Scrum and Continuous Process Improvement

14 January 2014


While checking a ScrumMaster's checklist proposed by one of the nation's top Scrum practitioners, the very last item caught my attention. It reads, "Are you creating a learning organization?" Why would this Scrum practitioner ask the ScrumMaster to check if he or she is creating a learning organization? What is a learning organization, after all? And why would Agile be concerned with a learning organization?

After a few seconds of introspection, the light came on. A learning organization is one that learns, of course, but learns what? In Agile or Lean, one of the overarching goals is for an organization to benefit from process improvement. Better yet, to be engaged in continuous process improvement. From an Agile perspective, a learning organization is one that learns what needs to be improved and makes the right changes in order to achieve that improvement.

So this is the connection. Scrum helps an organization become engaged in continuous process improvement. How does it accomplish this? Through the sprint retrospective meetings. One of the best benefits of employing Scrum is that the development teams conduct a retrospective meeting at the end of every sprint. The purpose of this meeting is for the team to look at their processes and discuss what worked and what did not work for them during the sprint. Not only are the processes that may impede progress identified but the team is encouraged to propose changes or fixes to those processes. The team may decide to implement these changes during subsequent sprints to validate the need to change and evaluate proposed changes, with the goal of making permanent the proven improvements.

And therein lies one of the biggest hidden gems of applying the Scrum framework: The development team finds itself involved in process improvement. And because sprint retrospective meetings are held after every sprint, the development team is actively involved in continuous process improvement.

If I were so bold as to suggest an improvement to the checklist, I would rewrite the last item to read, "Are you helping the organization by ensuring that sprint retrospective findings and recommendations help improve the organization's processes?" This helps clearly connect Scrum to continuous process improvement.

But on second thought, maybe the concise item statement as written by the author better conforms to the Agile method.

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