Scrum beyond Software

December 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Scrum and agile | 1 Comment

Scrum is one of the most popular agile software development methods. It has some important concepts that can be useful even for other business organizations dealing in a wide variety of products or services. Some of the distinguishing features of Scrum are,

1) Continuous improvement of product features and / or quality through short jumps from one stable state to another

2) Clear-cut division of responsibilities between product management, product team and the team leadership

3) Importance of self-organization for the team which enables it to quickly respond to changes as also brings out full potential of its members

4) High level of visibility & transparency of operations which does away with need for elaborate measurements and control mechanisms

5) A light weight process with a handful of mandatory rules which appear non-intuitive at first but are very essential for success

Let us see why these basic concepts could have general applicability to a wide variety of business situations. But before we do this, it is important to mention that modern software development involves change for the better to either the features or quality of the software product when it is already in use. So it primarily addresses effective management of improvements to an existing stable product in use, though Scrum can be used to start a completely new product as well. Second, modern business software has to successfully work in rapidly changing market conditions and it can’t wait to start delivering till everything needed from it is known in advance. This requires an empirical rather than a rigorous approach. The rapidly changing market dynamics is relevant not only to software development but to most of the business operations.

Now let us see importance of each of the above concepts in this context.

1) Many improvement initiatives take too long to see light of the day because we want to be sure that every possible situation is covered before we offer it for use, even for trial use by a small group. Instead of trying to grab everything, it would certainly make sense to start small, choose a few features or few aspects of important features and deliver them to get a quick feedback.

2) It is also important to choose these features carefully and set the right expectations to all concerned so that they are prepared to wait for the short duration when it is in an unstable state and also to make sure that we quickly get it back to the next stable state so that those using it are not adversely affected. This calls for a clear prioritization of what comes next and it must be acceptable to all concerned. As Scrum suggests, it is good have a single person owning the product; similarly it would be good to have a single person named as owner of the improvement initiative who has both the accountability for success and the required authority without undue interference. Secondly, the team involved in the initiative should have a say in how much work it can do for a given increment and not be forced or pressurized to accept what they would not feel comfortable to commit to. Lastly, since the responsibilities for managing the product and those for managing the execution are clearly identified, it helps the team manager to shift into a facilitator role (a servant-leader as per Scrum) rather than using a command & control approach. This can be quite challenging for a person not used to it.

3) Too much time and efforts are spend by the managers in planning & execution details and allocating & closely monitoring the work of the team members, in the mistaken belief that the manager knows best. This hardly uses the immense human potential and diverse set of skills & talents the members bring to the table. Scrum has found helpful the approach of self-organization for the team where the members do all the planning & execution It is helpful both for the team productivity and moral. There is no reason why it can’t be tried in other business scenarios as well.

4) Scrum encourages high level of visibility & transparency to the operations. Everybody concerned has access to what is taken up for each increment and even for the exact state of each task on a daily basis. Team focuses on what is still remaining to be done and how long it will take rather than being busy with collecting lots of data about what has already happened and in any case is too late to change.

5) Clarity, focus, trust and commitment help the progress and there is little need for elaborate processes and control mechanisms. Scrum relies on a very light weight process which just focuses on the essentials needed for success. But it insists on the few “rules of the game” as it calls them. Many of them appear counter-intuitive at first glance especially for those who come from a different culture but if we use them faithfully, the benefits are soon apparent.

To summarize, there is a strong case for trying the Scrum concepts in other business contexts since there is a lot in common as regards the environment. In any case, if the leaders at all level from the software industry use a different approach for software development and a very different approach for all other business activities, there is a danger of their developing split personalities  🙂

Have a look and try out where possible to see if this makes sense. It would be interesting to know what worked and what did not, so please share your experiences.

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  1. […] Scrum beyond Software « Prabhakar Karve's weblog December 5th, 2011 admin Leave a comment Go to comments December 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment […]


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