In this digital world, disruptions happen very fast. Today you can create a taxi service without owning a single taxi or a driver (see Uber, valued at $70 billion) or create a hotel business using the homes of ordinary people (see Airbnb, valued at $31 billion).
All of this happened in less than five years from start to finish. Is your business ready for a similar transformation, or will it face a bumpy ride in the near future?
Scrum, a type of Agile framework that originated in the software and IT industry more than a decade ago, has been gaining momentum in creating innovation and facilitating disruptions. An article was written by Steve Dunning for Forbes details how a 100-mpg car was developed from scratch in three months by applying Agile to manufacturing.
I have firsthand experience applying Scrum and Agile to software projects in several Fortune 100 companies throughout the U.S. The challenging question that remains fully unanswered is: How much of Scrum is fact, and how much of it is folklore? How much is the true benefit to companies, and how much of it is just hype around Scrum and Agile?
What Is Scrum And Why Use It?
I just recently visited a client of mine. With a manager I was talking to, I used the word “Scrum.” To my astonishment, he asked me, “What is Scrum? Is it Agile?” Well, as I told him, it is an Agile framework to build software quickly and provide customer value. I have seen that too often, software development work gets lost in the design and development phases, and the end result is not as fast as expected. This leads to cost overruns, and sometimes, startup companies die before they ever see their product hit the marketplace.
By applying Scrum, these companies can execute quickly on deliverables in incremental phases, which provide customers business value faster. By quickly creating a minimum viable product (or MVP, as it’s known in the lean startup world), they avoid launching a more expensive, fluffier product with unused features.
Using Scrum, this can happen is as little as two weeks. You can create a system of “sprints,” or weekly or bi-weekly cycles/iterations of software development. Each sprint starts with finalizing what has to be achieved in the given cycle in a planning meeting from product backlog items. Then, you inspect and adapt daily, tracking progress on a burn-down/burn-up chart. In the end, the team reflects on what they learned and uses that to improve the process for the next sprint. Some of the benefits of this system that I have seen are to deliver more business value, meet deadlines, build quality, conduct daily checks, and overall, have better focus, speed, and visibility of outcomes.
Scrum removes the bureaucracy built into the modern enterprise and gives a level playing field to developers who are actually building the system and have knowledge of what it takes to get things done. Leading management guru Michael Porter also discussed the principle of delivering maximum “business value” to the customer in the shortest possible timeframe.
Key Challenges With Implementing Scrum
The companies that have benefitted from this system are many. I have helped my clients deploy releases in as little as two months as compared to six-to-nine months earlier. It’s worth noting that four deploys per day are common with respect to companies like Etsy, which reports deploying 80 times per day, or to companies like Amazon and Netflix, which deploy thousands of times per day. Spotify has also been successful in applying Agile to speed up their development process and release faster using the ‘T-shaped skills’ of its team members. In the Harvard Business Review, Jeff Sutherland et. al. also talk about John Deere, Saab, NPR, GE and many other examples of companies that have benefited from Agile adoption.
The biggest challenge I’ve seen is that teams and managers do not like change. There’s often a lack of leadership support, as leaders are highly driven by deadlines and budgetary constraints that end up pushing their agenda on self-organizing and self-empowered teams, thereby creating product issues. Also, I have seen companies that want to get all the benefits of Scrum but are not willing to adopt Scrum fully. As a result, they have “Scrum and” and “Scrum but” kinds of situations.
Finally, I’ve also seen issues when I help clients “scale” Scrum across the length and breadth of the enterprise, especially across dependent teams with different environments and different cultures. As a result, development, and operations teams do not sync up in their requirements. Another example is from last spring when a client kept asking for metrics to measure success so that they could communicate them to their leadership. But in a true “learning organization,” as defined by Peter Senge, we must be open to learning from everyone — not just leadership.
What Lies Ahead
The road ahead for Scrum seems to me like a mixed bag. While I do certainly see both tangible and intangible benefits in applying Scrum, not all projects benefit from it, especially projects in compliance, infrastructure, security, enterprise software, etc. The good news is that the 2015 State of Scrum Report found that 95% of the 4,452 people surveyed confirmed they will continue using Scrum in the future. In particular, I still see a strong business case for applying Scrum in companies that have not yet started their journeys.