Monday, May 11, 2009


Scrum (like other Agile variants) has rhythms built into it. I got to thinking about this the other day while trying to explain to others in the company what we had been doing within tech. I considered the daily stand-up, the weekly planning session, weekly reviews, monthly retrospectives... we performed multiple activities that provided feedback loops into our work allowing constant correction.

But how to explain this to an outsider? Especially a sales person who spends much of their time on the phone working, negotiating, and waiting. These are folks who don't get to predict when things will happen, only put pressure on making them happen.

The metaphor of a heartbeat or breathing always seemed a little too mushy. I grappled for a different metaphor. Suddenly, I found myself describing cadence. At first the concept of cadence in general, and then in sports.

Next I found myself thinking of the military. I remembered how a few of my friends came back from boot camp brainwashed by these chants. I had visions of how they could line up and mindlessly march all day singing these stupid little songs.

And suddenly I realized it... they weren't silly little songs. It wasn't mindless marching. It was muscle memory training. It was about the rhythm. Backpacking twice your body weight in the rain for eight hours to a perfect rhythm actually has a point. When this team was under the stress of enemy fire, they had this muscle memory to fall back on. It was survival. They would move in unison as a group, and their success depended on it. They could lose sight of each other and still know their movements. Actually, the importance of cadence dates back to European war strategies:
The cadence was set by a drummer or sergeant and discipline was extremely important, as keeping the cadence directly affected the travel speed of infantry. - Wikipedia
As I described this concept to the larger group, it seemed to sink in. For the folks who participate in these events, they suddenly looked at the standup differently. In good time or bad, they were a marker of progress. They insured the team was working in unison. We were moving together as a disciplined group. Just like the rhythm of song, we all kept pace. For the outsiders, there was a small sense of jealousy. They wanted to belong to the group, be part of that rhythm, and feel that constant progress. They wanted to know that everyone in the group had their back. They were envious of credit shared by all and no member left behind.

Cadence... it's much more than a repeated timebox.


  1. I'm also wary of analogies, but this is an excellent one. As a cyclist I was taught the importance of cadence - as measured in the RPM of the pedals.

    The key point was that a constant cadence was not only more efficient for the body but also allows you to manage situations better (like preparing for a sprint in the final phase or responding to an attack in a road race). Basically, its better to maintain a slightly slower, constant cadence than to constantly speed up and slow down your pedalling.

    This resonates with the agile development concept of Sustainable Pace as well has having benefits for the wider organisation around the agile team.

  2. You are beginning to think like a project manager -- in the best sense of the role.

  3. A military proverb was also used by Schwaber when describing the difference between a pipeline industry and software. He used paratroopers as an analogy. When you think about that analogy, you may see that people in sales are not so different after all: They have the general idea of their mission and they have a hint who they are up against. They are bad in estimating their effort as well. In other words, sales is empirical.

    People often forget this because sales does not manufacture. There are benefits in following some sort of scrum schedule there as well. It would rock my world to see the scrum master of sales in the R&D SoS. I leave it as a home assignment for everyone to solve, what is a backlog, a user story or a sprint for sales. Who are the stakeholders?