Scrum for Introverts: Level Set

It’s not often I hear a genuine criticism of the Scrum framework. In most cases I’ve seen, Scrum is wrongly made the whipping boy for myriad organizational and interpersonal dysfunctions; however, one issue that may have some legitimacy is how well the Scrum framework encourages a “sustainable pace” of software development when the people involved need alone time.

There are numerous things written about introversion and software development. My goal is not to rehash what has been already written. If you would like to read some of the things I’ve come across, you’ll find numerous references at the bottom of this post to broaden your understanding of this issue. My goal is to play with the Scrum framework to see how well it stands up against the challenge that it does not serve introverts well. We’ll start with a level set.

Personality Continuum

“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” – Carl Jung

No one is just an extrovert or an introvert. Most modern day thought on the subject acknowledges only predilections towards either way of relating to life’s circumstances. Moreover, these predilections change depending on situational stimulus e.g. work and home life. Those who teeter on the edge of both introverted and extroverted are referred to as ambiverts. Their tendencies will shift back and forth between both postures, sometimes daily.

Behavioral Overlap

While introversion and extroversion describe differences in attitudes and mental focus, much research has shown that there is a great deal of behavioral overlap among those who report favoring an introverted or extroverted mental life. The key finding here is each persuasion acts only moderately more introverted or extroverted than the opposite persuasion. For example, introversion does not mean anti-social but rather socializing with fewer people that the subject knows more intimately. Trust is key. Extroversion does not imply a fear of being or working alone just that the subject may wish for shorter periods of solitude.

Common Patterns

It is quite common for organizations to choose practices that favor extroversion. Open floor plans, lots of interaction, and mandatory togetherness are extremely prevalent in software shops practicing Scrum. Even very good practices such as pair and mob programming can contribute to an introversion stigma; Those yearning for some time to be alone with their own riches may feel shamed by more extroverted co-workers. This quote from Elizabeth Hendrickson puts it nicely:

I suspect that some of these folks are introverts working with a whole passel of extroverts who took to the social nature of Agile like ducks to water. Introverts need time and space to process stuff internally. If they don’t get enough time to themselves during the workday, they burn out. If this sounds like you, I hope that instead of seeing Agile practices as evil you can work with your team to achieve a workable balance of collaboration time and alone time. – Elizabeth Hendrickson

The Scrum events can be a particularly large drain on those feeling their introversion on those days. The Sprint Planning en masse starts the Sprint. The Daily Scrums scheduled mid-morning interrupt our flow. The Sprint Review may be rife with awkward yet necessary conflict with unfamiliar stakeholders. We struggle through the Sprint Retrospective where the most intimate and important interactions must occur with those we may hardly know.

Then immediately and without rest, begins the next Sprint.

The Struggle is Real

In the posts to come, we’ll walk through the struggle. We may just uncover better ways of practicing Scrum together by doing it and helping others do it. Who knows, we may find something new that we come to value.


Additional Learning


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.