TL; DR: The Developers Code Fallacy — They Should Talk to Customers, Too, Though
There are plenty of failure possibilities with Scrum. Given that Scrum is a framework with a reasonable yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone. The Developers Code Fallacy starts with the idea that Developers are rare and expensive and should focus on creating code. Business analysts or customer care agents can talk to customers instead. However, in practice, it has a diminishing effect on a Scrum team’s productivity and creativity. It is a sign for an organization still profoundly stuck in industrial paradigm thinking.
Join me and explore the reasons and the consequences of this Scrum anti-pattern in 110 seconds.
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The Accountability of the Developers According to the Scrum Guide
The Developers bear a mission-critical responsibility: they create the Product Increments designed to provide continuously more value to our customers. Moreover, as the Scrum Team is self-managing, the Developers decide on how they plan to do this:
Developers are the people in the Scrum Team that are committed to creating any aspect of a usable Increment each Sprint.
The specific skills needed by the Developers are often broad and will vary with the domain of work. However, the Developers are always accountable for:
- Creating a plan for the Sprint, the Sprint Backlog;
- Instilling quality by adhering to a Definition of Done;
- Adapting their plan each day toward the Sprint Goal; and,
- Holding each other accountable as professionals.
Source: Scrum Guide 2020.
The team’s Product Owner supports creating a shared understanding among all Scrum team members on the why, the what, and the how. However, the real magic starts unfolding when Developers observe customers when they use the product and listen to them sharing their everyday problems.
The Developers Code Fallacy Leaves Value on the Table
Adhering to the inherited functional silos, Developers are supposed to deliver “code” and only code. They are not supposed to talk to customers or take over customer support duties to understand their problems first-hand.
From my perspective, that is pure Taylorism at work, entirely output-oriented. The problem is, we are no longer assembling Model-Ts. But we go every day, where no one has ever gone before. In a complex environment, those closest to a problem are best suited to make the right decision to solve it.
Hence, it becomes necessary that all Scrum team members talk directly with customers to understand their challenges better and avoid the misallocation of the Scrum team’s development time. (My rule of thumb: Coding is no more than 50 % of the whole effort of creating value for our customers. The best way to increase the productivity of a Scrum team is to avoid building unnecessary stuff. Now, guess how you can best address this issue? Right: Developers talk to customers.)
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Developers Code Fallacy — Conclusion
If your Scrum Team strives to be successful, everyone on the team needs to talk to customers regularly—without exception in the best case. In my experience, even die-hard introverts enjoy serving in customer support from time to time. Without this direct customer interaction, we will fail to honor the tenth principle of the Agile Manifesto: “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.”
What other organizational anti-patterns have you observed that impede Scrum? Please share them with us in the comments.
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