Scrum is a team performance framework by Jeff Sutherland – a new way of thinking and working – that delivers more results, at higher quality, and at lower cost. When well-implemented, teams can see productivity improvements of up to 800%. Although it has its origins in software development, Scrum has since been proven to transform team results in various domains. In this summary, we’ll explain what is Scrum, and how you can use it to improve team performance, transform how you think and work to achieve flow and your higher purpose.
Scrum was created by author Jeff Sutherland with Ken Schwaber in 1993. At that point, it was a drastic change from the typical top-down project management approach. Since then, it has become the default way that tech companies (including Google, Amazon and Facebook) use to create software and products. It has also been adopted successfully in non-tech industries, education, the government etc. The book covers the history and origins of Scrum, an overview of how Scrum works, and why you should use it to revolutionize your business.
THE WAY WE DO THINGS DON’T WORK
Sutherland shared details of his professional journey, observations and how he challenged conventional ways of doing things, resulting in Scrum as we know it today. Some of the highlights include:
• How he survived as a reconnaissance fighter pilot in Vietnam;
• How he took his own L2 company (as a cadet at West Point in 1963) from being the lowest performing to the highest performing;
• How his study of cancer cells (when pursuing a doctoral degree in Biometrics) helped him to understanding people and organizations as complex systems; and
• How the FBI almost failed twice to modernize their systems in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and how Scrum turned around the Sentinel project to successful completion.
Why Scrum Works
If our old and current ways of doing things don’t work, what makes Scrum different? We’ve organized the key principles and ideas behind Scrum into 4 parts.
Planning and Priorities
The traditional project management approach typically involves the “waterfall method”, which takes lots of time and resources for planning, and is ineffective since things never go according to plan anyway. Scrum, on the other hand, is built on the concepts of (a) reviewing and adapting from an initial plan, (b) learning and flowing (rather than controlling), (c) focusing on value (not processes and norms), and (d) using the 80-20 rule to get the most results from the least inputs.
In any organization, teams are what drive results. Hence, Scrum focuses on improving team (not individual) performance, by incorporating these team ingredients into the Scrum process: cross-functionality, autonomy, transcendence, fixing systems (not people), and using small teams (of 3-9 people).
Time is the ultimate limited resource, and the true determinant of how much we can accomplish. Scrum is built on some of these key principles: Doing one thing at a time, minimizing work-in-Progress (WIP), doing things right the first time, facilitate small improvements, measuring output (not hours worked), and removing impediments to Flow. These principles may seem common-sensical – the key value of Scrum is having an approach that puts these ideas to use, via a work rhythm.
Growth and Happiness
People who are happier generally perform better. To nurture a happy, productive and self-motivated team, the Scrum approach also addresses how to quantify happiness and growth, focus on small, ongoing improvements, and build trust and transparency.
In the book, Sutherland breaks down the Scrum process, using detailed examples and illustrations. Here’s an overview of the key processes or components.
STEP 1 : FILL THE 3 MAIN ROLES
Product Owners (POs)
Product Owners (POs) decide what should be done, including your product vision and what you’re going to do/ make/ accomplish:
• A product that delivers real value is one that the team is passionate about, can deliver and can sell. The PO is responsible for consulting with the various stakeholders and the team to define the product vision (read more about the product vision in the book or our full summary):
• The PO also identifies the masterlist of things to be done, in order of priority (the Product Backlog).
• The PO sets out what needs to be done and why, and leads by persuasion, not coercion. The PO leaves it to the team to decide how and who to deliver the work.
• To fulfill these roles, the PO must (a) be knowledgeable about the domain, (b) be empowered to make decisions about the product vision and what must be done to fulfill it, (c) be available to the team, and (d) be accountable for value (and typically by extension, revenue).
Scrum Master (SM)
The Scrum Master (SM) helps the team to figure out how to do the work better. The SM focuses on how fast the team is moving and how to move even faster. He/she coaches the rest of the team through the Scrum framework, and helps to remove all impediments that slows the team down.
The Team comprises people actually doing the work. They must have all the skills to bring the PO’s vision to life, and the team should be kept small (with ideally 3-9 people).
In our full book summary, we’ve broken down the remaining steps and what to look out for. Here are some highlights:
• Have a “Definition of Done” for each to-do item, so you know what must be created, and how you know when it is done;
• Identify which items bring most value, and do those first;
• Rather than wait till your product is complete, chunk down the process – Once you have something of value, show it to the customers, so you can get their feedback and start refining your plans. For instance, chunk down projects into actionable items that can be done in regular, short periods of 1-4 weeks (called “Sprints”). Go for small wins & demos – at the end of each Sprint, the goal is to have something that’s completed, and can be used/ demonstrated.
• Streamline your work rhythms and processes so your team can be effective. For example, do away with long project meetings. Instead, everyone in the team gets together only once a day, meet for up to 15 minutes (Daily Scrum), to check in on their progress, identify what can be improved, and do it.
Sutherland believes that in a perfect world, human capability could flow effortlessly and intuitively to create the greatest possible value, and there would be no need for processes, even Scrum. Given our imperfect world the least we can do is to have the discipline to religiously minimize waste and remove obstacles to flow.
Other Details in Scrum
This is an easy-to-read book written in a lively, story-telling format. Sutherland shares many of his personal experiences and observations in vivid detail, illustrating how Scrum brought breakthrough results in warfare, business, education and in addressing social issues like poverty.
There are also detailed examples of how Scrum philosophies are used in companies like Toyota, Zappos and Valve – a video-game company that truly epitomizes Scrum at work. Valve generates revenues of hundreds of millions per annum, without management or reporting structure, fixed processes, and its projects are started and self-organize at all levels of the company.
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