their mission is to teach, mentor and coach the team into performing the best they can. They know they’re not going to be around at all times. That’s why they aim to make themselves redundant from the start. In Scrum, we’d call Yoda and Obi-Wan Scrum Masters. Even when the Scrum Masters are gone, their wisdom (and ghosts) continue to guide the team.
Neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan ever update the Burn Down chart.
Pushing sticky notes around Scrum Boards is something the Development Team does. That team is self-organizing, so it’s up to them to track their progress.
The Evil Empire
The Evil Empire tries to be Agile too. They make some big mistakes, though: in Star Wars, the emperor is both the Chief Product Owner and Scrum Master. Combining both roles in one person hampers Agility. The combined role reduces the effectiveness with which the Empire can inspect and adapt. If they’d adapt, they wouldn’t keep building Death Stars. Surely, each Death Star is better and larger. But the empire never seems to learn that pooling all your resources into one superweapon is risky.
The recurring Scrum events, according to the Star Wars Scrum Guide
Star Wars, A New Hope kicks off with Leia in a tight spot. Darth Vader is boarding her ship and she has to figure out what to do. She does a quick Scrum Sprint Planning. It’s a timeboxed event – Darth Vader is coming! – where she gets together with her team and makes an action plan. They decide the most valuable thing they can do is warn Obi-Wan Kenobi. They quickly discuss the overall objectives and the steps required and get to work.
The droids are self-organizing: once they are off in their escape pod, it’s up to them to figure out how to best achieve the mission goals. They self-organize with frequent funny exchanges in which they make day short-term plans. In Scrum, we’d call that Daily Scrums.
As they are captured by Jawas, their original plan derails completely. It’s a good thing, however, that the droids are Agile: they aren’t programmed with strict tasks. They have a good sense of their mission. And despite being captured and sold, they manage to get help from Luke and Obi-Wan.
The team grows with more expertise. This allows them to deal with the stormtroopers at Mos Eisley spaceport and escape Tatooine. Obin-Wan – the newfound Scrum Master – gets to work in the Millennium Falcon and starts teaching the team about the force and the Empire. The team’s performance rapidly improves. Who would have thought they could free Leia and get the Death Star plans to Yavin IV?
At this point, our Rebel Scrum Development Organisation has grown to multiple teams. They are Scaling Scrum. Leia is the Chief Product Owner, and she ensures team alignment by discussing the mission with the team leader and some representatives. Han leads the smugglers; Gold Leader leads the X-Wing squadron.
At Yavin IV, we meet our heroes in a war room, overseeing some holograms with stars, ships, and planets. The heroes are looking at their progress – found the Death Star schematics! – and figuring out what to do next. In Scrum, we call this the Sprint Review. There’s usually a rich assembly of representatives from different rebel factions. For these stakeholders, it’s important to ensure the overall plan – the Product Backlog – works for them and their people. Leia keeps them focused on the bigger picture. What are the broad steps toward a peaceful and inclusive galaxy? They conclude that destroying the Death Star is the obvious first step. The stakeholders agree on the resources and the risks. Now the teams are ready to do their detailed planning.
Sprint Retrospective in Star Wars Scrum
Finally, before the next sprint, there’s some quiet time for introspection and retrospection. In Scrum, we call this the Sprint Retrospective. The teams review their capabilities and what they have learned. They align on goals and values. They reinforce their bonds and evaluate their commitment. In Star Wars — like in many movies — this is an emotional moment, the silence before the storm.
At this point in the movie, the retrospective focuses on Han’s lack of commitment. Will he come around? Will he really join the team as a full member? The end of the first Sprint Retrospective, it’s also the end of the first Sprint.
Alas for the rebels, after Episode IV, the Empire strikes back. They will have to adapt their plans for an inclusive Galaxy as they go. In Scrum, this is Backlog Refinement. They cannot foresee that the Jedi will return in episode VI. This means they have to continuously update their plan with what they know. They only need a plan that is good enough to make the next step.
Themes, Epics, Users Stories, and Tasks in Star Wars Scrum
Many real-world Scrum Teams organize their plan – their Product Backlog – in Themes, Epics, Users Stories, and Tasks. This organizational style is a way to bundle portions of the work in different sizes to keep the oversight.
In Star Wars, the cast didn’t do that explicitly. The writers of the movies did, however. The theme of the Star Wars movies is ‘Space opera.’ It consists of several epics: escape with the Death Star plans, the attack on the first Death Star, Luke’s Jedi training, and the battle of Hoth,…
The epics consist of several (user) stories. Take the epic ‘attack of the first Death Star’: It has the following stories: divert Death Star defenses, destroy gun turrets, and trench run.
The ‘trench run’ story can again be split into several actions: enter the trench, cover Luke, shoot Darth Vader, lock on the target with the Force, and fire a photon torpedo. This vocabulary helps teams connect their smallest actions to the overall mission.
Conclusion: Scrum focuses teams for great impact
The ideas behind scrum are nothing new: they have been around since a long time ago in galaxies far, far away. What’s new about Scrum is that it formalizes many smart ways to organize effective teams. Star Wars is an epic telling of how small and focused teams can have a huge impact against all odds.
Much like the Evil Empire, some organizations force development teams to do ever more mindless work in ever less time. These organizations combine the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles in one person. Because of that, their stormtroopers will burn out eventually.
I would advise you to follow this Star Wars Scrum Guide and do it right. You can also hire a coach or participate in training. The focused and self-propelled team always wins!