Why the Scrum Method has Broad Appeal

According to the latest State of Agile Survey,conducted by VersionOne, Scrum is used by 58 percent of Agile teams, up from 50 percent, the number reported in 2009. Scrum adoption clearly has momentum, but what is the big attraction, and is it something we should consider for the future?

I believe that that part of Scrum?s appeal is that it is easy to buy into and adopt because it is simple to understand. This simplicity along with an abundance of press and support gets Scrum through the door in many organizations. But there needs to be more to the story to support why Scrum is sticking. And there is. This article explores my take on why Scrum?s adoption is increasing.

I?ll begin with the end in mind?

The Future State

Imagine a world (well, a working world, anyway) where you are on a software development team. A world where you and your team have the complete trust, respect, and support to work as an autonomous team ? making all of the day-to-day decisions about how to perform your work for yourselves. Management doesn?t interfere with you or your team; it operates as a coach and servant, providing your team with guidance and support to overcome obstacles and get the job done.

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In this world you and your team are more than just aligned with the business, you?re connected to it. Your team delivers working software in very short intervals measured in weeks, not months. In addition, this working software demonstrates actual features (not horizontal, architectural layers), providing a natural unit of work that your users can understand and relate to. This, along with the constant interaction between the team and the business users has created a strong bond between the team and the users.

It?s a demanding, competitive world, but you and your team remain on the top of your game because the development pace is sustainable, allowing individuals to develop and grow. The inessential bureaucratic overhead has been stripped away, retaining only what is truly necessary to manage and coordinate the delivery of a continual stream of high-quality software without the risk of burnout.

The work environment has an informal feel to it, with white boards, index cards, and sticky-notes, but this only masks the focus and discipline that lies just beneath the surface. There is a deep understanding of what it takes to deliver quality software on your team, which is staffed with committed professionals who are constantly striving to learn new techniques and practices. Because of all of this, your work is genuinely rewarding to you.

Is this a pipe dream? It doesn?t have to be. This is precisely what Scrum can help to deliver. But nothing is for free. It?s a little like flying these days; there are some fees to pay if you want to arrive at your destination with your entire luggage.

Scrum is Not ?

Let?s take off the rose-colored glasses. Scrum is not is a ?flavor of the month? management fad. Too often, managers hear something like, ?we can double our productivity,? but don?t ask what it will take to achieve such a dramatic increase.?

Being agile is harder than declaring agility. For example, people can become certified ScrumMasters or Product Owners and you can check things off as being ?done? from an educational standpoint, but your execution may be far from agile. In the Scrum world, this can manifest itself as being a ScrumBut. ?We do Scrum, but we don?t have a Product Owner?? Or, ?We do Scrum, but we don?t hold daily stand-ups?? Or more generally stated: ?We do Scrum, but? we don?t perform a key activity required to make Scrum work.? Developing true agility will take work and it will involve change.

Scrum won?t fix all of your problems, either. In fact, Scrum will surface heretofore hidden problems within your organization that will need to be addressed. For example, with Scrum, teamwork becomes paramount, and if you have people that cannot and will not play well with others, Scrum won?t fix this problem for you. Management needs to step in and correct the problem. And it doesn?t end there. As Scrum adoption increases in your organization, the need for other organization change in other departments that interact with your Scrum teams will surface.

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.

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