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SCRUM for Brain Surgeons

Satire by Doug Rosenberg


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This is Nigel Powers reporting for BBC One on a new programme by the National Institute for Health to improve the efficiency of our UK hospitals.

Ealing General Hospital in West London is the pilot site for a new program that applies a state-of-the art agile software project management technique callled SCRUM to brain surgery. "Adopting the SCRUM approach allows us to perform 3X the number of brain surgeries as was previously possible, because each surgery is carefully timeboxed", stated Marc Kollinzkoop, Chief Surgeon at Ealing General.

"Her Majesty's Government can't afford all the bloody MRIs and detailed planning documents that precede the usual brain surgery, the backlog of patients is just too long" said Kollinzkoop. "With our new SCRUM practice, the surgeon just makes a couple of quick notes on an index card, and goes right in after it." he said. "With a 21 minute timebox for each surgery, a single surgeon can service 23 patients in an 8 hour workday, and still have time for a quick lunch."

Ealing General decided to try SCRUM after Kollinzkoop attended a Project Management Institute seminar about how to manage backlogs, that extolled the virtues of the SCRUM process. SCRUM is widely reputed to increase efficiency by avoiding wasting time on planning, the theory being that since humans aren't very good at planning or at following plans, it's best to not waste any time at planning. Kollinzkoop's flash of insight was to apply this technique to the backlog of pending brain surgery cases.

The jury's still out on the new SCRUM approach to brain surgery, however. Already claims of botched operations are beginning to surface, and last week a demonstration was held in front of Ealing General by patients who had been through the program, chanting "my brain hurts", whilst wearing napkins on their heads.

Mr. Gumby's brain hurts. Click the photo see a live interview

And there are rumblings of discontent from the brain surgeon's union as well, who are getting complaints from their members about the stress level encountered by having to do 23 brain surgeries in a day, without even a break for tea. Occasionally the surgenons are in so much of a hurry that they have forgotten the anesthetic.

A team of brain surgeons having a standup meeting to determine whether an MRI is needed.


The surgeons themselves seem a bit reticent to discuss this, however, out of fear they'll be sacked, and the only interview I was able to secure was with one who insisted on remaining anonymous, using the nom de plume of "Leonard McCoy".

Leonard McCoy (not his real name) is the only surgeon who would talk with us

"I'm a Doctor, not a programmer, dammit", said McCoy. "We can't just refactor people's grey matter like it was so many lines of Java code. And I'm not an assembly line worker, either. My work requires thought and skill and patience and precision. I don't want to make a mistake and spill somebody's brains all over the operating table, or leave a forceps rattling around in somebody's skull. I guess I'm just an old country doctor."