The cycle of decay in Agile

More and more projects and Scrum Teams that I work with show similar symptoms. This is why I’d like to share with you how I’m working with those teams to overcome the underlying problems and grow into something bigger and better.

Lets start with the Symptoms:

  • stories take much longer as estimated
  • a lot of rework has to be done after the stories are “complete”
  • quality is not sufficient, several bugs are found during testing
  • stabilizing sprints are needed after delivery to “get things right”
  • everyone is happily working until short before delivery then everything goes crazy normally leading to one or more delays in delivery

The cycle of decay


  • Missing or part-time PO
  • Lack of collaboration with the customer
  • Lack of research and analysis of the PO together with the team
  • Proxy or “Fake-PO” who just doesn’t have the know-how to answer all the questions of the team, most often only a Project Manager in disguise

Jump out of the loop

If you’ve ever been in that situation you most certainly have seen retrospectives with the outcome of
“we need clearer acceptance criteria” or “backlog is in a bad state we need to do something about it”.

There is good news and bad news how to go about that.
Good news is that these problems can be solved over time and with effort.
Bad news is that without structural change you’ll not be going anywhere.
What does that mean in this context?
You’re Proxy/ or Fake-PO needs to learn how to do Scrum or how to manage a backlog in an agile way. If you can’t provide that know-how internally get it from outside by the PO joining seminars, conferences and communities.
Once the know-how is growing the PO will need to motivate the customer to do real collaboration slowly but steadily transforming the customer representative into a real PO.

As a wise colleague once said the PO is:

  1. The person who owns the Product
  2. Knows and understands scrum and is willing to use Scrum to do the product development

As you might imagine this is a process that takes some time. Depending on the know-how and skills that the Proxy/Fake-PO and the customer representative have this can last from months to years.

There is no easy workaround to get this right. Without regular communication and truly understanding each other the Scrum team won’t be able to deliver the “right” thing to the customer and there will also be no real transparency over when feature xy and the whole product will be finished.

In case you are in such a situation no matter in which role you are:

  1. start talking to the appropriate people highlighting the root causes of the cycle of decay
  2. in case no one believes you try to get help from an external Agile Coach to explain to situation to the right people
  3. get the Fake-PO to involve the customer in your backlog refinement sessions and plannings
  4. start doing proper backlog refinement sessions to find all your hidden treasures together with the customer
  5. set up a training program for your internal PO and get help to slowly but steadily grow your customer representative into a real PO
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Thank you for reading,

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