10 Scrum Anti-Patterns to Watch Out For in 2023

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Jun 22, 2022
Updated on
Apr 23, 2023
Table of Content

In the software development world, Scrum is a popular framework for project management. It allows teams to be more flexible and adaptive to change while still delivering high-quality products. However, even the best frameworks can go wrong if not implemented correctly. 

Scrum is defined as an “iterative, incremental framework for managing product development.” In other words, it’s a way of breaking down a large project into smaller pieces so that it can be delivered incrementally over time. Scrum is typically used in Agile software development, but it can be adapted for other types of projects as well. 

There are five key principles to Scrum: 

  • Empiricism: Scrum is based on empirical data. This means that decisions are made based on what has been observed and experienced, rather than on assumptions or guesswork. 
  • Self-organization: The team is responsible for organizing itself and deciding how best to achieve the Sprint goals. 
  • Collaboration: Team members need to work together closely to be successful. 
  • Iterative and incremental delivery: Scrum is an iterative process, which means that the product is delivered in small increments rather than all at once. This allows for feedback and changes to be made along the way. 
  • Timeboxing: Each Sprint is timeboxed, which means that it has a set duration (usually two weeks). This helps keep the project on track and ensures that each Sprint is focused and manageable.

In this article, we will shine a light on 10 of the most common Scrum anti-patterns that can occur during software development projects. By understanding these anti-patterns, you can avoid them in your own project and improve your chances of success.

What is an anti-pattern?

In the software development world, an anti-pattern is a common mistake made during the development process. These mistakes can lead to problems such as increased project costs, decreased productivity, and lower quality products. 

The phrase "anti-pattern" refers to software that appears appealing at first glance but is actually incapable of fixing issues and instead causes new ones. Anti-patterns can be caused by hasty decisions, ill-informed assumptions, and unrealistic expectations.

The main thing to remember about anti-patterns is that they are avoidable if you’re aware of them and know how to steer clear. So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the most common Scrum anti-patterns.

Product Owner Anti-patterns 

Product Owners are tasked with managing the product backlog (the list of requirements for the project), as well as facilitating communication between stakeholders and the development team. However, there are a number of anti-patterns that can occur when it comes to product ownership, including: 

1. Unavailable Product Owner

The Product Owner plays an essential role in Scrum, as they are responsible for setting the product vision and prioritizing features. However, if the Product Owner is frequently unavailable or unresponsive to questions from the team, this can lead to delays and other problems. These can be rooted in the following:

  • Unable to answer questions or give feedback: If the Product Owner is unable to answer questions from the team or provide feedback on the product, this can lead to frustration and confusion. 
  • Absent; bad for team morale: If the Product Owner is absent for long periods of time, this can cause the team to lose motivation and morale. It can also lead to the team making decisions without the Product Owner’s input, which can cause problems down the line. 
  • PO is also Scrum Master: In some cases, the Product Owner may also be responsible for serving as the Scrum Master. While this can be beneficial in terms of efficiency, it can also lead to conflicts of interest and a lack of focus on either role. 

2. Product Owner Who Isn’t a Team Player

The Product Owner is responsible for working closely with the team and facilitating their success. However, if the Product Owner is too focused on micromanaging and controlling every aspect of the project, this can lead to reduced productivity and a lack of collaboration between the team members. 

This anti-pattern usually occurs when the Product Owner is inexperienced or new to Scrum. Here are some of the most common symptoms of this anti-pattern:

  • Won’t delegate jobs correctly: The Product Owner may try to micromanage the team rather than delegate tasks and responsibilities. This can lead to frustrations for both the team and the Product Owner, as they may feel that their time is being wasted. 
  • Won’t give credit: In some cases, the Product Owner may try to take credit for team accomplishments. This can lead to a lack of trust and resentment within the team, which can have a negative impact on productivity. 
  • Won’t assume accountability: If the Product Owner refuses to be accountable for their actions or decisions, this can lead to frustration among the team. Furthermore, it can also result in team members taking matters into their own hands, which can cause further problems.

Scrum Master Anti-patterns

Scrum Masters are responsible for ensuring that the Scrum methodology is being followed, as well as supporting and guiding the development team. However, several anti-patterns can occur when it comes to Scrum Master responsibilities, including: 

3. Not Supporting the Team

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the team has everything they need to succeed in their work. However, if the Scrum Master is not supporting the team correctly, this can lead to problems such as missed deadlines, ineffective communication, and reduced productivity. 

Some common symptoms of this anti-pattern include:

  • Avoids conflict resolution: The Scrum Master may try to avoid conflict within the team in order to “keep the peace.” However, this can lead to misunderstandings and frustration among team members. Avoiding such conflict can also lead to a buildup of resentment, eventually leading to an explosive situation. 
  • Can’t see when someone needs help (won’t adjust the Sprint board): The Scrum Master may not be able to see when someone on the team is struggling and needs help. This can lead to delays and frustration, as the team member may feel that their work is not being properly managed. 

