Accelerating Scrum Success with Lean Principles

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For organizations that have been on the agile journey, Scrum has been the framework of choice for some time now. The simplicity of the framework and its ability to enable the empirical process are some reasons behind scrum’s success. Having said that, one may question if teams have truly attained agility by doing Scrum.

 

The terms scrum and agile are often used interchangeably which is where the distinction between doing Scrum and becoming agile becomes important. According to me, if Scrum is the means, agility is the end. To put it simply, Scrum is like a driver’s manual. A learning driver uses it till the time he/she is internalizing the rules of driving on the road. Once done consistently over a period of time, the driver is easily able to navigate through the traffic without referencing or following the manual at each step.

From Doing Scrum to Being Agile – Impediments

Every aspect of scrum has a purpose. From the roles, artifacts to the events, there is a value associated with everything. However; it is noticeable that teams that have been doing Scrum for a long time have not always shown behaviors or patterns of a high performing team. This points to the issue of scrum being adopted as a process without the end in mind. It has been validated the time and again during my engagements with organizations that have been doing scrum for years.
Agile is consistently referred to as a mindset based on the values outlined in the agile manifesto combined with the agile principles. However; teams struggle to successfully attain the mindset shift for the reasons mentioned below:
  • Training(s) – Most agile adoption initiatives start with trainings which are intended to familiarize teams with Scrum framework with limited focus on the agile mindset. Yes, the agile manifesto and principles are covered but there is not enough focus on educating the teams on how they can graduate from doing scrum to attain agility. This often leads the team(s) to believe that Scrum is the end state.
  • Scrum as a process – Once a team has been trained, the next step is to ensure adherence to the framework. Generally team will have a Scrum Master whose job is to promote and support Scrum as defined in the scrum guide. Interestingly, while some organizations look at their Scrum Masters as coaches, the scrum guide does not associate the term “continuous improvement” with the Scrum Master role. This also makes the teams assume scrum as a process and end state.
  • Process compliance – Organizations with multiple teams often enforce compliance which is attributed to the need for consistency  of process and the usage of supporting tools like Jira or Rally. This idea of compliance is generally directly in conflict with the attributes of self organizing and self managing teams forcing the teams to live in the scrum box.

Above mentioned are just some of the reasons. You might have your own but the focus is to emphasize the need to go beyond the process.

Applying Lean Principles

Source AK IT-ConsultingThere is knowledge base that connects the roots of Agile to Lean. Lean got its start from manufacturing and applying it to knowledge work required a mindset shift. Lean introduces a customer oriented flexible system for software development. Applying lean principles with scrum teams have shown some encouraging results.

In their book, Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, Mary and Tom Poppendieck outlined how these Lean principles can be applied to software development. In the most simplistic form, these lean principles can be applied on top of scrum the accelerate the move from doing scrum to being agile.

Lean and agile be definition are different things but they are great partners intended to achieve common outcomes. Here is how lean principles can be applied to further mature scrum teams:

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Eliminate Waste – A variety of wastes impact the outcomes of scrum teams. In large organizations, these wastes are commonly attributed to processes, complexity, structures, silos, hierarchies etc..  Organizations and teams that are relentless about continuous improvement can benefit greatly from consciously and incrementally looking for opportunities to eliminate waste. Value stream mapping should be conducted at the business and development process level to expose waste and create urgency to eliminate them.

Build Quality In – One of the common struggles for scrum teams is to deliver the “potentially shippable” artifact. Reasons include quality of requirements, structure of requirements (not vertically sliced), dependencies, unstable environment, team silos, processes, handoffs, metrics and more. However; the most common reason is the number of defects produced in sprint or the lack of tools and/or automation to support end to end testing and the mindset of dealing with defects.

Taiichi Ohno when talking about the Toyota Production System talks about jidoka (self-regulation). The idea came from a loom which would stop automatically when a thread broke. When applied to software development, the idea is to enforce behaviors of urgency, collaboration, swarming etc.. as soon a defect is found.

Additionally, the lean principle of building quality in starts by suggesting that quality if everyone’s job and not just QA’s and it needs to be a disciplined practice. Lack of it also is in conflict with the first principles of eliminating waste.

Create Knowledge – This is referred to as “Amplifying Learning” in Mary and Tom’s book where the best way of learning something is by doing it or in other words by actually creating value. Lean is also about learning through experiments. These behaviors and/or mindsets are not often observed with scrum teams.

Some common anti patterns that impede the principle of creating knowledge with scrum teams include team structures, where teams are build up of many specialized skills thus creating silo success criteria and outcomes. Additionally, scrum teams can also been seen doing “foundational” work with an excuse to build a sense of predictability. This is precisely why agile relates the term “evolving” to all dynamic aspects of software development including requirements, architecture, design etc..

Defer Commitment – While scrum revolves around the idea of short feedback loops, teams are often challenged with timelines or scope or sometimes both for a variety of reasons. This is commonly observed with organizations that limit agility to the teams but still have maybe a PMO that engages in yearly planning activities thus leading to assumed commitments.

