History of Nokia Test


Everyone knows it! Nokia is *not* doing well. The new Windows strategy is not popular with the (geeky) public or Nokia employees. Recently, a couple of blog posts and comments have been posted about Scrum, Nokia and "The Nokia Test". I don't want to criticize the points made, though do want to correct the linkage between Nokia and the Nokia Test. Let me clarify.

I used to work at NokiaSiemens Networks (NSN) and, before that, at Nokia Networks (and before that at Nokia, but that is irrelevant for this post :P). In early 2000s, Nokia consisted of making phones (perhaps 75% of the company) and making telecom infrastructure (perhaps 25%). They were still the same company, but within the company they were very very separated. In 2007, the Nokia Networks unit was merged with Siemens Networks to create a new company... NSN. This company is not Nokia or Siemens.

Nokia Networks was one of the early adopters of agile development and Scrum in Finland/Europe. I like to believe that it had quite an impact to the Scrum in Finland as they asked their partners to use Scrum, but that is irrelevant for this story. I was invited to 'lead' the Agile coaching team in Helsinki as I had agile development experiences (mainly xp). I accepted and moved from China to Finland (cold!) where we supported product groups that wanted to change their development to agile.

The adoption in Nokia Networks wasn't top-down as the coaching team was hidden in a centralized department and had no authority (good!). We visited different product groups who were experimenting with agile development and create one community. This made it seem like we quickly had a big adoption, but in fact, we only combined all the grass roots initiatives and made them visible. By doing this, we traveled throughout the company to visit different teams who said they were doing "iterative" or "agile" or "scrum" or "xp". But we quickly noticed something interesting...

Most of the time, when we visited a product, they told us things like "we do iterative development, our last iteration was planned to be one year long, but it actually took two!" or, one of my favorites, "we do scrum, we are now in our 6th planning sprint". We, the coaching team, were getting frustrated with this as we were only a few and there were thousands of developers, who should we support? At some point, we decided that going "deep" rather than "broad" was a good idea, that means, we worked with the product groups that were serious and make them into examples. All we needed to do was filter all the product groups that were not "too serious." I remember discussing this with Kati (my pair in Nokia Networks) and we together quickly created two slides, one saying "you are not doing iterative when" and one saying "you are not doing Scrum when". We added these slides to our introduction to agile material and agreed we would use it internally (in the coaching team) do decide which product groups are serious.

Perhaps a year later, Jens Ostergaard invited me to his course and talk a bit about Nokia Networks (not yet NSN at this point). I grabbed some slides including the "you are not doing iterative development when"-slide in the appendix. (the presentation was similar to this one). Jens liked it and mentioned the slide to Jeff Sutherland who started to use it himself and called it "The Nokia Test." We didn't think the slide was very special so, of course, we had no problem but were very surprised to discover that it  became popular. I guess that had something to do with its simplicity.
A couple years later, in NSN people asked us to ask what this "Nokia Test" was about. (I remember Kati, the co-creator, asking me about it!). Most people in NSN didn't know about the slide as it was mainly used by the coaching group and it wasn't used for product groups to self-evaluate them. A year later, people in Nokia started contacted me about what this Nokia Test was all about because people in Nokia had never heard about it.

A couple points related to this, Nokia and Nokia test:
  • The Nokia test ought to be called "The NSN test" as it wasn't created in Nokia
  • The Nokia test was *not* for products groups to evaluate themselves, but was a coaching tool
  • The Nokia test was not really a test, it was called "you are not iterative when"
  • Most of the early Scrum adoption was in NSN, not Nokia. Thus conclusions about Nokia and the Nokia test are very irrelevant.
  • AFAIK, most of Nokia Scrum implementation wasn't deep. On the developer level, they adopted Scrum, but they never made management changes that ought to happen in a good Scrum adoption.
Oh, an amusing final note. I never use the nokia test myself. I don't particularly like the scoring test that it morphed to. I consider tests like that not useful except for a very specific context (and the context was quickly checking the seriousness of an agile implementation)


Simplification is one way for the public to understand something that they can not understand well.

Some arguments are quite similar as Lean for Toyota's trouble one year ago. Many opinions are insightful, only one small problem: they are not based on real facts.

You are a good historian, well done :-)

Hi Bas,

I am always checking Waikaleo's website, and found a link to odd-e there. I will find some time to read the rest of the blog, but I really enjoyed reading about this case.

Looking forward for your next entry :-)


I'm glad you posted this. I've heard you explain it in person several times on different occasions. Now that you've published the explanation, maybe more of the people who need to understand it will have a chance to read it.

Funny that the Nokia Test seemed to take on a life of its own and has been used as a general "agility test" with no thought to context or intended purpose.

Funny, but cool, too. It resulted in name recognition for you, and that can't be bad.

Thanks for this, Bas. I've found the "Nokia Test" to be disturbing for quite some time. Not only is it very weak sauce for determining agility, but pushing these few particular points seems to lead toward "cargo cult" agile rather than anything useful. I'm glad to hear all of that is just a misunderstanding, and the list started as a cautionary tale.


We wrote a blog on this. Likewise, we learned that it wasn't NOKIA who created the test.

I do agree with you though. The test... is kinda worthless.

As agile coach to a venture capital group, I have found the Nokia test useful to get Scrum teams started. We have 14 portfolio companies doing Scrum.

When they start out they score about 4 which is similar to Scrum people in Scrum training classes. By the time they get to 6 they have doubled velocity and when they hit 8 they have tripled velocity. This can often happen in 2-3 months, sometimes in 3 sprints.

Then other things become more important, like how to go into a hyperproductive state. The Nokia test won't take you there.

However, tripling your velocity seems useful to me. Of course most Scrum teams don't even know their velocity and they could certainly benefit from the Nokia test.

At Citrix Online (where we have 44 Scrum-ish teams), I rewrote and use the Nokia test in our agile training programs to assess the maturity of our audience, and adapt the training based on the aggregate scores.

I think what we developed is pretty useful as a teaching/coaching tool.

I just ran it in an agile training for a new acquisition of ours, with 5 Scrum teams, and it helped that group understand the changes they could make to gain higher productivity. They asked for a copy to use for their ongoing continuous improvement goals, because the questions it asks provide easy goals to achieve higher productivity.

I think helping people self-assess their agile maturity isn't something we throw out with the bathwater.

Maybe the key here is that I rewrote it to assess the skills I wanted to motivate, rather than washing my hands of it.

It is working well for us. Of course, your mileage may vary. Should we just give it a different name? "The Heathen Test"? The "Test of the Unwashed"? :)

I agree something like this is a bad thing in the hands of management. They should maybe revise the test so that is not so bad in the wrong hands.

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This page contains a single entry by Bas Vodde published on February 16, 2011 9:49 AM.

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