Updated: Sep 3, 2019
A Blog Post for Busy Managers
I put together the "in my lifetime" video because I'm passionate about how Agile and Scrum can help teams collaborate, empower and innovate. I've been working in IT delivering projects for almost thirty years now and after working "the other way" and then transitioning to "Agile" seven years ago, I can't ever see myself going back.
For me, I immediately saw how Agile and Scrum in particular would solve so many problems that I encountered with every project and every client. But a lot of managers are still unclear as to what "Agile" is, what it isn't and the exact benefits that it can deliver when it's applied with commitment and courage.
This article is an attempt to explain concisely why you as a manager or leader should be using Scrum to get more out of your teams.
The Benefits of Scrum
1. Incremental Delivery
Scrum Teams deliver work in short increments of between one week and one month because all the data points to the fact that small projects are more successful than big projects so why not split big projects into small ones. In addition incremental delivery allows you to establish a feedback loop with your customers and stakeholders. This gives you validated learning and allows timely re-prioritisation or course correction as well as giving you a realistic measurement of progress towards business goals based on what you have actually delivered rather than what requirements gathering, design and/or development tasks you have completed. This all comes from the understanding that you only really know how long a complex task is going to take once you have actually completed it.
Agile development means moving away from "big bang" projects but as a manager an iterative approach should give you confidence that you are delivering what the customer actually wants (because of the feedback loops) and that you're on track (because you know precisely how much working software has been done already).
2. Value Based Prioritisation
Scrum teams approach work in a completely different way to traditional teams. By always being focused on delivering "business value" Scrum teams integrate design, development and testing phases into a single Sprint. This can be frustrating to those used to working in a more traditional way but as the pace of change in technology increases, long design phases are no longer the way the world works!
Scrum teams prioritise the most valuable and high risk work first because Scrum teams deliver high value features, expose risk and resolve uncertainty early on in a project.
Sometimes, prioritising high risk work leads to a discovery that causes the project to be cancelled or scaled back. This is not always a bad thing. Failing fast is a very Agile concept and if you are uncomfortable with the thought of failure being made "acceptable" perhaps consider that a proportion of initiatives are always going to fail... would you rather a project failed after you had invested £5,000 into it or after you had invested £500,000 into it. By failing fast you are able to utilise the scarce resource that you have (your development team) where they can actually deliver the most value.
Scrum teams have a strong, shared vision for the product they are delivering because teams that really understand the business objectives are more able to contribute in a creative way in delivering what the business actually needs
As a manager you should be aware that Agile teams focus on collaboration rather than contract negotiation, but that doesn't mean that they work without any kind of contract or agreement with the customer. Rather it is a recognition that as you're in an infinite game it's not a winning strategy to deliver what the customer asked for rather than what the customer actually wants or needs. Agile frameworks are fundamentally structured to discover what customers actually want by establishing frequent feedback loops, with stakeholders inspecting done software and providing timely and constructive feedback.
Scrum teams self-organise not because it's trendy or because Scrum says so but because teams that are responsible for making their own decisions have higher job satisfaction, are more creative, are more accountable and more likely to resolve issues and problems as they arise
As a manager self-organisation is often your biggest challenge. How much do you allow your teams to self-organise? What should you do as a manager when your team fail (and they will)? What are you supposed to do with all your time if you aren't constantly telling people what to do and how to do it? This transition from management to leadership is possibly this hardest part of an Agile transformation for those in management positions. But in reality this should be a tremendous opportunity to free up time and work on the really important stuff!
5. Time Boxing
Scrum Teams time-box *everything* to encourage the team to focus on delivering a quality product that does what the client wants without unnecessary features or complexity
Teams often succumb to the temptation to "gold plate" and add unrequested features without costing up the effort required to test, deploy and maintain these features. By delivering just what the customer wants and focusing on delivering a high quality product, Scrum teams should be able to deliver more of what's valuable to the customer. As a manager you should see the business value that your teams deliver rapidly increase, not by magic but because your teams are utilising a framework that guides them to only work on what the customers really, really wants.
6. Inspect & Adapt
Scrum teams build a culture of trust, openness and transparency and use that to constantly inspect and adapt the product, the team processes and how the team interacts with the wider organisation.
For many Scrum teams this can be uncomfortable because change is the new normal. There is no longer any fixed Best Practice. Processes can change and should be discarded if they are not useful. For a manager this can present new challenges because they might ultimately be asked to remove organisational impediments.
Scrum is constant change.
But in today's fast paced world, where the pace of change is only going to increase moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset where change is accepted and even embraced is fundamental to long-term success.
If you're serious about maximising the value that your existing teams deliver then Scrum is a simple framework to help them deliver more business value faster. It's not easy because it requires change and people don't really like change but the rewards for your organisation can be immense.
If you'd like to know more about Scrum or what's required to be successful with Scrum then contact me to find out more!