"We've Got a Problem." How Scrum Tells Us What That Means
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“We’ve Got a Problem.” How Scrum Tells Us What That Means

Has someone come to you as a developer and said, “Looks like we’ve got a problem?” What do you think of when the person says this to you? Do you assume the worse or something that can be delayed? I supposed it depends on the urgency conveyed by the speaker. But it is difficult to discern because the word “problem” is overloaded and has multiple meanings. I watched a presentation presented by the Scrum Alliance and lead by Harry Max and Luke Hohmann from Conteneo.

In the Scrum presentation, they discriminate between different levels of “problem” related to the impact and difficulty to solve:

Issue

  • Has a small impact and is trivial to solve
  • May not actually need solved if you can cope with the impact

Dilemma

  • Something that is solvable and we want to solve
  • May involve a decision among possible ways to resolve

Problem

  • Something that is solvable and we want to solve
  • May involve a decision among possible ways to resolve
  • More impactful or difficult to solve than a dilemma

Predicament

  • Something that is not solvable
  • You have to manage the symptoms (something that is ongoing)
    • ie. managing your technology stack
      • it is always changing and always needs upgrading
      • deal with it being out of date
      • deal with the problems associated with the new version
  • Will likely reappear if you try to solve it

Quagmire

  • Something that is not solvable
  • Something to be mindful of
  • You may not know that you are in this state
    • It could be caused by other decisions having unknown side effects

Crisis

  • Something that is not solvable
  • Something that requires planning to mitigate the risk
  • Can lead to the final state if ignored
  • A decisive turning point in whatever path you are on

Extinction Level Event

  • Something that is not solvable
  • Something that requires planning to mitigate the risk
  • Something that can destroy your business
    • ie. Having 80% of your business in one customer. What happens when you lose that customer?
    • ie. You spend all of your reserve money. What happens when you hit a dry spell?

It was suggested that calling everything a “problem” can lead to wasted time especially when trying to solve something that is unsolvable. What do you think about these differentiations? You can watch the entire presentation by going to the Scrum Alliance. Let me know if you watch. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Senior Technical Consultant
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