Similarly, at the team level, the inability of the team to meet it’s sprint commitment (even though the term “commitment” has been taken out of the scrum guide), can go against the team leading to compromise in other areas, more often quality.

The lean principle of defer commitments does not mean that the teams do not plan or make uninformed decisions. It encourages that decisions be made at the last responsible moment. Last responsible moment can vary from companies to industries to teams but the basic idea revolves around acknowledging and conducting experiments to enable informed decision making.

“In preparing for battles, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” –  Dwight Eisenhower

Deliver Fast“Ability to deliver fast” is the most common reason why most companies adopt agile methods. Fast can be interpreted differently in different context. One example is Etsy that delivers code into production multiple times each hour. But not all businesses are the same.

The term “fast” was originally intended to enable fast feedback loops to allow teams to inspect and adapt in their pursuit to cause customer delight.

Every team wants to deliver fast and get value in the hands of the customers as quickly as possible, but most scrum teams are unable to do so for a variety of reasons. Some examples:

  • Organizational and team structures leading to increased complexity
  • Lack of supporting practices and tools
  • Big increments; looking too much into the future
  • Lacking urgency to remove impediments
  • Intent of building a perfect solution

Going back to the principles mentioned earlier, deliver fast can be the outcome of eliminating waste, building quality-in and creating knowledge. A focused effort to apply these principles leads to the lagging outcome of faster delivery

One of the concepts you’ll hear referred to a lot in Lean is “concept to cash”. It refers to the lead time from the time the idea was conceived to when the customers start purchasing it, or it can start adding value by saving us costs, reducing costs, etc.. as fast as possible.

Respect People – The 5 values of scrum (commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect) help build trust within the team and the scrum team members are expected to learn and explore these values as they work with the scrum roles, events and artifacts. However, a common observation is about how most important decisions are taken outside the team that have a direct impact on the team. Simply put, decisions are taken away from the where the work happens.

Another challenge for teams is the issue of psychological safety. In the lean world, respect is all about developing and empowering the people and trusting them to do the right thing. Lean talks about this idea of a “Gemba”, which refers to the process of leaders going and observing where then works happens, conducting enquiries and identifying counter measures for problem solving along with the team.

Lean also encourages respect for people by communicating proactively and effectively, encouraging healthy conflict, surfacing any work-related issues as a team, and empowering each other to do their best work.

Optimize the Whole – Sub-optimization is a serious issue in software development. Mary and Tom point to 2 critical reasons behind the sub-optimization. First is where developers release sloppy code for the sake of speed and second is the long cycle time that is created between developers and testers as a result of handoffs.

Leans suggests use of value stream mapping to design, produce, and deliver a product or service to customer. After identifying how value flows through their teams, many organizations decide to organize their software development teams to be complete, multi-disciplined, co-located product teams, which enables them to have everything they need to deliver a request from start to finish, without reference to other teams.

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Scrum is a framework which means it is an essential supporting structure or the basic structure underlying a system. Teams that are comfortable with scrum and achieve the expected outcomes can apply the mentioned principles are various levels to quickly transform themselves into a high performing team.

Regardless of which framework the team chooses to adopt, it’s important to understand the principles behind the method in order to ensure a sustainable, disciplined practice. If your team is doing Scrum but is not consciously implementing agile and/or lean principles, the outcomes can be slow and the journey long.

 

 

 

 

Questions to ask to Kickstart Agile Adoption – Part II of II

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Continuing from part 1 of this 2 part series, here are some additional questions based on observed failure patterns which when discussed up front lead to creating agreements, building trust and setting the stage for a successful agile adoption:

Beyond Process Change Agile is beyond processes. Are we open to changing our practices, mindset, culture, and structures? Most people have a perception that agile is only limited to process change. While the adoption does lead to process improvements but a big part of the improvements needs change across mindset, culture, and structures. To experience the impact of agility, organizations have to be open to changes associated with processes, people, practices, leadership styles, structures, safety, relationships and much more. This is precisely why an incremental approach to agile adoption becomes critical to making the adoption successful.Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.08.40 AM

A common approach to agility that is a recipe for failure is a leader asking the whole organization to adopt agile without a clear understanding of “why”, leading to a siloed local optimization across various functions of the organization with the focus on survival and risk mitigation.

 

Agile Adoption Strategy and RoadmapHow do you want to roll out the adoption of agile? “All aboard the fail boat”. Because of the reasons mentioned earlier and how agile adoption demands change across multiple aspects in the organization, it becomes imperative that the approach to adopt agile is understood. While a big bang approach is not ideal, organizations might still have reason to pursue the approach which should be analyzed and discussed up front.

Measuring SuccessHow do you plan to measure success with agile? Once the vision for agile adoption has been established and understood, the next step is to create agreement on how progress towards the vision will be measured. Many aspects contribute to measuring success with agile but most organizations look at agile as a way to get things done faster. While that may be achievable, it will not be possible without effective leadership, business engagement and alignment across leadership, business, and engineering.

