(Why I Think) You Shouldn’t Learn Scrum from a Book

If you want to help your people understand Scrum, resist the temptation to give them a book — instead, spend time discussing what you all stand to gain from adopting the framework.

Dutch-language chat messages about Scrum books, displayed on the screen of the author’s iPhone, atop a wooden table
“Do you know a good Scrum beginner’s book for my team?” — this message got me thinking

“Yo, do you know a good Scrum beginner’s book for teams? My team don’t know the basics, so I want to send all of them a book. Preferably, a nicely straightforward starter model.”

My friend, a veteran Product Owner in a recently new job, sent me this message. She included pictures of some older books she already knew (e.g., “Scrum for Dummies”).

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question as a Scrum Master. I myself have also left teams with a popular Sutherland book and a slightly dissatisfied feeling. My friend’s question gave me an opportunity to inspect why.

The Book of Scrum does not exist

Here’s the thing: There is no book of Scrum. There are only books about Scrum. If you want to help people understand the rules of Scrum, refer to its definition, The Scrum Guide.

That may not be what you expected. Instead of a 300-page paperback bestseller from your book store’s Business section, it’s a sparsely-designed web page and/or a lean, 13-page PDF. That takes some getting used to.

Of course there are plenty of (valuable!) books about Scrum, but using those as a primary resource for learning how to do it, is problematic. Even without considering the authors’ narrative biases, the books’ content by necessity is months to years old — and thus based on older versions of the Scrum Guide, which is a living thing, like the framework itself.

So, don’t give people books to teach them Scrum basics.

But if I can’t give my people books, how *can* I help them?

As an organisational influencer or a manager, looking to help your peers adopt or understand Scrum basics, there’s more you should do than sending people a link. Support your colleagues by helping them understand what you hope to achieve by your adopting Scrum together.

What would adopting this framework make possible for them, and for you?

Probably, you’re looking to foster self-organisation, creativity, and collaboration. You want to embrace feedback loops for regular inspection and adaptation. To fuel discovery and reduce waste, by making decisions based on empirical findings. Why or how is that important to you, in your organisation?

Clarity on that is a far more valuable and lasting thing to get from a manager, than a doubling down on rules and points — which is the type of “learning about Scrum basics” that is all too common.

Practicalities such as which meetings to have and for how long, are subject to change, and they may initially feel no different than any other framework or preference: ultimately, someone’s telling you to get together and do something.

Such prescriptions are, like all of Scrum itself, a means to an end. And it is precisely that end which makes Scrum such a radically more humane, fair and exciting choice. Invest your energy in clarifying that, and everyone involved can organise themselves towards it.

Conclusion

If you want to help people understand (the basics of) Scrum, start with the why together and trust them to explore the how by themselves.

Resist the temptation to give them a book straight away — instead, spend time explaining what you all stand to gain from adopting the framework. Once you establish that, Scrum’s prescriptions will become what they are: a means that’s easy-to-learn to an end that’s hard-to-master.

Books to deepen your understanding

Of course, once you or your colleagues are looking for contextualisation, or seeking to explore the why, reading books about Scrum is an excellent path to take with a wealth knowledge in which to immerse yourself.

I humbly recommend you start with The People’s Scrum by Tobias Mayer and Scrum: a Pocket Guide: a Smart Travel Companion by Gunther Verheyen.

Thomas van Zuijlen is a professional Scrum Master and an independent workshop facilitator from the Netherlands. His weekly newsletter on agility, development and facilitation is called 📬 The Backlog.

Facilitator & Scrum Master