Why Scrum projects are harder at a university than in industry

I teach distributed Scrum to student teams every semester. Sometimes, industry tells me how much easier it must be to run Scrum projects at a university rather than “in real life” i.e. in industry. I beg to differ: Running Scrum projects at a university is much harder than running Scrum projects in industry, for the following reasons:

  • Widely differing abilities and experiences. At a university, students abilities vary significantly, more so than in industry. In industry, teams can somewhat choose (hire and fire) who they get to work with, at a university, we have no such luxury.
  • Not 100% on project, but in multiple courses. At a university, students are busy in several different courses at once, spreading their attention thin. While in industry you may also be working in different contexts, it is typically less so than at a university.
  • Transient rather than persistent teams. At a university, the student teams come together for one three-month course only to abandon thereafter. There is much less willingness to compromise than in industry, where you may have to keep working with the same people.
  • Not available at same place, not at same time. Due to the varying schedules of students, getting a team into the same room is hard; most work is done asynchronously. Much less so in industry, where you have more stringent presence requirements.
  • Sometimes extrinsically motivated (grades). Course grades always loom large in student projects, leading to behavior that isn’t necessarily in the interest of the team project. While you have some of this in industry as well, not being a team player is usually sanctioned negatively faster and harder than at a university.

With that, I’ll let you decide for yourself where running successful Scrum projects is harder: University or industry. Now, I personally don’t care much about this qualification “harder” or “easier”, however, I think it is important to point out that teaching at a university can be as real and as challenging as anything else in life.

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