Scrum is the Future
Organizations need to respond and adapt – fast. A great way to accomplish this is to strip away the inessentials. This is precisely what Scrum delivers. Scrum – despite being a lightweight framework – actually covers a lot of ground. It defines the basic roles and protocols of team interaction and then it lets the team take over to accomplish its work:
- It defines how work is organized and brought into a team.
- It defines how a team manages its work and the accountability for that work.
- It supports change throughout the course of a project.
- It is a transparent process, with clear indicators of progress.
- It supports continuous improvement.
Scrum’s use of autonomous teams can be powerful force in their own right, including non-software settings. Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, cites a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University that examined 320 small businesses, half of which granted the workers autonomy, the other half relying on top-down direction. The businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.
What are the contributing factors to success with autonomous teams?
Obviously, decision-making is optimized. Because teams operate independently, the overhead of obtaining approvals for things that can just as easily be determined by the team is eliminated, saving valuable time. Another win is that professionals who are trusted to operate independently are happier, more engaged employees. This in turn leads to higher productivity and retention, allowing you to continue to leverage skilled, knowledgeable people indefinitely.
Scrum’s support of sustainable development is a tremendous weapon that is often ignored in software projects, to the detriment of everyone involved. The combination of collaboration and sustainable development are the catalysts that drive productivity and innovation along with improving software quality.
Collaboration is about having conversations, not just following a spec. Scrum organizes business requirements into User Stories, but these are not considered cast in concrete like typical plan-driven projects. They serve as a reminder for a conversation.
This conversation between the development team and the business users (or proxies) enables emergent innovation. User Stories are crafted in a way that articulates what the business wants and the benefit that it expects to obtain. Because the development team understands the desired benefit, the team can offer ideas to meet the business need, shaping the final solution in unexpected and innovative ways; we’ve experienced this at my company.
These conversations, however, disappear in pressure-cooker environments where overtime is mandated and sustainable development is discarded. People and teams go into survival mode, and they won’t take the time to have the conversations required to drive innovation. In response to overtime pressure, they’ll do whatever it takes to meet what is being asked of them – in the shortest amount of time possible – and move onto the next thing.
It gets worse. Not only will you lose the potential for innovation with overtime, you’ll decrease the quality of the software as well. Programmers who are fatigued will stop thinking as deeply and carefully about their work, and in some cases will engage in corner-cutting as output becomes the focus. One study, The Impact of Overtime and Stress on Software Quality by Balaji Akula & James Cusick, discovered that there is a dramatic reduction in defects when no overtime is involved.
Scrum is Radical Management
Scrum is not a panacea. It won’t cure all of your ills, and in fact it will expose problems. I am convinced that it is a great framework for managing knowledge workers, and I’m not alone in this observation. Stephen Denning recently published a book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, in which he stated that one of his objectives was to discover workplaces “… where work is highly productive, new ideas are embraced, and jobs are deeply satisfying.” Stephen admitted surprise when he noticed that an unusually high proportion of these experiences came from software organizations.
What was their secret? These software organizations were using Scrum.
Scrum has appeal because it contends with the challenges of delivering on a software development project while creating a motivating work environment for those individuals who are performing the work. This is also why Scrum is a beacon, pointing the way to the future of managing work. Scrum is taking hold, and I feel that Scrum– or at least something like it – is bringing us into the future of managing work.