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The 3-5-3 of Scrum

Scrum teams wishing to receive the return on investment associated with a rigorous Scrum should have an immediate method to check if they are implementing the same practices observed in the documented high performing teams. To support this, I encourage Scrum masters to check themselves against the Scrum guide and its 3 roles, 5 events, and 3 outputs. This shorthand reminder is used in my courses and I hope it presents some teams a quick-check tool to win the speed and happiness benefits observed in teams implementing the 11 components of Scrum.

3-5-3 Infographic

Importance of the 3 Roles

If a team is missing a Product Owner, they must ensure through some other method that the backlog is clearly communicated, rank ordered, and the stakeholders are made excited for what the team can actually produce.

If the Scrum Master role is missing, the team must ensure work is made visible and kaizen, or continuous improvement, is being driven through some other means.

If the Development Team is missing the team will have no method to create a working product with quality.

A Business Argument for the 5 Events

Without Sprint Planning the team will need another method of formalizing all work is in direct support of the top priority and that a clear short-range plan exists to execute it.

Without the Daily Scrum the team will need another method to ensure high communication saturation (everyone on the team able to independently write down the same answer of the top priority goal, the plan to build it, and the constraints in which it must perform to be successful) or the team velocity may suffer as people implement their own varied understating of the mission. The team will also need another method to course correct, implement kaizen to accelerate and improve the solution, build team spirit, make impediments visible, and deal with disengaged or low-performance team members.

Product Backlog Refinement, or Grooming, and sometimes called Story Elaboration, is not an event in Scrum, however, the Scrum Guide requires the top of the backlog be ready for work. At Scrum Inc. we do require refinement, whether it is 15 minutes a day or up to 4 hours after lunch near the middle of the sprint, and without this the team will need some other method to progressively split large chunks of work into smaller chunks of work, clarify and pivot the rank ordered missions, add acceptance criteria, and bring the very top of the backlog to an immediately actionable and understood state.

Sprint Review results in feedback, excited stakeholders if done well, a pivoted and improved priority of what to do next, and a potentially shippable product increment. If the team has another method to accomplish these outputs they may transcend sprint review.

If the organization is interested in performance the groups will need some way to create a shared understanding of how the work is actually getting done and what is building or blocking it, then producing a kaizen (continuous improvement) to accelerate delivery, increase happiness, and drive up quality. The Sprint Retrospective is a short time commitment on a fixed recurring interval in which all of the above can be accomplished.

The US Navy 2018 report on high performing teams asserts that time boxing creates the near-term feedback loop required to release early and iteratively improve the result. The sprint in Scrum creates this and a rhythm, like the cadence of a professional sporting event, letting the teams exert and recover in strength-building anticipated cycles. Intense work without rhythm is an arrhythmia, and breaks down strength through chronic fatigue as the players are not able to anticipate the flow of exertion. Simply introducing a rhythm turns intense effort into strength and capability building for athletes and in my observation also in knowledge work and production.

Now that the 5 events have been, I believe, justified with business outcomes, I’d like to explore why the 3 outputs of Scrum are worth being rigorously checked in each Scrum team.

The Value of the 3 Outputs

Without a socialized long-range plan, investors cannot interact with the company or teams, the Product Owner cannot brief customers and stakeholders on what is coming soon in order to get them excited, and the teams are not able proactively build competencies or clarify needs in anticipation of upcoming work. The Product Backlog is the simplest form of product roadmap, simply an ordered list of missions and goals, and fundamental for a group to be compatible with investment.

A short-range plan with a clear true north, or compass, aligns the team to avoid building anything unnecessary and enable lean development. The Sprint Backlog with the sprint goal creates a stable mission for the length of the sprint so that team can swarm to deliver something coherent and valuable together.

A potentially shippable product increment allows the team to experiment quickly on a working concept, more clearly receive feedback from real users and stakeholders, solicit investment earlier in the process, and potentially ship early for the advantage of early capital.

I hope this clarifies why a team doing only 2 of the 11 parts of Scrum, commonly a Product Backlog and Daily Scrum, is unlikely to hit the fast delivery multiples for which Scrum is famous. I am not a fan of dogmatic process adherence, and any methods that create the values of the above 11 elements is highly likely to build fast teams and fast product. Even so, the 11 elements of Scrum are written so that they are self-reinforcing, the outputs of each is an input for another, making a robust and even viral system.

For these reasons, if your Scrum team is not in compliance with Scrum Guide, that is it is not executing 3-5-3 with the inputs and outputs listed above, your first impediment to knock out in order to build speed is simply getting 3-5-3 working again. Scrum Inc. does firmly endorse transcending the 3-5-3 of Scrum, which we refer to as Ri (mastery) state Scrum, provided the values of the 3-5-3 are still accomplished in another way. Please think of 3-5-3 as the bootstrap, the minimum viable enabler that has a high success rate creating high performing teams if implemented with attention to the inputs and outputs of each element. A caution, it is, of course, possible to have a company full of 3-5-3 teams with no performance if the retrospective results in no kaizen, the sprint planning results in no clear short-range plan, the Scrum Master does not make work visible, etc. These zombie scrum teams can be caught and rescued by checking the input and output of the 3-5-3.

Keep up the awesome,

Note: Scrum was once even simpler, 3-3-3. Those were idyllic times. Esther Derby proposed to splint the Sprint Review in the Review of the Product (Sprint Review) and a separate event for Review of the Process (Sprint Retrospective). While both practices were explicitly listed as outcomes of the original single event, hosting 2 unique events has helped thousands of teams remember to inspect the product and the process. For more information please enjoy reading Agile Retrospectives, Making Good Teams Great, by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby.


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