David Harvey wrote a piece on his blog entitled “The Scrum picture is wrong” where he says that the well known, canonical even, picture of Scrum loops errs by focusing too much on the product (deliverable, “potentially shippable product increment”) and forgetting that continuous improvement of the team is another important outcome of each sprint that should be shown with another loop.
[Go and read David's piece now if you haven't yet]

As much as I agree with David’s insight I don’t think his version of the Scrum loop should be used to “sell” Scrum outside of our community. I very much value all the focus on teams and their improvement, but it helps to understand that this is something that is important (and should be!) only for us, sitting deep in the software development community. Clients ultimately pay for products, not for our methodologies, our teams improving or our overall well being and happiness.

Let’s take the case of outsourced development, which I know firsthand. Our clients pay us for the product they get from us, but once the project is done they are gone and I don’t think my team getting better on their project is something that even crosses their minds. And why should it, anyway? Unless they would want us to extend their product or start another project with us there is no benefit there for them. What really counts is whether the product we delivered will allow them to meet their business goals, their commitments – and their bottom lines. So when I work to convince them to forget fixed bids and go with Scrum I don’t waste the attention they give me on telling them that thanks to Scrum my team will get better.

But also if you have your own, in-house teams, building your product then in the long term it is that product that counts more than the teams. Why? Well, because not only your clients don’t pay for your teams, but for the product – you also don’t really own your teams. People change jobs (one call from Google’s recruiters to your best people can make your life very hard, believe me), get sick, even die – that’s inevitable. And (as I have learned the hard way) pampering your best people won’t prevent them from quitting – so is probably not worth it. In the long run – measured in years – it counts how much value your clients get from your product, not how perfect your team has become. If your team is getting better with every sprint but your product doesn’t sell you will hit the bottom hard sooner or later. Yes, your company may be then one of those legendary places that excelled technologically but are no longer around (Commodore, SGI etc.) which may be fine for the employees – they will just change jobs – but is not fine for owners and/or investors who will have to cover the loses.

So, team getting better is a tool, a mean, to get a better product, not the other way around (unless you run a monastery – there indeed work is just a tool for monks to perfect themselves spiritually).

Just to make sure no one misunderstands me: I’m not saying we should forget about team improvement, not care about our workers’ well being, career development etc. Yes, we should do all that and more, help everyone excel in what they do, make sure as much as we can people like what they do, heck, do it with passion and care, using fully their potential. All that is important and valuable. But we should not forget that in the end it is the client paying for a product who makes it all happen. And all our methodologies, frameworks and diagrams, all our “management science”, all techniques and research is aimed at improving efficiency – and that means, sorry to be blunt, getting better products faster and cheaper.

So I think the current Scrum picture is quite right in its focus on the product. And the message is spot on. It should be still used to “sell” Scrum to managers, clients and businessmen. David’s diagram is insightful and fine, but let’s keep it within our world of process freaks, agile activists and scrum preachers.