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Agile Practices That Unlock Innovative Thinking

1 May 2017

Jayarajkumar ayyappan
Infosys limited

Aiming for breakthrough improvements

The term "continuous improvement" has been used in the IT industry in recent decades to drive management, employees, and customers. It's common to compare the Industrial Revolution to the IT revolution. The concept of continuous improvement will continue to exist for many more decades, in various forms. Global consultants and experts have been asked to drive these continuous improvements to beat the market or competitors.

Everybody wants a breakthrough improvement, but it isn't easy to achieve. It's easy to instead fall into the trap of implementing an approach with reduced opportunity for continuous improvement.

It's possible that every continuous improvement started on the heels of a well-known breakthrough improvement. Most breakthrough improvements are kept secret within a company. When an improvement is successful, it may become public long after its success — even a decade later. When it fails, the effort put forth can go unnoticed.

The question is whether lightweight software methods, such as Scrum, XP, and others, support continuous or breakthrough improvement for software development organizations.

Training for the innovative mind

A significant segment of the IT sector is trained to be autonomous and to act in self-organized teams. They think creatively, formulate and express their thoughts, and successfully execute on projects. Factors that influence innovation are inculcated within the team when they are trained. It's likely that trainers will pass on these influential factors to many more teams in the next decade.

Because innovators are not tied to any specific designs, the freedom to express opinions and the number of opportunities are increased. Various ceremonies create an innovative culture that is not restricted by the sprint goal.

Scrum ceremonies that foster innovation

Let's review a few Scrum ceremonies to see how they can unlock the Agile mind to create innovation (either knowingly or unknowingly).

Sprint planning

Before implementation: In much of the IT industry, ideas and requirements are discussed during sprint planning. Individual tasks are planned, so there are fewer opportunities to think about other tasks. Teams complete a given task according to the predefined design approach.

After implementation: Since the rollout of Scrum, ideas are generated for all user stories. Multiple ideas are synchronized, so you have the opportunity to think differently and propose new ideas with an eye toward the big picture.

Daily Scrum

Before implementation: Even good engineers get into the habit of procrastination. Eliminating this habit creates a big change in the output of any nation's gross domestic product. It’s a big cultural change. If everyone avoided procrastination, future generations would reap the benefits.

After implementation: The two major factors that influence innovation are focus and discipline. By practicing the Daily Scrum, everyone's mind is tuned to maintain focus and follow a rhythm. Training our brain to focus is like practicing meditation — it organizes our thought processes.


Sprint review

Before implementation: Big problems remain big problems.

After implementation: For every sprint review, our mindset should be that of "eating the elephant one bite at a time." This type of optimism will give team members the courage to take on problems that might seem impossible and try to find possible solutions. The culture of granularity requires clarity, which in turn builds confidence.


Sprint retrospective

Before implementation: Feedback is received once in a while and only from a few individuals. Less opportunity exists to validate the feedback and act on it.

After implementation: The feedback loop is faster, as you receive 360-degree feedback. During the retrospective, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree; you need only to ask the question, "Why?"



The road to greater innovation leads forward, as the number of people trained to unlock their potential is increasing every day. The practice of Scrum doesn't stop when products are released with great speed and quality. Scrum raises the next generation of innovators through its practices and principles, which directly influence an innovative culture.

Now that the keys to unlock innovative thinking have been handed over to the next generation of innovators, what waits in our future and where will it lead?


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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