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I want to try to apply scrum to a project. For the purposes of my question, let's assume that there are no other problems I'm trying to solve; I just want to practice scrum.

Over the summer we're hoping to have 3 full-time developers (two working half-time on the project) and 1 or 2 interns.

Unfortunately, management insists that they must be able to pull resources at a moment's notice whenever they deem it necessary, and they refuse to commit personnel for even a 2-week sprint. I think at most they will pull two people from the project, leaving at least one senior engineer and two interns on the project. I still want to try scrum, but how can I work around this? Do I just convince the other team members to try it with me, and do it without management's blessing?

I know the foundation of scrum is that team members must be permitted to work uninterrupted for the duration of a sprint, but is there a way to work around this if management will not guarantee the resources? Certainly in the real world people must get sick or leave the team in the middle of the sprint once in a while. How does the scrum team deal with this and track its acceleration in a meaningful way?

My idea at this point is to do the following:

  1. Implement scrum with 2-week sprints but only allocate resources that are less likely to be pulled. Others may work on the project, but not necessarily as part of the scrum team's development crew. (Maybe they focus on testing or documentation, or pull work items from the project backlog instead of the TODO list.)
  2. If we are interrupted after a sprint has started, make a note, reallocate resources and tasks, and restart the sprint with the remaining resources.
  3. If the team was rarely interrupted, or if the sprint was usually interrupted only a day or two from the beginning or end of the sprint, try to use that data to convince management that scrum would not be that disruptive to the other projects. (This is assuming we can demonstrate that scrum worked at all for the duration of the summer.)

Is it likely this will work, or is it not really worth the effort to try to implement scrum if we cannot guarantee that the team won't be interrupted? Are there any other practical solutions to this problem?

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    What makes you think scrum is going to solve the fundamental problem of insufficient resources? The phrase "blood from a turnip" comes to mind. – Robert Harvey Feb 17 '15 at 18:01
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    You have a hammer (scrum). Your problems require a screwdriver and a tape measure (insufficient resources and non-dedicated resources). You can't just use a hammer to measure things and screw stuff in, you need to find a screwdriver and tape measure. This requires solving those core problems -- not patching work arounds constantly. – enderland Feb 17 '15 at 18:10
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    @enderland: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, you know? – eckes Feb 17 '15 at 20:17
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    Convince your manager to stop pulling resources... That's the only way. Scrum isn't going to fix that. – Robert Harvey Feb 17 '15 at 22:15
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    Scrum won't put a project on-schedule. It will just let you know that it is behind schedule early and makes it much easier to dump features early to hit dates. – Steven Burnap Feb 17 '15 at 22:21
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Scrum doesn't know nor care anything about management issues. It's a way to organize your work, and to make problems visible so they can be fixed. Scrum can't fix your problem, but it at least can make it visible.

Start doing scrum, making any assumptions you want about resource availability. Plan according to that. Follow the scrum practices. When a resource gets yanked from the project, note that as a distraction and carry on -- this is really no different than if someone got sick, quit, or is just having a bad day. The rest of the team has to carry on and try to finish (but not by working extra hours!)

At the end of a sprint, you now have evidence of how much you've been able to accomplish. Hopefully you'll start to see a pattern emerge: you cannot effectively plan with a constantly changing team. You'll (hopefully!) also see that when you can go two weeks without losing anyone, you are able to complete a predictable amount of work.

In short: do scrum, and let it do what it does best, which is to expose impediments early, and give you a framework for dealing with the impediments.

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    +1 for scrum giving management some evidence that their usage of resources is a problem. Nothing like cold, hard numbers to expose problems. You could also provide constructive criticism on how Scrum may assist in planning on a larger scale which could help with their resource allocation issues. – Greg Burghardt Feb 18 '15 at 1:28

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