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How do you familiarize yourself with Scrum and agility?

Let's assume you have no idea about Scrum and agility. But you notice time and again that your (consulting) clients are interested in these topics. Who are the players, which books are important? In this article, I will try to give you an overview.

What is Scrum?

There is a version in German language of this article: Wie liest man sich in Scrum und Agilität ein?, erschienen am 05.12.2022, abrufbar unter: https://www.teamworkblog.de/2022/12/wie-liest-man-sich-in-scrum-und.html 

Scrum is a working framework for solving complex problems. Developing software is an example of a complex problem. With complex problems, there are no linear relationships and the overall system is constantly changing. The Scrum Guide is the official document by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-creators of Scrum. The Scrum Guide explains the values, the theoretical background, responsibilities, events and the Scrum artifacts.

  • Values: How we treat each other is important. The Scrum Guide propagates values such as respect, openness, courage, focus and commitment to the team.
  • Empirical work: Scrum teams make their work transparent. They constantly inspect something and adapt something as a result.
  • Responsibilities:  
    • The Product Owner is something like a chief designer for the product. This person must be measured by the success of the product. The product owner takes care of the stakeholders. The most important stakeholders are the (future) users. 
    • The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the Scrum team works productively. 
    • The Developers are the actual experts who help each other and are jointly responsible for delivery.
  • Events: Scrum teams deliberately set themselves a rhythm. In this way, they force themselves to constantly adapt their planning to reality. 
    • Each Sprint begins with (Sprint) Planning and ends with a (Sprint) Review of the results. 
    • After the review, the Scrum team takes time to work on delivery capability. This is what the Sprint Retrospective is for. 
    • Every day, the developers meet in the Daily Scrum to recommit to the sprint goal.
  • Artifacts: 
    • In Scrum, there is a list in which all the ideas that we want to have in the final result are collected, sorted and refined. This is the Product Backlog. There is a clearly formulated product goal for the product. 
    • In Sprint Planning, the Scrum team creates a concrete work plan for a sprint. This is the Sprint Backlog. A sprint goal is agreed for each sprint. Achieving this goal is even more important than implementing the individual, selected items from the product backlog. 
    • A product is created in every sprint - even in the first one. It grows from sprint to sprint. This Increment is jointly assessed in the sprint review to organize the further course of the work.

The most important organizations are the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, Scrum Inc. and scrum.org. Since Scrum has been approved, anyone can certify Scrum.

Mind map about Scrum and Agility

Why do we do Scrum?

Many ideas have been incorporated into Scrum. Examples:
  • As fragmented work greatly delays the delivery of results, Scrum calls for a team approach in which everyone involved can devote as much time as possible to working together.
  • As teams that synchronize daily solve problems faster, there is a Daily Scrum.
  • As customers love good products and pay a fair price for them, we have adopted the idea of the chief designer from the early days of mechanical engineering and aircraft construction into the PO role.
  • As the delivery process rarely runs smoothly at the beginning, we have adopted the concept of continuous improvement in the role of Scrum Master and Daily Scrum. The concepts come from scientific management, industrial engineering and work at Toyota.
  • As we don't know at the beginning what a good product and what good processes are, learning plays a major role in Scrum.

Scrum is therefore not just another project or product management method. In Scrum, we continuously work on the obstacles that prevent organizations from delivering results.

How was Scrum created?

The first Scrum team was put together in 1993. In 1995, Scrum was presented at the OOPSLA conference in Austin (link to conference paper).

Jeff Sutherland has summarized the development of Scrum in a book: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, https://www.scruminc.com/new-scrum-the-book/ 

Ken Schwaber has written about the founding of scrum.org: The Genesis of the scrum.org 

Jeff Sutherland has written something about the origins in the Scrum Inc blog:

The article by Takeuchi and Nonaka "The New New Product Development Game" is also an important basis. (The concepts of how organizations learn were later described in more detail in the book "The Knowledge-creating Company"). In this article there is the heading "Moving the Scrum downfield". This is where the name of this way of working comes from. 

The foundations for the ideas in Scrum and for agile working were already laid at the end of the 19th century. There is an interesting history of ideas.

What does agility mean?

The co-creators of Scrum and other practitioners from the field of IT projects in large companies met in 2001 to develop some kind of handbook for IT projects. As they all came from different domains, they were unable to agree on a common approach. However, it was easy for them to formulate requirements for good collaboration. This resulted in the Agile Manifesto (for software development) with its 12 principles. The participants had decided on the term agility because they were familiar with the book "Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations".

