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How to solve Zombie scrum

Understand zombie scrum and how to solve it

By Humphrey Fredriksz

The last years I have been working with many different agile teams and they were not always the most happy ones. I can admit that I have seen quite some demotivated people. Have you ever had a sprint review where nobody showed up? I did and it made me question how this was possible. Did nobody care? My team was doing Zombie scrum. Sprint work was not done, no emotions about any delays or bugs. And our stakeholders? We were zombies for them. But of course, I didn’t accept this situation.


Before explaining how to solve Zombie scrum, let’s first start with understanding how this can happen. In my situation I learned that the team wasn’t happy with their code base, they weren’t able to deliver what they promised and I heard a lot that the “old website” was spaghetti code. It was build by another team, they customised everything. The team actually blocked all communication with the outside world and only responded to production issues. Trust me, this was no fun for anyone. 

“I learned that it had nothing to do with skills and legacy code. Now we need board rooms to do our sprint reviews. So many stakeholders showing up.

How did I solve Zombie scrum or what can you do? I first wanted to understand what was going on by talking to everybody. Developers, stakeholders, key stakeholders even previous team members. Other Product owners and scrum masters to learn about the history. Talking to individuals gave me more insights and I start to find out that leadership, structure and a higher purpose was missing. And later I learned that it had nothing to do with skills and legacy code. Trust me, it didn’t had anything to do with legacy code.

Step 1. 

I went searching for business value. What can we do with our current website (product) and what business opportunities are out there. I spoke with our business owner and he mentioned some great ideas, but somehow the energy got lost the last year. You probably recognise this situation. But for me, I start thinking about how great with would be to achieve it and start visualising it. I could even make it more exciting by using new technologies.

Related article: How to increase solve business value


Step 2. 

I pitched the idea to the team ( I didn’t promise anything to the business owner), but I asked them if it was possible  in ‘theory’ and how we could do a little spike or call it a proof of concept. The rest is history. We start working on it, I got people excited and people start realising that getting more value from the product was possible. We were able to conclude that our product still had potential. Do you know what happened to our sprint review? We got more and more people joining and my agile team got excited.


Step 3. 

With all the excitement, at least from my side, I wanted to bring my business and team closer. Even dream a bit more about the coming 3 months and the new opportunities ahead. Of course, our code base was not perfect, so we had to weight the ideas on complexity and likeliness of success. With two new features on our roadmap, we even got in the mood to build a vision for our product and team. This increased our trust and our communication in the team and with our stakeholders. We felt a live and more people start showing up at our sprint review. 

Related article: how to increase team performance


Step 4.

Ok, we had everybody excited. We had great ideas and energy to build what we needed to. But with all this commitment, we also had to deliver. Still we were struggling with getting our work done within the sprint. So, with the help of more experienced agile developers, we started to better estimate, manage dependencies and use retro’s to get better every sprint. We used placeholders for production issues, we included stakeholders with prioritising and everyday during dailys, the developers were working together to get stuff done (and tested).


You can call it from Zombie to Here in 6 months, but that’s what happened. Nowadays, we need boards rooms to do our sprint reviews ;-).


Read more: Why Agile Fails

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