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Attraction and Repulsion: ScrumΓÇÖs Immune System, Up Close

5 January 2010

Dan Mezick
New Technology Solutions Inc

The popular book The Secret tells a story about the so-called "law of attraction." An equal and opposite force, the flip side of attraction, is the law of repulsion. Scrum is attractive to some and repulsive to others. Am I saying Scrum is repulsive? Yes...

Dr. Jeff Sutherland often refers to Scrum’s "immune system" in which people that are unproductive or wasteful are strongly encouraged to reform their behavior, or exit the team. You can examine such a post from Dr. Sutherland here:

Link 1: Dr. Sutherland on Scrum's "immune" system

One thing I notice and pay attention to a lot lately is attraction and repulsion. This is a common, universal theme throughout the physical world. At the micro level, single cell organisms are repelled by toxins and attracted to nutrients. At the macro level, planets and solar systems are held together through the opposing forces of attraction and repulsion. You can learn more about that here:

Link 2: Attraction and Repulsion as a valid model of how the world works

Scrum sets up a space that is mostly psychological in nature. One of the authors that strongly influenced the formation of Scrum is Ikujiro Nonaka, who co-authored the influential paper, "The New Product Development Game." He later co-authored another paper about creating and influencing the psychological space for work, which he calls the "ba." It’s an interesting concept described here:

Link 3: The Concept of Ba

One aspect of this "space" is: what it is actually attracting, and what it is actually repulsing.

In Scrum we value clearly defined goals, learning by inspection, and attention to the goals. In Scrum we do not value ill-defined objectives, predictions, or distractions. Scrum is attractive to people who value what Scrum encourages. Scrum is repulsive to people who value what Scrum discourages.

So here we see the dynamic of how what is attracted defines what is repulsed, and vice versa.

This applies to everything, not just Scrum. Scrum places value on focus and attention, so it repels "lack of focus" and distractions.

If we attract clear thinking, we repulse fuzzy, unclear thinking. If we value learning by observation, we repel the propensity to predict.


Here we see how Scrum is at once simple and polarizing. Scrum’s simple set of rules creates an environment or space or "ba" with properties of attraction and repulsion. The repulsion aspect forms the basis of a kind of immune system for Scrum. In Scrum, via the held values, the cultural aspects of specific attraction and repulsion emerge. Attractive behaviors (focusing attention, sincere effort, and learning) are honored, while repulsive behaviors (lack of attention, laziness, not learning) are dishonored. This is attraction and repulsion.

The end result is a self-governing, self-correcting system, based on a simple, short set of rules. That "system" or "space" created by authentic Scrum is constantly integrating what is valued and attractive, and expelling and purging what is not valued and therefore repulsive.

Is Scrum repulsive? Yes. Is Scrum attractive? Yes.

This is one aspect of the essential beauty of Scrum.

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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Jeff Sutherland, PhD, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 1/7/2010 9:34:17 PM
The concept of BA deserves a lot more attention in Scrum as Nonaka is devoting almost all of his research time to BA at the Hitosubashi Business School where Takeuchi is the dean.

BA is the creative flow of innovation, the juice, of the team. You know if you have it and if you don't have it.

We now know that every team can achieve a hyperproductive state by holding to certain constraints. Perhaps these are the constraints that cause the BA to flow. In any event, the constraints are discussed at my last keynote at the Scrum Gathering in Munich. Slides should be up on this site.

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