Scrum Is Transformational

Scrum Is Transformational

This rare manual offers techniques that can effectively, positively influence how you work and live…not to mention how you manage projects.

Jeff Sutherland started thinking systematically as a Vietnam fighter pilot. Ever since, he has looked for ways to do things better in software development, and across all fields. His co-author and son, J.J. Sutherland, is a war correspondent and writer, so it’s no surprise that they draw heavily on military metaphors throughout their lively manual on the agile project management method Scrum. This entertaining, engaging how-to guidebook uses vibrant examples and eye-popping statistics to provide compelling reasons for adopting Scrum. With clearly worded instructions, the authors explain Scrum as used across industries, professions and geographies.

Scrum involves quick “Sprints” of project development, followed by customer reviews and subsequent revisions. The Sutherlands explain that it avoids the kind of extensive up-front planning that can lead either to cost and time overruns or to complete failure. Scrum aligns how people and teams work. It assumes that things seldom go according to plan. By avoiding start-to-finish plans, Scrum allows for inspiration and creativity.

A Shared Narrative.

Scrum asks you to frame projects as stories because people think and gain inspiration through narratives. The Sutherlands advise making the protagonist of your story the person the project will help. Explain why the protagonist wants the product and how it will help its users. Build as many sub-stories as you have Sprints.

People think in narratives, in stories. That’s how we understand the world. We have an intimate grasp of characters, desires and motivations.Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

Use the “INVEST” test to determine the readiness of each story. It should be independent (stand-alone), negotiable (flexible and adjustable), valuable (delivers what the customer wants), estimable, small (or break it into more stories) and testable (measurable). Measure how fast you complete each story, and improve your speed continuously. In that way, each story becomes a Sprint.

Scrum Emphasizes Teams.

Everything worthwhile in organizations happens in teams. Yet companies tend to celebrate and reward individuals. Rather than work around people’s individual characteristics, Scrum acknowledges that each worker behaves according to his or her systems and surroundings. Depending on circumstances, the authors warn, just about anyone’s behavior can range from war criminal to saint and everything in between. Scrum organizes people, even difficult people, to succeed in teams.

Construct cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams of seven people with complementary skills to work toward a shared purpose. As stated in “Brooks’ Law,” software engineer Fred Brooks found that bigger teams require more coordination and add too much complexity and communication demand for the human brain to handle. The more people you add, the slower work becomes.

Teams are what make the world go ’round. And they’re what Scrum is based on.Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

Team members should determine together how they will work. Put the specialists you need to complete the project on the same team. Avoid handoffs from one team of specialists to another.

Scrum Saves Time.

Strong Scrum teams accomplish things quickly. Scrum forces you to prioritize your work by shunning multitasking and aiming for the intersection where you have the capacity to build your product, sell it and feel passionate about it. List everything you want it to deliver and then rank items by their expected return on investment. Realize, as the Sutherlands assert, that fully “80% of the value lies in 20% percent of the features.” That means you want to accomplish the 20% first.

Question whether there are any ways to improve how you’re doing what you’re doing, any ways of doing it better and faster, and what might be keeping you from doing that. Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

Reduce distractions to nurture the in-depth attentiveness that leads to “flow” – a mental, emotional and psychological state in which your work becomes effortless and joyful and your productivity soars. The Sutherlands teach that working less is more productive and will almost certainly enhance your output, measured in results not hours.

Scrum Builds Trust.

When climbers reach the top of Mount Everest, their elation evaporates as they realize their journey has ended. They speak of the struggles and hardships, not the glory of arriving at the summit. Striving brings happiness, and Scrum captures that feeling by making the project journey challenging but happy.

And, as the Sutherlands illustrate, Scrum delivers the universal drivers of happiness – “mastery, autonomy, purpose and transparency.” With a few simple questions about how each person feels about his or her job and the company, “Scrum Masters” can gauge happiness  – and, thus, productivity – and take action to fix cause of unhappiness. 

The Sutherlands emphasize that Scrum uses transparency to build trust and commitment. Use a “Scrum Board” to post project features, pending jobs, tasks underway and completed tasks. Focusing on team performance, not individual achievement, keeps members accountable and helps those who need it. Connect employees across boundaries, promote from within and invest in employee development. Offer regular, frank feedback and have zero tolerance for jerks.

The Scrum Process Is Simple

Do just enough planning to get a project started; never plan the whole thing up front. Identify the essential things you must do, and then prioritize them. When you build your list of every task in the project, include the estimates of the time each task will take. Prioritize the sequence of Sprints that will get everything done. After that, say the Sutherlands, use your Scrum Board to list each task, jobs in progress and completed tasks. Scrum – hold a 15-minute meeting – daily at the same time to discuss what moved the Sprint forward yesterday, what will move it forward today and what obstacles stand in the way.

The Scrum Master in charge of the Sprint leads team members in solving obstacles immediately. Scrum Sprints focus team members on completing their project in short spurts. Each Sprint addresses a specific functionality, and the team does nothing else until that functionally is done. This cycle normally occurs every one to four weeks.

Scrum is based on a simple idea: whenever you start a project, why not regularly check in, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction and if it’s actually what people want?Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

At the end of each Sprint, the authors advise, demonstrate the completed results and get feedback. Have the team discuss what went well, what didn’t and what they should improve in the next Sprint.

Scrum Started in Software 

As a fighter pilot in Vietnam, Jeff Sutherland devised a system to survive missions into enemy territory. After the military, he earned a master’s in statistics and a PhD in biometrics before entering the computer industry. He went on to lead projects involving the development of software for early ATMs. Experiencing the  shortcomings of the Waterfall project management method led him to create several of the project management components that became Scrum.

Scrum. The term comes from the game of rugby, and refers to the way a team works together to move the ball down the field.Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland

Sutherland came across a 1986 Harvard Business Review article by professors Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. They described a revolutionary approach to product development and compared it to a rugby scrum. Toyota – and only Toyota – had adopted the process. Sutherland adopted it with great success. He then began evangelizing for it. This book is his ultimate pulpit.

Though Scrum now dominates software development, the Sutherlands find that it works for any “human effort” – the harder the problem, the better. Whether changing how kids learn in the Netherlands, fighting poverty in Uganda or improving dysfunctional governments worldwide, Scrum breaks through persistent obstacles.

Despite the swagger, this manual is important

The Sutherlands may swagger, but they solidly demonstrate how implementing and advocating Scrum can make a substantial difference to your team, company and organizational life. That said, the book has some lapses. Sutherland senior seems to take credit for inventing Scrum, though he acknowledges that he also drew from other sources. The authors stumble into male gender-biased attitudes, particularly in a passage about women studying chemistry. Though this helpful guidebook book may be somewhat self-congratulatory, you’ll find a lot to like. Without its flaws, it would gain even more importance as one of the rare instruction books that could change your life.

For more on Scrum, see The Scrum Fieldbook by J.J. Sutherland, or for an overview of agile strategies, consider Michael Lopp’s Small Things, Done Well and Lean Vs. Agile Vs. Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf.

Share this Story
Show all Reviews