4. Too Laissez-Faire

Laissez-faire means “leave to do” or “let alone.” In the context of Scrum, it can mean that the Scrum Master is too hands-off and doesn’t provide enough support or guidance to the team. 

While this may seem like a good way to foster autonomy, it can actually lead to problems such as missed deadlines and ineffective communication. Some common symptoms of this anti-pattern include: 

  • Will allow other stakeholders to interfere (causes delays): Though stakeholders should be considered when making decisions as they also influence product development, the Scrum Master should not allow them to get in the way of the team’s work. If the Scrum Master is too hands-off, stakeholders may start to interfere and cause delays. 
  • Not enough enforcement on deadlines/budgets/rules: Overspending can be one of the most common problems in Scrum. If the Scrum Master is not enforcing the budget or deadlines, this can lead to even more problems down the line. 
  • Doesn’t hold a retrospective: Retrospectives are an important part of Scrum, as they allow the team to reflect on their work and identify areas for improvement. If the Scrum Master is not holding regular retrospectives, this can lead to a lack of progress and understanding within the team. 

Scrum Team Anti-patterns

It’s not just individuals that can exhibit anti-patterns — teams can also develop them, which can cause problems and frustration within the group. Teams are especially prone to the following anti-patterns:

5. Lack of Trust Between Team Members

Trust is a vital part of any team, and without it, the team will not be able to function effectively. If team members are not acting professionally towards one another, this can create problems such as communication breakdowns and delays. 

Furthermore, if this type of behavior becomes normalized within the team, it can lead to bigger issues such as resentment and distrust. 

This anti-pattern may manifest in various ways, including:

  • Snitching to other stakeholders: If team members do not trust each other, they may be tempted to “snitch” to other stakeholders about what is going on within the team. They may feel that they need to do this to protect their own interests or make themselves look good. However, this can only lead to further problems such as mistrust and conflict. 
  • Team members blaming each other: When team members do not trust one another, they may be more likely to blame each other for mistakes or problems. This can create further tension and resentment within the team and, ultimately, lower productivity. 

6. Not Delivering the Right Product

If the team does not deliver the right product to their customers or end-users, they might find themselves facing a range of problems such as missed deadlines and low satisfaction among stakeholders. 

In addition, if individuals on the team do not feel that they have enough autonomy in their work, it can result in lower quality work and unsatisfactory product results. This will negatively affect both customer satisfaction and overall productivity within the team. 

The following are possible manifestations of this anti-pattern:

  • The team didn’t have a clear product goal: The team must have a clear goal for their product; otherwise, they will not be able to measure their progress or success. Without a clear goal, the team is likely to veer off course and end up delivering a sub-par product. 
  • The team didn’t have a user story: The team needs to have a user story to deliver the right product. A user story is a description of the desired functionality from the perspective of end-users. Without a user story, the team is likely to overlook important details and deliver a product that does not meet the needs of its users. 
  • No tests/user interviews (not understanding the problem properly): Tests and user interviews are a crucial part of Scrum, as they allow the team to understand their customers. If this step is not included in the process, it can lead to the team delivering a product that does not meet their users’ needs or solve their problems effectively. 

General Anti-patterns

7. Lack of Preparation for the Sprint (No Sprint Goal)

The Sprint goal is a crucial part of Scrum, as it allows the team to focus their work and ensure that they are making progress towards the overall goal of the product. If the team does not have a Sprint goal, they could end up working on tasks that are not relevant to the product and ultimately miss deadlines. 

The lack of planning can also lead to the team skipping essential steps in the Scrum process, such as user stories and tests. This can put the product at risk of not meeting the needs of the end-user and ultimately results in lower satisfaction and productivity. 

Finally, both the team and the whole product development process suffer when there is no Sprint goal. The Development Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master have to take time to replan and re-evaluate the product backlog, which causes delays in its delivery. 

8. Changing the Team Mid-Sprint 

This is one of the most common Scrum anti-patterns and can have several negative consequences for the team. A sudden change in the team mid-Sprint can cause confusion and disruption. In this case, deadlines may be missed, or quality may suffer due to a lack of cohesion within the team.

Additionally, changing up the team mid-Sprint can result in missed learning opportunities for team members. 

