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We have set up a scrum pilot project. How do I make sure it is a success?

We have set up a scrum pilot project. How do I make sure it’s a success?

That is an interesting question because ensuring that a scrum pilot project is a success is relatively straightforward.

Simply give the team what they need, when they need it, and how they need it.

3 critical elements of a high-performance Scrum team

Most organisations hire smart, creative, and educated people so a pilot project very seldom fails due to a lack of skills, competence, or capability.

Get these 3 things right and you have a very high chance of delivering a successful pilot project.

Empower the product owner

Give the team an empowered Product Owner that can make decisions. A product owner that really understands the role and has the authority to make product, financial and release decisions.

Somebody who can keep the team moving forward and has earned the respect of people and teams throughout the organisation.

 Choose a strong development team

Select individuals who are passionate about software development and are inspired by the product vision. People who have the necessary skills, work ethic and commitment to achieving sprint and product goals consistently.

Choose a strong scrum master or agile coach

Elect a strong, experienced scrum master who has developed strong relationships throughout the organisation and has earned respect from members of the scrum team. Someone who is willing and capable of having tough conversations with the team to surface any issues and empower the team to improve with each sprint.

Someone who can work across the organisation to remove impediments for the team and has the influence and respect necessary to get the team what they need, when they need it.


That is all you need to do to launch and deliver a successful pilot project. Empower the team and then get out of their way and allow them to do the job they were hired to do.

Remove organisational impediments that slow the team down and it will be a success because the reason most teams fail is not because they have hired bad people, instead it is because the organisation gets in the way and creates quicksand that the teams must struggle through.

Policies, bureaucracy, governance procedures and heaps more simply get in the way.

Make it an authentic pilot project experience

Sometimes, going out of your way to make a pilot project a success is a disservice to the organisation. I know that sounds odd but bear with me a moment and I’ll explain why.

A successful pilot project is something that pioneers a new way forward. Creates a path for others to follow and highlights all the systems and processes that are problematic for teams. Highlights all the things that slow teams down and kill creativity.

If your pilot project has all the bells and whistles and leadership teams make exceptions for just this pilot project, you are going to struggle to replicate the success of the pilot in future launches.

If everything remains the same within the organisation, save for the pilot project getting absolutely everything that it needs, then future teams will struggle and your transformation will likely fail.

You want the pilot project to go through the same challenges that every other team face but be armed with a rock-solid commitment from leadership teams and managers across the organisation that they will fix the problem that scrum or your agile framework highlights as problematic.

Work hard to make sure that the policy which is changed for the pilot project is changed for the entire organisation too. Make sure that the new software and tools that you are given for the pilot project are delivered to all future teams too.

Make sure that this pilot project is not a pet project to make a certain director shine. Make sure that it is an authentic journey for the team, the project sponsors, and for the organisation.

Document the journey

Your goal is to pioneer a new way forward and use the metrics and data from the pilot project to inform what should be done, why it should be done, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of those changes for sceptics within the organisation to examine.

Evidence is going to win you future champions for Agile and so you are going to want to document every element of the pilot project journey.

You are going to want to document the challenges the team encountered, the options they explored and the experiments that were run to test hypotheses and challenge assumptions.

You want to document the sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives where the team provided insights into what they aimed to achieve, what they achieved and which direction they took after encountering those challenges.

You want to provide insights that came from the conversations the team had during their reflection in the sprint retrospectives and how they learned to make decisions as a team, create new processes that better served the team, and how they evolved in their journey.

Treat this as a scientific experiment and document all elements of the journey that can serve as a blueprint and guideline for future teams when they embark on their journey. Plus, as the scrum master or agile coach, you can take an active teaching and mentoring role in future launches.

Focus on why the pilot is important

I have never met a senior leader or powerful executive within an organisation that doesn’t know how to make a pilot project a success. Given their authority, power and relationships, they are able to get anything off the ground and make it a success.

The key element to a pilot project is to understand why it is important to the team and the organisation for it to succeed.

  • What problem will an adoption of agile or scrum solve?
  • How will the organisation be better if the pilot project succeeds?
  • Will the organisation be better positioned to adapt and respond if this succeeds?
  • Who will benefit the most from a successful pilot project?
  • How will the data and evidence collected in this project be used to inform decisions?

If you get why this project is so important and the team understand the significant impact it will have on the organisation, you are likely to really break new ground and pioneer an authentic roadmap to agility within your organisation.

You will be empowered to lead a team through a journey that uncovers obstacles and impediments with the objective of solving those issues for the entire organisation. Instead of becoming despondent when the team encounter these challenges, they are energised and inspired.

They know that their work, their experience, and their commitment to making the pilot project a success will have a real impact on the organisation and the people within it. They know that they will make a huge difference in the lives of their customers and product stakeholders.

Meaning. Purpose. Passion.

For stakeholders outside of the scrum team environment, knowing why the pilot project is so important inspires them to make the changes that are necessary for future teams to succeed.

It gives them valuable insights into how they can contribute to making future teams successful and how their department or division can improve. It demonstrates the power of teamwork and inspires a sense of co-creation in stakeholders outside of the team. They are a part of the journey and they know that their contribution matters.

Buy-in. Commitment. Support.

So, that would be my advice for a pilot project. Make sure it is authentic and transformational for individuals as well as the organisation. Selecting the right team for the pilot is crucial and empowering them to make the team a success is fairly straightforward.

The difficulty lies in transforming the organisation to empower future teams to succeed and evolve.

If you like the idea of becoming an Agile coach and would value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit Growing Agile Coaches with John McFadyen.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill, and both validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master course pages.

For more insights into how to become a better scrum master, visit John’s YouTube channel and blog.

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