Ba and Knowledge Creation in Scrum

14 January 2010

Heitor Roriz Filho
Massimus Consulting and Training

Ba and Knowledge Creation in Scrum

By Heitor Roriz Filho, M.Sc., CSP
Agile Coach
Massimus C&T, Brazil
hroriz@massimus.com

This article briefly discusses the creation of knowledge in Scrum and the importance of the environment that enables knowledge creation and cross-pollination, the ba. The term ba is originated from the Japanese and can be translated as place. The SECI model, as described by Takeuchi and Nonaka defines a dynamic process in which explicit and tacit knowledge are exchanged and transformed [1]. During this process, Nonaka and Konno point out four types of ba that support and enable the creation of knowledge [2].

As Sutherland and Schwaber describe, the Scrum Team interacts in an iterative manner [3]. According to Sutherland et al., in order to obtain the most out of Scrum, the team must attain to certain constraints [4] [5]. These constraints lead to hyperproductive teams and the stabilization of the environment where the team works. This environment is the Scrum Team’s ba. Nonaka and Konno assert that the creation of the ba is the company’s responsibility [2]. The company must create the ba and ensure their continuous transformation.

During the Scrum process we can identify (e.g. during a Sprint) the SECI knowledge creation process. For each of the steps in the SECI Model, we have a specific ba that is specifically suited to each of the four knowledge conversion steps [2]. The ScrumMaster plays a key role to obtain the four ba to facilitate the Scrum process for the team and foster the creation of project knowledge and knowledge cross-pollination.

SECI Model and Knowledge Creation

Takeuchi and Nonaka suggest a model for knowledge creation called the SECI Model [1]. In this model, the spiral path to construct new knowledge presents four steps in the knowledge conversion process:

  1. Socialization: where tacit knowledge between individuals is exchanged.
  2. Externalization: tacit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge.
  3. Combination: explicit knowledge is converted into more complex explicit knowledge.
  4. Internalization: when internalized by some individuals, explicit knowledge becomes tacit again.

The Four Types of Ba

Nonaka and Konno describe four types of ba that suit each of the steps in the SECI Model. The four types of ba are [2]:

  1. Originating ba is the place where individuals share feelings, emotions, and experiences. It is the primary ba from which the process of knowledge creation begins and represents the Socialization step of the SECI Model.
  2. Interacting ba is the place where tacit knowledge is made explicit, so it represents the Externalization step. In this ba through dialogue, individual’s mental models and skills are converted into common terms and concepts.
  3. Cyber ba consists of a place of interaction between individuals in a virtual world through the use of IT tools. This ba represents the Combination step.
  4. Exercising ba supports the Internalization step. This place facilitates the conversion of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge.

Scrum and the SECI Model

In Scrum we can easily identify that all steps of the model are present. Socialization and Combination happen constantly, especially during the Daily Scrum. The dynamics created by Scrum and the aim of cross-functionality that teams are always looking forward to achieve is crucial to these two model steps. The technical part of the Scrum Review is also a source for both steps. Dr. Jeff Sutherland suggests the adoption of Pair Programming to achieve excellence levels while adopting Scrum [4]. This technique is a fertile ground for Socialization and Combination.

Now let’s consider Externalization. It is up to the team to decide what is going to be documented and what is not. It may also happen that the ScrumMaster has the task to prepare documents in accordance to some process in the company where the project is undertaken.

Internalization and Combination are crucial to cross-functional teams. After acquiring knowledge during a Sprint and Scrum ceremonies, an individual creates and/or appends new knowledge to his or her pre-existent set of knowledge. Ultimately the result of the team’s internalization process is the development of the product.

Summary

It is up to the organization to create and transform the Scrum Team’s ba. As the servant leader for the team [3], the ScrumMaster must facilitate the knowledge creation process and maintain these ba in order to maintain the flow of knowledge. The team nurtures the ba while it acquires experience and develops its interrelationship. The Originating and Cyber ba are strongly related to the Scrum Team’s location, i.e., their workplace. The Cyber ba can be extended to geographically separated teams as Scrum benefits can be obtained in such environments [6] [7].

References

[1] I. Nonaka, H. Takeuchi, The Knowledge Creating Company, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1995.

[2] I. Nonaka, N. Konno, The Concept of “Ba”: Building a Foundation for Knowledge Creation. California Management Review, Vol. 40 No.3, pp.40-54.

[3] K. Schwaber, Agile Project Management with Scrum. Microsoft Professional Series. Paperback. 192 pages. Microsoft Press, 1st edition February, 2004.

[4] J. Sutherland, Practical Roadmap to Great Scrum. Systematically Achieving Hyperproductivity. Keyonte speech in Munich Scrum Gathering. 19-21 October 2009, Munich , Germany.

[5] J. Sutherland, S. Downey, and B. Granvik, Shock Therapy: A Bootstrap for a Hyper-Productive Scrum in Agile 2009, Chicago, 2009.

[6] J. Sutherland, G. Schoonheim, and M. Rijk, Distributed Scrum: Agile Project Management with Outsourced Development Teams, in 40nd Hawaii International Conference on Software Systems, Big Island, Hawaii, 2007.

[7] J. Sutherland, G. Schoonheim, N. Kumar, V. Pandey, and S. Vishal, Fully Distributed Scrum: Linear Scalability of Production Between San Francisco and India, in Agile 2009, Chicago, 2009.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



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Comments

Hannes Fischer, CSM, 1/15/2010 1:19:07 AM
Thanks for the article! I had a discussion how the agile "cargo cults" described in http://www.scrumalliance.org/articles/146-cargo-cult-agile can evolve in the companies after they had first experiences with scrum. I think this comes from watching a successfully working scrum team in their "originating ba" and the attempt to copy the implicit wisdom ... and now the question rises how to avoid this.
Heitor Roriz Filho, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 1/15/2010 8:52:50 AM
Hannes,

glad you enjoyed the article. If you attempt to copy the knowledge created in other team's BA it may not solve your problems as individuals and company ecology are different. As the article you pointed out says, you should really look inside you our environment and see that the team is up too. Are they pig enough to bring up change?

Heitor
Jon Jorgensen, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 5/26/2014 3:53:03 PM
One approach that I've experienced being useful toward the Internalization step is writing a work journal. Either as a developer or as a ScrumMaster, by holding an individual daily or weekly retrospective (perhaps 'introspective' would be a better term) we can further crystalize the learnings of the day or sprint.

The ScrumMaster plays a key role in building the emotional safety & transparency of the work environment (distributed or not) which allows for multiple scrum teams or individuals team members to observe/inspect and transpose/adapt self.

Failed experiments of applying knowledge learned by others (individuals or teams) may take the form of Cargo-Cult-Agile (CCA), or may be unsuccessful for totally different reasons. However, when individuals or teams are safe & transparent enough to identify the CCA phenomena they are experiencing, then it is only a matter of time, effort and focus before they either 1) truly acquire & correctly transpose external knowledge to their own context or 2) Scrap and build a new experience to empirically arrive at the new knowledge via. the SECI cycle.

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