Every organization faces patches of rough weather in its journey toward success. How these experiences are managed sets apart an awesome organization from "just another" one. Here's a case for adopting Scrum to tackle some of the most common yet tricky problems.
When an organization decides to change the way it works, it does so for several reasons. As we know, an organization is not just a group of people or a collection of machines, desks, and files. It is a living entity. It has a character and a value system of its own. There is a well-evolved DNA that defines and guides how the organization behaves and how it thinks.
Just like an individual, an organization also grows, matures, learns, unlearns, and relearns. An organization that fails to continue learning as it moves forward is headed for failure. The knowledge and learning developed over time are an organization's most important cumulative asset.
The basic difference between a successful and a struggling organization is the way knowledge, learning, and experiences are managed, processed, and cross-pollinated. In a learning organization, episodes of rough weather are not forgotten as nightmares but instead closely examined.
It is rightly said that the first step toward solving a problem is realizing that a problem exists. Decreased productivity, rising cost of development, shrinking margins, best people leaving, challenged projects, poor work-life balance, product not meeting requirements, schedule and budget overshoot, blame game, everyone running after the fancy reports, the list goes on. . . . Did anyone see it coming? In a nutshell: Unhappy employees and unhappy customers equal unhappy organization.
All or some of the above is an indication that something is not right and something needs to be done. Organizations may be quick to realize a problem exists but may not use the healthiest or best measures to counteract it. The lines or sometimes the dots that connect these symptoms are vital factors to analyze, but ultimately you may discover there are just a handful of underlying causes. As the famous Theory of Constraints
by Eliyahu M. Goldratt tells us, a system is only as efficient as the least efficient constituent subsystem, and it's highly possible that such subsystems are few.
In most cases, however, an organization views problems in isolation, and so the measures it adopts to counter them yield limited and sometimes undesirable results. Steps like restructuring, incentivizing, adding more manpower, and "rightsizing" may sound promising but will most likely lead you far from where you wanted to be -- and in fact can be counterproductive. They end up reducing motivation, building more bureaucracy, and pushing people toward gaming the system (remember, people are always more clever than the system: They're the ones who created it!). The blame game intensifies and problems are compounded.
So what's the solution? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Well, one point everyone agrees on is that change is required
! It's what approach you take to make the required change that makes all the difference. The choice is whether to address the effect or the cause.
Organizations that attempt a local fix by treating the effect are sometimes the ones that end up worsening the situation. The light that they see at the end of the tunnel turns out to be from an approaching train!
Agile, and more prominently Scrum, has emerged as a wholesome approach that organizations recognize can turn the tide in their favor. I like to look at Scrum as one of the most complete embodiments of Agile values and principles. The rapid adoption of Scrum across the software industry speaks volumes about its effectiveness. Scrum is fast emerging as the strongest option for treating the causes (and definitely the effects) of problems that lead to an ailing organization.
Years of close over-the-shoulder scrutiny have left the developer workforce demotivated and disillusioned. Rigorous and meticulous project planning with the fanciest of charts can't keep a project schedule from derailing. Despite the best brains spending a lot of time and money on planning and risk identification, developers are still burning the midnight oil and products are still not meeting customer requirements.
So does Scrum promises to solve all those problems? Is it a silver bullet that can end all miseries? Above all, does it come for free?
The answer to all the above is of course no.
Scrum is not easy, it is not free, and it is definitely not a silver bullet. The different roles, ceremonies, and artifacts it prescribes and the overall framework in which all of them are thoughtfully placed make it a powerful tool for uncovering problems, impediments, and the systemic latency that several years of legacy mind-set and complacence often bring. Scrum conveys the bad news early and often, thereby providing more frequent opportunity for course correction.
Successful adoption of the framework demands that the team, as a performing unit, invests and takes ownership. During the daily stand-up meetings, when members share the updates, they are actually reinforcing their commitments to the team. The release plan, task breakdown, and forecasting to the customer are performed by and are therefore the province of the team.
The performers and the "also-doers" emerge early and frequently, so the many opportunities for course correction and mentoring come early as well. Let's acknowledge that Scrum is not for everyone. If even after significant effort there are undercurrents of low adoption or low motivation, it is probably best to say good-bye to the unwilling individuals involved.
model of team development proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965 still pertains. Any change always requires a gestation period to show results. Give the team space to think, ideate, and innovate. Allow it to make decisions and plans for itself. Provide resources and time. And of course, demand results.
In my opinion, Scrum, if adopted and practiced in the right spirit, can go a long way toward helping organizations solve several common problems.