As they are not able to work with each other for an extended period of time, they will not get a chance to build trust and familiarity with their teammates, which are crucial factors for effective collaboration and productivity in Scrum teams. Here are some possible scenarios in which this might happen:

  • New hire: If a new hire joins the team during the Sprint, they will need time to get up to speed with the product and the team’s process. They may  not be able to contribute effectively to the Sprint and could  cause deadlines to be missed. 
  • Team member leaves: If a team member leaves mid-Sprint, this can significantly impact the team’s ability to deliver the product. The team will need to find a way to fill the gap left by the departing team member, which may mean re-assigning tasks or working overtime. This can put a strain on the team and delay project milestones. 
  • Re-assigned team member: If a team member is reassigned to another team during the Sprint, they may end up feeling demotivated and disengaged. They may also feel like they are not valued by the company, which can impact their work negatively. 

9. Poor Communication

Poor communication is one of the main Scrum anti-patterns, as it can lead to disruptions and delays in the delivery of the product. 

Communication is a key part of effective collaboration in Scrum teams, as it allows team members to:

  • Share information about the product and progress of the project
  • Discuss tasks and dependencies, and decide who will work on which tasks
  • Resolve conflicts and disagreements
  • Make decisions together

However, poor communication within the team can lead to confusion about roles and responsibilities, misunderstandings about requirements or priorities for tasks, and delays in decision-making.

Poor communication can exist in the following situations:

  • Between Scrum team members: Poor communication between team members can result in tasks being duplicated or neglected, missing deadlines and goals, or confusion about roles and responsibilities. Additionally, if the Product Owner is not aware of what each team member is working on during a Sprint, they may unintentionally assign two team members with similar tasks. 
  • Between Scrum Master and Product Owner: If the Scrum Master is unable to communicate effectively with the Product Owner, their team may  experience some misunderstandings about requirements or priorities for tasks. 

It could also cause delays in decision-making due to a lack of clarity around the needs of the end-user. Finally, if the Product Owner is not familiar with Scrum processes and principles, the team might experience conflicting views about how the Sprint should be run. 

  • Between stakeholders: If stakeholders are not kept up to date with the team’s progress, they may become frustrated and interfere with the team’s work. This can lead to disruptions in the Sprint and cause the team to miss their deadline.

10. No/Badly Run Daily Scrum Meeting

The Daily Scrum is a key part of the Scrum process, as it allows team members to share information about their progress and identify any impediments to their work. This meeting should be short, focused, and held every day to keep everyone up to date.

However, a Daily Scrum that is not run effectively can cause a number of problems for the team. Some possible causes of an ineffective Daily Scrum include: 

  • No feedback given: If team members are not encouraged or given the opportunity to give feedback during the Daily Scrum, they might miss out on valuable information about what is working (and what isn’t) in the Sprint. 
  • Confusion over roles and responsibilities: If team members are unclear about their roles or who they need to collaborate with, the team might find itself confused or facing duplicate tasks. Additionally, if team members are unclear about how the product should be built, their designs could be suboptimal. 

This can also result in delays when making decisions as individuals will each have different ideas about what should happen next. 

  • No time for honest team communication: If the Daily Scrum is not given enough time, team members may feel rushed and unable to share important information about their progress or impediments. 

This can lead to problems being missed and not addressed in a timely manner, which can impact the team’s ability to deliver the product on time. 

  • Poorly facilitated meeting: If the Daily Scrum is not facilitated effectively, the team may experience a lack of focus, confusion about roles and responsibilities, and missed opportunities for communication. 

Additionally, if the facilitator does not have an understanding of the Agile principles underpinning Scrum, the team could easily spiral towards unproductive or inefficient processes.

To overcome any of these issues in your own team, ensure that you make time for each member to give feedback during the Daily Scrum. This will allow them to raise any problems or concerns and receive input from other team members on how best to proceed. 

Additionally, it’s important to clarify roles and responsibilities within the team so that everyone understands what they need to be doing during a Sprint. This will help prevent any confusion about what needs to be done and by whom, which will improve both individual productivity and team collaboration. 

Finally, it’s crucial to facilitate the Daily Scrum effectively so that all team members feel heard and supported throughout the sprint. To do this, you may need additional training if you are not already familiar with Agile methodologies such as Scrum. 

Additionally, it can be helpful to have a facilitator who can keep the meeting on track and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

Final Thoughts: Scrum Anti-patterns

There are many Scrum anti-patterns that can create problems for teams. These anti-patterns can come from everyone in the group, including the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and team members. Anti-patterns are related to issues like lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities, lack of communication between team members, and poor facilitation of the Daily Scrum, among others.

To avoid these problems, it’s vital to ensure that everyone is clear about their duties within the team. Additionally, it’s essential to facilitate the Daily Scrum effectively so that all team members feel heard and supported throughout the sprint. 

Retrospectives can also be a valuable tool for identifying and addressing any Scrum anti-patterns impeding your team’s progress. 

GoRetro is the leading remote retrospective tool for distributed teams. Our platform makes it easy to run effective remote retrospectives, so you can identify and address any Scrum anti-patterns that may be impacting your team’s productivity. Click here to learn more about our features and sign up for a free trial today.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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