What are the movements in agility and Scrum?

The "State of Agile" report from Version One (now digital.ai) lists the agile working methods used in the industry. In the 15th edition, two thirds of the companies surveyed use Scrum, a further 15% use a combination of Scrum with Kanban or something else. 6% use Kanban.

I see the following groups of practitioners:

  • Many Scrum users come from software development and IT. There is also an active community that favors Kanban. Large US companies in particular, such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, have been very successful with Scrum.
  • Then there are people who have found a connection to Scrum through project management. There is an agile version of PRINCE2 and the PMI promotes Disciplined Agile Delivery as an agile way of working.
  • There are also consultants and coaches who have expanded their coaching services to include agile coaching. Lyssa Adkins has made a name for herself in agile coaching.
  • Agile working is also changing organizations and their structures. There are organizational consultants who represent topics such as New Work, Teal Organizations, Management 3.0 or Liberated Companies.

The lean people are also doing good work. But the lean and agile communities haven't really come together yet, even though we have common roots. (But we are working on it).

What is Kanban?

Kanban is often mentioned as another agile working method after Scrum. Kanban was originally developed at Toyota to control production and the flow of parts in the factory. David J. Anderson transferred this concept to services and IT services.

With its own roles and events, Scrum provides a framework for breaking down complex problems and taking small steps. When it is actually clear what the work is, Kanban might be very useful. That's why there are no special roles or events. Kanban emphasizes making the work visible (in the form of a Kanban board) and setting rules to consciously limit the amount of work. 

The concepts are now merging. scrum.org offers a guide to integrating Kanban into software development in order to better control the flow of work (Professional Scrum with Kanban). 

What topics should a Scrum Master know?

Jeff Sutherland regularly emphasizes that Scrum people should be familiar with 4 topics to support their organizations with good Scrum:

  • Knowledge of the Scrum Guide
  • Knowledge of the Scrum Patterns
  • Knowledge of Lean Thinking for continuous improvement and product development
  • Knowledge of scaled Scrum, i.e. how multiple agile teams coordinate their work.

There is a direct link between Lean Thinking and Scrum.

  • A Scrum Master is responsible for the continuous improvement of the team's work. Here, experienced Scrum Masters have adopted ideas from lean production (e.g. process efficiency, flow, A3 report, Toyota Kata).
  • A Product Owner uses the concepts of Lean Product Development. There is important literature on this from Allen C. Ward, Durward K. Sobek, James M. Morgan and Donald Reinertsen.

For the lean community, there is the Lean Enterprise Institute in the USA. An important author in the lean world for me is Bob Emiliani

There are several concepts for scaling Scrum:

  • For the coordination of several agile teams working on the same product, Scaled Professional Scrum with the Nexus Guide from scrum.org is recommended.
  • For an agile organization with several units and several products, the Scrum @ Scale Guide is very interesting.

Other alternatives are LeSS and Disciplined Agile® Delivery (DAD). The Scaled Agile Framework is very well known in large companies. However, it is highly criticized by agilists and is not recommended. Unfix by Jurgen Appelo is a new set of ideas.

What topics are often mentioned in connection with agility?

In the IT world, the automation of IT system changes is crucial. This has given rise to an entire movement, DevOps. In the area of product development, agile teams also like to use the tools and processes from Design Thinking.

Open Space Technology, World Café and Lean Coffee are often used to coordinate large groups. Liberating structures have recently become very popular.

Organizations are social, complex-adaptive systems that cannot be changed in a dirigiste manner. Reference is often made here to the work of Dave Snowden, who is concerned with the formulation of Cynefin and Estuarine Mapping. Jeff Sutherland likes to refer to punctuated equilibrium for changing complex systems.

Eventually, the question of how organizations set goals will also arise. OKRs are very fashionable at the moment. Other techniques are Balanced Scorecard and Hoshin Kanri.

You also need to know that many early agilists have thought about this. They continue to develop concepts and come up with new ideas. Heart of Agile or Modern Agile, for example, have emerged.

That's a very rough overview. Anyone who knows of comparable overviews is welcome to add them as a comment.

Many thanks to "my self-help group", the Lean Coffee Frankfurt/Karlsruhe for feedback on the first version. Anyone who reads in will quickly see that there are agile user groups and Scrum tables in many places and virtually, which invite you to exchange ideas and learn.



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