Scrumsplaining #2: There Is No Sense Of Urgency With Kanban


“scrumsplaining” is the phenomena where a Scrum practitioner tries to explain why you can’t use some alternative approach without actually making any attempt to understand the other approach or a different point of view or paradigm. In “scrumsplaining” everything is explained using the paradigm of the Scrum framework.

Scrumsplainers are generally people who’ve been using Scrum for a while but there performance has plateaued, no further improvements have been occurring and they are looking for something fresh to inject innovative thinking and further improvements. Alternatively Scrumsplainers are consultants and advisors who are afraid that they’ll lose status as an authority figure if a client or practitioner who looks up to them decides to adopt something that would erode the use of Scrum practices in their workplace.

In this 2nd post in the series we look the argument that you need the peer pressure elements designed into Scrum in order to maintain a sense of urgency and get things done.

Scrumsplaining #2: If we adopt Kanban we’ll lose our sense of urgency

[The following conversation paraphrases a VP of a business unit at a major Internet/telecom equipment manufacturer. I’ve allowed 12+ months to elapse before posting this, and it remains anonymous. The company is American. The BU is based in New England. The Scrumsplainer was in charge of a 600 person BU partly staffed in India.]


Without the daily Scrum and regular Sprint commitments there will be no sense of urgency!

I see. Why do you think that is?

Well we need people making commitments to their peers everyday or they’ll just slack off and play ping pong all the time.

I see. Why is that?

Well, they’re inherently lazy. We need to keep them under pressure or we’ll get nothing done.

You really believe that?

Yes. Our people are too comfortable!

How many people in this BU?

About 600!

How many are new since you arrived?

About 300!

So you’ve hired 300 lazy people since you started? Do you select lazy people when hiring?

No. No, of course not.

So they become lazy after you hire them?

Well, they are all very comfortable. There is no sense of urgency.

Every Scrum team in your BU missed its sprint commitment last sprint. Every team in the building has missed its sprint commitment for the last 22 sprints. On average they are missing each commitment by 50%. At today’s retrospective not a single Scrummaster reported this. No one is willing to own the missed commitments.

Exactly, there is no sense of urgency!

So you are currently using Scrum and yet there is no sense of urgency. So tell me again why you would lose the sense of urgency if you adopt Kanban?

Our people are too comfortable and we need to keep them under pressure.

Would you say that you believe in McGregor’s Theory X and people need to be extrinsically motivated?

No. I believe in Theory Y. People are intrinsically motivated.

And yet, you need to keep them under pressure with daily and di-weekly commitments or they’ll just slack off? In what way are they intrinsically motivated?


Do you really believe your people, hundreds of them are inherently lazy?

Our people are too comfortable and need to be kept under pressure.

Have you considered that if your people aren’t intrinsically motivated and have no sense of urgency, there may be a failure of leadership?


Kanban has a (usually) daily Kanban meeting around the kanban board. It isn’t however a Scrum meeting. In a Kanban meeting you iterate over the tickets from right to left: Closest to completion to most recently started. There is a focus on the work and not on managing the workers or peer pressuring them to complete tasks.

Kanban has no time-boxed batch planning mechanism such as the Sprint in Scrum. Instead items are pulled individually and delivery is measured against a service level expectation or agreement on lead time.

So the elements of Scrum which are designed to create a sense of urgency using peer pressure are indeed missing.

Kanban simply uses a different paradigm. Kanban is service-oriented and models service delivery workflows from request to delivery. Kanban makes the customer/service requestor and the business need or business risks visible and transparent throughout the workflow. Workers in a kanban system know who the work is for and why they are doing it. They know which business risks are associated with the item and they understand why it being given a specific class of service.

There isn’t a sense of urgency, there is a sense of service. There is a collective pride in service delivery excellence. A sense of pride in service delivery creates urgency where and when it is appropriate. Transparency and visibility, collaborative working and a sense of pride are what make Kanban work. Kanban is designed around the assumption that knowledge workers indeed conform to Theory Y: They are intrinsically motivated.

To make Kanban work there needs to be leadership. That leadership has to value customer service and instill a sense of collective pride in good service. When you hear a scrumsplainer, arguing Kanban lacks a sense of urgency, you are actually listening to a misdirection. The scrumsplainer lacks courage and fails to show leadership!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.
The following GDPR rules must be read and accepted:
We will process your personal data to post your comments in the blog if you indicate your consent by checking the corresponding box. David J Anderson School of Management is the data controller. You can withdraw your consent and exercise your data protection rights at any time by contacting us at info@djaa.com For more information review our Privacy Policy.

Special Pricing on KMP courses now until May 31