If you were asked to break Scrum, and even Agile itself, down into its most core concept or practice… could you? I submit that you can. In my opinion there is an element that you can possibly have in your environment and regardless of how poor the rest of your implementation is, you still might have Scrum. However, without it, no matter what else you’re doing and no matter how well you are doing it, you will NOT have Scrum.
That concept is the Trusted Team. Scrum embodies this idea wonderfully with the phrase, “The team doing the job is best able to determine how to do the job.” I would go further and say that this team is also best at determining when, where, and who does the work. In fact, they, not management, should be in charge of delivering the product. Period.
Unfortunately so many Scrum implementations end up broken because this ‘boson’ isn’t there. In real life a boson is a strange particle. Hard to measure, half stoner-physics and half fantasy and yet if scientists are right they are the very fabric of what the universe is made of. Bosons can carry force with them from one place to another, no other particles can manage this in quite the same way. The Large Hadron Collider (above) is the main tool we're currently using to hunt these bad boys down.
“Trusted Team” is a boson. It is the engine that keeps a team running and performing well. Do you think a daily standup by itself empowers a team? No, of course not. Its just another meeting, another reason to be away from their work. The reason that the standups are effective is because they are an outward representation that the management group trusts the team to handle its job. The same thing applies to all of the other Scrum events.
Of course I recognize and understand the old saw about what constitutes the minimum amount of Scrum that you can implement. Official canon states that you need a daily standup, end of sprint Demo, Planning, and Retro sessions plus two backlogs and some reports. But that feels inelegant to me. Are you telling me that by simply enacting a series of meetings with a couple of artifacts then BOOM! I’m Scrumming? I disagree. These mere acts don’t constitute Scrum anymore than going to church, temple, or mosque gets you into the afterlife.
You gotta believe, man!
Who believes? Well, certainly the team themselves had damn well better believe they are trusted. But beyond the builder team the management team absolutely HAS to believe this. More importantly they had better act like it in every single thing they do. This trust thing is a fragile beast and can be broken with a single unconsidered thought or act.
Now let’s talk about your executive team. In my experience this group has the largest say on if the builder team is trusted or not. They, like the managers, show their belief with ever single act they take, with every single memo and email. If you want to properly implement Scrum then start with this group. Make your first educational efforts here and get these folks to understand how critical their attitudes are to the success of this thing.
Curious on why your team is broken and having a hard time Scrumming? Sure, they are hitting all of the meetings and working a backlog, but you still aren’t seeing true Scrum in action? I've been there before and it wasn't pretty. Put on your people-watcher hat and start watching. Ignore the words, in this case they are irrelevant. Pay extra close attention to the actions, the decisions made and the attitudes. Pay attention for trust-breaking behavior and address it at the source. Get everyone onboard with how critical this trust is and you'll see the team begin to act like they believe it.