Scrum Is Already Out There

17 April 2013

Geoffrey Etwein
EFG Bank

When some people talk about the future of Agile approaches, and Scrum in particular, they consider the spread of Scrum outside of IT. To properly accompany the Agile transition to another world, I think that asking how to move Agile outward from IT is not the right question. Why? Because it is already out of IT!

Historic sprints

If we consider the history of Scrum in terms of cycles, we could imagine something like this:

There was the historic Sprint Number One, dating roughly from 1950 to 2001, when people like Jeff Sutherland, Jeff McKenna, Mike Cohn, and others experimented with new practices (not yet called Agile) to address issues that Waterfall methods did not solve.

The second historic sprint could be considered to have begun in 2001, when those innovators engaged in a huge retrospective and decided to share their experiences of project management (in addition to offering mulled wine down the tracks). And thus was born the Agile Manifesto.

It goes without saying that real historians of the Agile approach will yell at me because of this short-cut and because of the freedom I've taken here. They will certainly be right, but the goal is not to write history; it's to understand where we are in the life of Agile approaches in order to better know where we're going.

So we should be in the middle of the second historical sprint. In the middle or close to the end, in fact, if we listen to the growing number of people who are wondering, "Now what?"

What's next?

What could be the beginning of the next historic sprint? I am convinced that the spread of Agile practices outside the world of IT can be an excellent marker for the beginning of historic Sprint Number Three. This spread has already begun with Joe Justice and Wikispeed project, among others.

If we want Agile and Scrum to be revealed outside the world of IT, we should take care of next actions. I chose the word "revealed" because I believe strongly that it is more an awakening of existing practices than a shifting of IT practices to other areas.

In fact, I don't think that the question "how to bring the Agile approach out of the world of IT" is the right question, even if it is the right path. Don't forget that one of the big brothers of these approaches is the Lean (or Toyota) method from the automotive industry. Having observed several non-IT organizations, and more particularly a nonprofit cultural organization in France, composed entirely of volunteers, I am convinced that Agile precepts are already used by many, even if they don't know they're doing it.

Art Seine

For more than 20 years, the association Art Seine has managed an open stage in Paris called the Fieald (a French play on words), without state subsidy and in one of the finest Parisian theaters, the Théâtre Trévise. Only after leaving its position as chairman (and long before knowing Agile approaches) did I make the parallel between our practices in this organization and those of Scrum. It was stunning to see that we used many of these practices more or less as clearly as Scrum describes them. Trying to match the Scrum approach to the working methods of the association, I found many similarities, right down to the roles.

This is normal if you remember that Agile approaches are based on the principle of empiricism, which is itself a universal principle. Would it be useful to apply Scrum to this association in its strict sense, or even in a modified version? I don't know, but perhaps it deserves to be studied.

Conclusion

This observation helps to pinpoint the right question, which is no longer, "Is it possible to move the Agile approach outward from IT?" Rather, it should be, "How do we awaken dormant Agile practices in other areas?"

This new question will allow us to address this historic third sprint with a clearer vision, less tied to the world of IT. Discovering these practices would certainly be difficult, but the Agile approach would become a kind of meta-model, disconnected from all subject areas but learning from them and thus benefiting from the experiences of each. It may be utopian, but it seems to be a particularly sophisticated and inspiring approach to Scrum and Agile.

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