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Is Your Organization Ready for Scrum?

Consider these key points if you're trying to decide whether you -- and your organization -- are prepared to implement Scrum.

You're thinking about implementing Scrum in your organization -- but something is holding you back. After all, Scrum calls for big change, and if yours is like most organizations, big changes aren't taken lightly. You'll feel a lot of pressure to do it right. You'll be responsible for creating an environment where Scrum can succeed, for doing the foundational work needed for Scrum to deliver. With expectations high, how do you gauge your organization's appetite, readiness, and willingness for Scrum? How can you set yourself -- and your organization -- up for success?

While there are no definitive answers, there are some signs that can indicate that Scrum may be the right path to take. In this article, we look at some of those key signs and share advice from industry experts. These people have "been there" and have "done that." They know that some of their advice can be a bit scary, and that's why they (and hundreds of other experts) are willing to help organizations with the journey. At some point organizations need to make a leap of faith, but they don't need to do it alone.

Is it broken?

One of the people we sought out for advice is Bob Hartman, founder of Agile for All and an Agile speaker, blogger, and thought leader. He has more than 30 years of software industry experience and is a member of the SCRUM ALLIANCE® Board of Directors. His first point is that, for an organization to take on Scrum, there must be a recognized need. "Organizations have to understand if they are successful today," he says. "There must be a need to do better."

This may sound obvious, but it's a key point. If your organization is satisfied with the results it's getting from your current project execution, there won't be a perceived need to change. However, if, as Hartman says, you're "running into the same problems over and over without knowing how to fix them," then Scrum is a route worth considering.

Most organizations probably find themselves somewhere in the middle: not in a shambles, but not completely successful, with at least some areas where the mistakes of the past are recurring. This a good indicator you may be ready for something different -- clearly the current direction isn't working.

Is the team on board?

Michael Sahota, author of An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide, identifies another indicator: He asks, "Are workers in the organization interested in trying new things?" Ultimately, Scrum's success will come from its adoption at the front line. So employees have to be willing to try something different, to challenge traditional ways of executing projects. If employees are comfortable and content with their current project execution approach, Scrum will struggle to gain a foothold. You need to find an area of your organization that's ready to try something different.

Is management on board?

You can't determine whether your organization is ready for Scrum by considering the willingness of employees alone. You also need to consider the executives. Senior-level commitment to Scrum is vital to success, and our experts leave no doubt as to how important they think this is. In Hartman's words, "You need executive buy-in -- not just for Scrum, but for what it means at the executive and management levels." Sahota puts a number on it, saying, "Seventy-five percent of managers need to believe the status quo is unacceptable." He goes on to point out that the executive team's commitment needs to run deeper than to support Scrum concepts from afar: "They need to lead by example, to demonstrate by their own behavior how they function as a high-performance team."

Executive commitment to the success of Scrum is frequently identified as a key driver of success. In the 2013 report The State of Scrum: Benchmarks & Guidelines, commissioned by SCRUM ALLIANCE®, it was the most frequently cited success factor. Our experts provide some context, correcting a misconception Sahota identifies: "Organizations misunderstand Scrum as a process they can just install in their current organizational context." That won't work. Readiness to truly embrace Scrum means accepting a new way of working that not only changes processes and practices but also changes the organization to its very core, so that it can leverage the opportunities Scrum presents.

So does this mean that your organization isn't ready for Scrum unless you're ready to implement broad and fundamental change as soon as you start working with it? No, but it does mean that you need to consider those changes a necessary part of an environment in which Scrum can deliver the biggest return on the investment you're making.

Conclusion

To begin a journey with Scrum is to accept that the old way of doing things isn't delivering the results your organization needs. It's an exploration of an alternative approach that offers benefits in customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and, potentially, project timelines and budgets that simply cannot be achieved with other approaches. However, it also means accepting that Scrum may drive organizational change that is, at times, uncomfortable. And it means challenging preconceived ideas about how an organization should be run.

If you have an appetite for a different way of working and are prepared to commit to the journey with Scrum at all levels of the organization, top to bottom, then you're ready to begin your exploration. If you or your organization don't yet have this appetite or aren't yet prepared to make such a commitment, then you know where to put your efforts, if you think Scrum could be right for you -- someday.

To learn more about how others are using Scrum, download the State of Scrum report. Interested in joining SCRUM ALLIANCE®? Check out our member benefits.