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Unrealistic Roadmaps Erode Transparency


Pie in the sky roadmaps are unrealistic

Scrum - the most popular Agile framework - is founded upon Empiricism, or making decisions based on what is known.  The three pillars which make true Empiricism possible are transparency, inspection, and adaptation. These pillars are the foundation for effective decision-making and progress within a Scrum team. However, when Product Owners craft roadmaps in isolation - without consulting the Developers -  the result can be a 'pie in the sky' or unrealistic plan that jeopardizes the very essence of Scrum.


An Illusion Made of Unrealistic Roadmaps

A roadmap is one of the most popular ways for a Product Owner to forecast future value delivery targets.  A roadmap visually represents a product's direction, often outlining key milestones and goals. 


When a Product Owner creates a roadmap without collaborating with the Scrum team, especially the Developers, there is a risk of producing an unrealistic plan. Unrealistic roadmaps often promise ambitious dates and outcomes that may not align with the team's capacity or real-world challenges.


Setting False Expectations

The primary purpose of a Scrum roadmap is to provide stakeholders and customers with a clear understanding of the team's intended direction and progress. However, an unrealistic roadmap can set false expectations, creating a gap between what is promised and what can realistically be delivered. This misalignment can erode trust and hinder effective communication within the team and with external stakeholders.


Empiricism and the Scrum Framework

Scrum relies on empiricism to drive decision-making based on real-world observations and experiences. The three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation are essential components that allow Scrum teams to navigate uncertainties and complexities successfully.


Transparency: The Backbone of Scrum

Transparency ensures that all team members and stakeholders have a shared understanding of the current state of the product. When roadmaps lack transparency, the team cannot provide accurate insights into progress, hindering the ability to make informed decisions.


Inspection and Adaptation: A Dynamic Duo

The Scrum framework incorporates four formal events for inspection and adaptation within the overarching Sprint. These events, including the Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective, foster continuous improvement. However, the effectiveness of these events relies heavily on the transparency of information.


The Pitfalls of Unrealistic Roadmaps

In the Sprint Review, for instance, the team discusses what to do next based on the observed outcomes of the previous Sprint. If the roadmap is unrealistic, team members may be unable to inspect progress and adapt plans accordingly honestly. This misalignment can lead to frustration and demotivation, ultimately hindering the team's ability to deliver value.


A Way Forward: Realistic Roadmaps and High-Level Planning

To preserve transparency, inspection, and adaptation, it is crucial for Product Owners to collaborate with the entire Scrum team when creating roadmaps. Instead of committing to specific dates, consider adopting a Now, Next, Later approach, providing a high-level overview without making unrealistic promises. This approach allows for flexibility and aligns with the dynamic nature of agile development.


Conclusion

In the realm of Scrum, false promises in the form of unrealistic roadmaps can undermine the very foundation of empiricism. A collaborative approach that values transparency, inspection, and adaptation is essential for success. By fostering open communication and setting realistic expectations, Scrum teams can navigate uncertainties with agility, delivering value while maintaining the trust of stakeholders and customers.


Or as one Scrum Master from a recent PSM II class with Rebel Scrum put it, "Speak to me before you speak for me!"  - Fouzia


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