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The Top 3 Benefits Companies See During the Transition to Scrum

Improvements that might happen fast

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As your company or department plans a move to Scrum, expectations are likely high for positive results. Whether you're hoping to increase productivity, boost employee morale, or reap financial rewards, you probably have specific goals you hope Scrum will help your company achieve, most of which won't be visible until Scrum is fully implemented.
 
What most people don't know, however, is that there are significant benefits that become apparent even very early on during the transition period, as everyone learns the principles and processes of Agile management. As team members and managers experience working together within this very different system, upsides begin to emerge even during the intense and sometimes stressful process of reconfiguration.
 

1. Scrum creates a culture of communication

If getting everyone on board with Scrum is one of the top challenges encountered during transition, then getting everyone talking is one of the earliest apparent benefits. In particular, the sudden influx of cross-platform information sharing is an upside that takes everyone by surprise, says Mike Cohn, a Certified Scrum Trainer® and author of Succeeding with Agile and Agile Estimating and Planning. "Scrum is all about communication -- everyone needs to explain themselves and let everyone else see what they're trying to accomplish."
 
As employees unfamiliar with cross-functional teams experience working with people from a variety of departments, open access to information becomes both eye-opening and motivating. "Scrum forces people to get their communication skills in order, and that's a good thing," says Steve Forte, Scrum Alliance® board member and managing partner of Fresco Capital, a venture capital fund that backs new companies. "You realize pretty fast you're going to have to up your game."

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"The world of work has changed profoundly in terms of complexity, and it's absolutely impossible to have one person who understands all aspects of a project," says Tom Ulrich, senior director of Software Development for Tandem Diabetes. This means collaboration is key, and team members quickly discover the benefits as answers come from unexpected places. "You never know who has the missing piece of information that could be key to solving a puzzle." Pointing out that making decisions with partial information always has negative repercussions, Ulrich says companies begin to reap the benefits of mind sharing almost immediately.


Incremental accomplishments are recognized

As teams learn to work via sprints and releases, an interesting thing begins to happen. Instead of waiting to celebrate major milestones with company-wide hoopla, teams begin to mark and celebrate each successful sprint, with the result that employees feel rewarded for their ongoing efforts, not just for big-picture results. That's a big boost for productivity and morale.

Successful strategies can be shared

In fact, Scrum offers many more opportunities for affirming success than does traditional centralized management. "In Scrum, you're looking for best practices to propagate, rather than the bad practices to stop," says Mike Cohn. "If one team finds something that works, we spread the word of their success." This tends to build momentum among all the teams in the organization.
 

2. Scrum's transparency reveals strengths -- and weak spots

As the more open Scrum culture takes hold, one common occurrence is that organizational and process problems that were masked in other management styles are glaringly revealed. "Any type of company dysfunction, whatever makes you not Apple, is exposed sooner with Agile and Scrum than with Waterfall, and that tends to take people by surprise," says Steve Forte. "But that exposure would have happened eventually; your quarterly numbers don't add up, or the product is flawed -- whatever the dysfunction is -- so finding out sooner rather than later is a good thing."


3Benefits_Website-02.jpgThe appeal of accountability

One aspect of this transparency may be the exposure of team members who aren't pulling their weight, says Tom Ulrich: "The dead wood becomes more obvious." And while this is initially uncomfortable, it's an enormous morale booster in the long run, says Mike Cohn. "Holding people accountable sounds scary, and people might fear it at first, but it can also be enormously demoralizing to see a fellow employee who's not contributing or is out of his depth and getting away with it." And of course there's also the issue of more competent team members having to pick up the slack. Accountability has the additional benefit that people know what specifically is being asked of them and have more opportunities to ask for the support they need.

The gift of big-picture thinking

The sudden prevalence of idea sharing across teams, departments, and even the entire company often takes people -- particularly managers -- by surprise, says Ulrich. And while it can be intimidating and may make some managers anxious, it means that everyone pretty quickly begins to appreciate their own work in the context of wider goals and objectives.
 
"The premise of Scrum is that no one person understands all the details, so having everyone see the big picture benefits everyone," says Tom Ulrich. Going further, big-picture thinking allows employees to offer input on projects beyond their own. "Good ideas can come from anywhere -- the fact that you didn't think of this idea doesn't mean that it's a bad idea."
 

3. Scrum strengthens leadership

Agile management often results in a shift in power relationships -- in the best possible way, says Tom Ulrich. "One of the brilliant things about Scrum is that it removes title from the equation," he says. "It's not about your position, it's about real influence." And that influence, Ulrich says, arises from expertise, experience, and respect -- especially the kind of respect that develops from a history of working together interdependently.

Power and influence are earned

"Think back to a high school teacher or coach you loved -- if he said, 'I need a favor,' you'd do it. That's the kind of influence that comes from respect." Then, says Ulrich, there's the influence that comes from possessing a higher level of information or knowledge. "Let's suppose you live on an island and there's only one person who knows how to make canoes -- you're going to follow that person." The result, says Ulrich, is the opportunity for leaders to emerge from all walks of a company based on qualities like trust, smarts, and reliability.

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Less control = greater creativity

One of the secrets to successful teamwork is facilitating flexibility, compromise, and adaptation among team members. Under traditional management, those can be difficult qualities to develop, but they flourish naturally as teams experience the decentralized power sharing that's characteristic of Scrum. "In Scrum, managers have to loosen the reigns and manage by objective, explaining what they're trying to achieve, giving the team goals, and then getting out of the way," says Mike Cohn. "They also have to let go of the idea that the only way to control a project is to know the entire plan all the way, up front," he says. The result is that every employee's leadership skills get a bump.

As employees take their newfound freedom and run with it, the resulting need for collaboration naturally leads to adaptation and, in turn, to inspiration, resulting in creative breakthroughs.
 
Of course, the benefits you discover during the reorganization process are just the beginning. Once Scrum is fully implemented, the results become apparent in numerous areas, from employee satisfaction to product quality to your company's financial bottom line. For more insights into the benefits of Scrum and other innovative management styles, take a look at our Learning Consortium research and webinars.
 
 
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