Maria Montessori + Agile Thinking = Scrum

Basics

28 January 2014


Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural psychological development, as well as technological advancements in society. The overview, picked from Wikipedia on Montessori, gives us a clear sense of the overlap between Montessori education and Scrum.

Montessori education Scrum
Mixed-age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common Cross-functional teams
Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options Tasks picked up voluntarily
Uninterrupted blocks of work time Sprints
A Constructivism or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials rather than by direct instruction Story boards to epic, theme creations, and poker planning
Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators Poker planning, estimation techniques, sprints, and release planning

Stand-ups

"Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world." -- Maria Montessori

Just as in our sprint daily stand-up, where we meet and answer three questions, the Montessori students start their school day in a small group. A mixed-age group of 2 ½ to 6 years, 6 to 9 years, and 9 to 12 years, with 20 students in each set, meet up in a circle, and each in a turn describes what they learned yesterday and what they would like to learn today to the "master" in charge. There are no teachers in the Montessori education system but a leader similar to our ScrumMaster.

The children choose what they want to do for the day. They walk away from the circle, gather the tools they want to learn, walk back to the circle. A master or a mature/senior child helps each younger child learn the concepts. By the end of the day or over a week, the child learns the concepts and answers several practical questions.

If a child picks up a world map puzzle to solve, he or she learns about the game, the colors, the continents, countries, shapes, languages, culture, day and night differences, date and time differences, and so on. At the end of the learning, the child writes a paragraph or draws what she has learned using that activity on a 5-by-7 card and sticks it on the wall.

Themes, epics, and storyboards

We work with a set of raw data from the client and have user stories to understand clearly so we can deliver what is required. We form epics and themes to categorize them and match them to deliver in a sprint. When we are ready with our user stories, we check ourselves with acceptance criteria and a proper "done" statement to draw our boundaries of satisfaction. Next is estimating the size, deriving a duration (using team velocity), and drawing up a schedule.

Performance reviews

During the activity, the master observes the child and asks questions such as, "Can you draw an atlas by yourself? Can you show me where India is? Can you tell me a story about the atlas?" The master also provides a feedback about the child's learning.

In Montessori, the performance is evaluated over a period of time, not in a fixed-test format, with questions to be answered correctly and a ranking that kills budding minds.

The ScrumMaster does three things to deliver, which I call the 3C's: communicate, coordinate, and collaborate. He or she plays a vital role in organizing and removing impediments, providing effective feedback to the team, and helping them be self-organized. In matured organizations, the ScrumMaster provides action-oriented feedback that is used in the appraisal cycle and measured against team objectives and delivered goals.

The sprint review and retrospection is a dynamic learning experience for each individual in the team, helping each understand what he or she needs to focus on and how to improve. Mature organizations use this meeting effectively to set action-oriented objectives.

Conclusion

The overlap seems to be perfect. The key points that I really liked and learned from are:
  1. The Montessori daily ring (Scrum stand-up)
  2. No one assigns tasks; they are voluntarily taken by the child to play and learn (as do team members)
  3. Mixed-age classrooms (cross-functional teams)
  4. Performance review (review/retrospection)



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.



Article Rating

Current rating: 4.8 (4 ratings)

Comments

Yosief Sium, CSM, 1/28/2014 2:48:53 AM
Having a child attending Montessori school I find the comparison with Scrum very interesting! I never thought that way and thank you very much.
Tomeka Gueory, CSM, 1/28/2014 4:46:34 PM
This is a great comparison!
Hiren Vashi, CSP,CSM, 1/28/2014 5:49:06 PM
This is very nice comparision! I can relate my child's day at Montessori school and my day at work with Scrum Team. Most of the activity listed in this article matches. Creative thought. Let's take one more step and take Scrum home...daily family meeting, long homework projects = product backlog, weekly division of tasks for that long project = sprint backlog, chores list and study assignment list with progress = information radiators such as burndown chart, scrum master = mom, product owner = dad...and so on...
Sathya Narayana Kaliprasad, CSM,CSPO, 1/29/2014 11:08:04 AM
Thanks Yosief & Tomeka, Indeed when I had this thought, I just wanted to pen it down and the get the idea set and there we find the perfect match. :)
Sathya Narayana Kaliprasad, CSM,CSPO, 1/29/2014 11:09:35 AM
Hiren, for a second I felt dumb and then re-reading them, make a lot more sense. Life becomes much more easier with Scrum Everywhere right?
Lisa Nash, CSM, 1/30/2014 12:15:50 PM
Great article! I attended Montessori schools from grades 1 - 8. No wonder the "agile" way seems so comfortable to me. It is part of how I was taught to be. Really great reading this. Thank you!
Hiren Vashi, CSP,CSM, 2/6/2014 1:52:14 AM
Satya, absolutely, life becomes much more easier with Scrum. We used it at home for one of the long term projects that my son was supposed to do. We made product backlog, sprint backlog, burn down charts, kept in hallway, conducted daily standup meetings just before breakfast and project was a success! Taking inspiration from you, I will write a small article about that experience. Thank you!
Hiren Vashi, CSP,CSM, 2/6/2014 1:52:17 AM
Satya, absolutely, life becomes much more easier with Scrum. We used it at home for one of the long term projects that my son was supposed to do. We made product backlog, sprint backlog, burn down charts, kept in hallway, conducted daily standup meetings just before breakfast and project was a success! Taking inspiration from you, I will write a small article about that experience. Thank you!

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