Back in February, my interview with Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of Scrum, revealed some very interesting things about the world of Scrum. This month, we are honored to have the CEO of Scrum.org, Dave West, talk to us about where Scrum is heading, how it applies to non-software domains, and how to overcome management resistance to the use of Scrum in the organization.
1. Why do you believe Scrum is the most popular framework for delivering Agile projects?
I think there are a few reasons. 1. Simplicity - Scrum is very easy to understand. 2. Community - there are so many people who know Scrum, have seen it used and can put context to its use in their situation. 3. It’s not a methodology - For complex situations it would be impossible for anyone to prescribe a complex set of practices that apply to every context. Scrum provides just enough structure to raise transparency and empower the team to build the right process for their situation.
2. One of the biggest problems with the implementation of Scrum is apathetic middle-management, even when Scrum has been sanctioned at the Executive level. Can you suggest ways for organizations to overcome this issue?
I have a lot of empathy for middle managers and the place they find themselves in. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock are their executives who want more ‘stuff’ cheaper and of a higher quality. They believe that agile will do that without necessarily changing any of the things that are the problem. The hard place are the teams who want to be more agile, but don’t want to be more disciplined or transparent. And the middle managers are expected to support this change without any support. So, of course they focus on the practices that they have always used in times of stress. More control, less transparency and lots of individual accountability. We need to break this cycle and that requires managers to:
- Be educated in understanding what the change means to them, their boss and to the teams they manage. They have a key role in creating an environment that enables Scrum to spread. Some agile change leaders say the only way for agile to succeed is to ‘fire’ all the middle managers. Instead I think they need to become a key driver for the change. And education is the start for that change, but in the context of their value.
- Look at changing the way the teams align to the work. For many agile situations that means aligning the teams to customers and products. By shaping the teams in response, not to specialist skills, but outcomes you can increase focus and improve understanding.
- Empower ‘Product Owners’ who can make decisions. For many organizations there are many decision makers which slows down delivery and builds ‘compromised’ solutions.
- Support ‘Scrum Masters’ to ensure transparency and help remove impediments. Scrum Masters support teams and teams of teams, the agile manager needs to provide the glue to support those Scrum Masters as they enable change at the team, team of team or organizational level.
- Use an agile approach to support the change to agile. It would be silly to think that agile can adopted in a waterfall manner, but for many organizations Because adopting agile is complex they should apply use an agile approach to increase transparency and drive the change.
- Adopt measures that are based on direct rather than circumstantial evidence. For example, instead of looking at velocity, focus on total time for resolve an issue or the innovation rate. By putting a dashboard up that has real business meaning and focusing on improving those numbers with agile, everyone is pulling in the same direction.
3. We all know Scrum is very well suited to IT and software development. How about non-tech domain such as construction and education? How can Scrum be applied to these and other non-tech domains?
You are right that Scrum was created in response to the complexity of software projects. But it can and is being applied to numerous situations that are outside of the software domain. For example they are applying Scrum in Ghana to help reshape how their Police Force deliver value to their citizens. In Holland Scrum is being used in education. It is also used in numerous engineering contexts building cars, jet fighters or even robotic vacuum cleaners. There are two elements that all of these situations have in common. Firstly, there is a team. Sometimes that team is not very functional, or even thinks it is a team. Scrum brings people together and helps team form. The second element is the complexity of the situation. Complex situations require an empirical approach which Scrum provides. Scrum provides a simple framework for progress through transparency ensuring that the team has a clear goal and a mechanism to review that goal on a regular basis.
4. Many of the benefits of Scrum are associated with reduced time to market which increases profits. How do you view the benefits of Scrum in the not-for-profit sector that isn't financially driven?
Value - Profit is one form of value, but it is not the only form of value. Scrum is a value based approach where the Product Backlog is ordered in terms of value. Of course the Product Owner is empowered to make the call on value, but the Sprint Review is focused on reviewing the increment in the context of value. Non-profits, like any organization should have a clear definition of value. Scrum then delivers it in an increasingly effective way. One of the major benefits of using Scrum in the context of a non-profit is that it gets everyone on the same page as to what value is and how each Sprint is incrementally delivering towards that goal.
5. What are the biggest flaws in the Scrum framework?
The biggest flaw in Scrum is it biggest strength. Simplicity. It is quick to understand, but that does not mean that it is easy to use. When people find using Scrum hard they often give up. They decide, in my opinion incorrectly that Scrum is too simple and does not work. They then look to other things that are more complex to solve their problems. Scrum is a bit like losing weight. The actual principles of losing weight are simple, food in vs energy used. But losing weight is hard because there are so many things that stop you eating correctly and exercising enough. Also losing weight, like adopting Scrum can be much harder in certain situations. How many times have you given up on a diet because it ‘does not work’ when actually the problem is nothing to do with the diet, but instead the situation you are applying it.
6. In my Q&A with Ken Schwaber, I asked him should the Scrum Master role be renamed Scrum Coach to adhere more to a servant-leader model. He thought that would be a bad idea. Can you share your thoughts on this matter?
One of the great things about Scrum is the simplicity of the role names. The Product Owner owns the product, the outcomes you are seeking. The Development Team member is part of a team responsible for developing the solution. The Scrum Master is responsible for helping the team ‘DO’ Scrum. Now, doing Scrum is hard because Scrum is being executed in the context of the environment that might be very anti-Scrum. That means that the Scrum Master has to deal with lots of challenges to help the team ‘DO’ Scrum. The expectations of the role are clear. Coaching is one ‘stance’ of the role, but so is facilitator, trainer, mentor, manager, impediment remover, etc. Barry Overveem wrote a fantastic white paper on the 8 stances of the Scrum Master which can be found here. Of course many coaches do more than coach the team, but by having a clear role that is outcome focused you encourage the Scrum Master to use any stance that is required for the team to Master Scrum.
7. What do you enjoy most about assisting organizations transition and succeed with Scrum?
There are 2 things I get out of helping organizations more to Scrum. Firstly I get to see them deliver more stuff that is of value. We live in a world of opportunity, where almost anything is possible (think flying cars, a cure for cancer or free energy). If I can help organizations realize just a little bit more potential, the world is a better place and amazing things will happen. Secondly I love to see happy, excited, motivated teams. Seeing people excited to come into work and solve hard problems is a great experience and I am VERY grateful that I get to do it every day.
8. Where do you see Scrum 5 years from now?
Unless something really odd happens (and touch wood it will not), the world is only getting more complex. That complexity will require teams of people to deliver value in more and more agile ways. Scrum I hope is at the heart of each of those teams. In five years I expect to see Scrum surrounded with more and more amazing practices and technology. These practices help Scrum Teams deliver more and more value. I hope that I am part of the community that is helping people understand and apply Scrum; A community that is building bridges to other communities to apply their ideas on top of Scrum; A community that is more professional and lives the values of Scrum every day.
To quote Ken Schwaber: "the first 20 years of Scrum was just the warm up".
Based on the principles of Scrum and the Agile Manifesto, Scrum.org provides comprehensive training, assessments and certifications to Scrum professionals. Throughout the world, their solutions and community of Professional Scrum Trainers empower people and organizations to achieve agility through Scrum.