Measuring success with agile includes measuring leading measures (team or projects metrics), which when improved should lead to improvements in the lagging metrics (customer satisfaction or increase in revenue etc…). Both engineering/team and business metrics should be accounted for to measure success.

Commitment to ChangeAre you willing to have an engaged workforce to impact change? images-7Agile adoption needs a committed workforce that understands the principles of agility and is able to influence change is achieve the vision and objectives of the adoption. This includes organization leaders, senior and middle management, down to the team members. Lack of such commitment results in a conflict of interest for people engaged in the adoption. Additionally, lack of commitment is also a form a resistance which should be discussed and addressed.

Comfortable Being Vulnerable and make Uncomfortable Changes Are you comfortable with exposing problems, being vulnerable and potential temporary slow down? images-6The biggest reality associated with agile adoption is the fact that it exposes problems before they can be fixed. This can make people at different level very uncomfortable and exhibit behavior which impedes a successful agile adoption. Additionally, changes in multiple levels (roles, people, practices, processes etc…) may also cause a temporary slow down in the amount of work or value that can be produced.

In cases where the environment is not suitable for exposing problems and slow down, there might be a tendency to pursue the change without the commitment of making it successful. These expectations should be set up front and the data may also be used to help decision making about selecting the right products/initiatives/teams for adoption.

Wrap up – Agile adoption in most organizations is taking place for some nonconvincing reasons including “because the new CIO wants it” or because the competition is doing it. While these reasons will not go away, the leaders driving adoption or the consultants impacting the change should ensure that these difficult questions are asked and the emerging data used to assess readiness and willingness to be agile.

 

 

Why the idea of a scrum team is so powerful..

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The idea of a team has evolved over the last decade. What started off with a group of people working together to achieve a vague goal under the control of a manager/leader, has in some cases matured where teams are gradually getting more engaged and are aware of the business objectives and are being trusted to get to the finish line.

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The idea of a scrum team presented a new twist to the definition of a team, obviously with its share of discomforts. The thought of a team without a manager, attributes of self organization and self management and emphasis to build trust sounded great but had many heads shaking.

While some organizations have introduced structural changes to embrace 3 scrum roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development team), most organizations are trying to fit the new roles in the context of their current organizational structure or are making a effort to somehow align existing roles to the new ones.

The thought that some existing roles may become redundant can be discomforting and lead to resistance. Some common questions/opinions are highlighted:

  • What about the “other” roles like business analysts, architects, project managers etc..?
  • These people have been with the organization for ever. We can’t let them go.
  • Our product owners are customer facing and have other responsibilities. They cannot be available to the team.
  • A Scrum Master? Who is going to manage the team?
  • Our teams are not mature enough to self organize.

The above questions are clearly indicative of the lack of understanding of the roles and the fact that the organization is focussed on individual roles and not the overarching impact of the roles.

The intent behind the idea of a scrum team was to bring all aspects of product development (business/product, engineering and process) together in order to realize the end goal. While the simplicity of the framework makes it acceptable, the roles continue to operate in isolation and be looked as “speciality driven”. To simplify, Product Managers assume that the responsibility of development team is to implement their ideas only.

As I went around coaching many organizations, I have always made a focussed effort to communicate the attributes of a successful and high performing scrum team, and the attributes that make the idea of a scrum team so powerful. Here are some key attributes that distinguish the great scrum teams from the good ones:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 3.01.06 PMInclusiveness – Scrum teams works best in a inclusive environment. This means that while every individual might have a set of responsibilities that come with his/her role, what creates a big impact is how these roles come together and contribute to the overall success of the product. The idea that only Product Managers are responsible for product strategy, analysis and business decisions and development team implements the decisions made the manager defeats the purpose of a scrum team. In my experience, teams that have been able to achieve the highest level of productivity and created seriously innovative and disruptive products are the ones where these roles collaborate and engage on a day to day basis.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive

Mahatma Gandhi

 For example; the complexity and the time taken to implement a functionality can negate the value of the feature. This information from the development team can impact the priority of the items in the backlog and help the Product Manager make better decisions. So, the idea of a collaborative team that embraces the scrum practices as intended can have a positive impact on the business value produced and accelerate the time take to do so.

For a patient at a hospital going through a surgical procedure involving doctors from a variety of specializations, each doctor constantly provides inputs to others to make sure that every aspect of the patient’s health is known to reduce risks and keep focus on patient’s recovery. Each one is included to achieve the end goal.

Alignment – can go a long way in defining the interest of scrum team members. Often, team members have a very narrow focus on the immediate tasks at hand and lack clarity of the business goals and objectives. Creating alignment is a critical aspect for a scrum team.

Alignment is a practice, not a state.

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Alignment is critical both at the business and process level and the scrum framework provides practices to help create the alignment through the empirical process control. The scrum team exists so that product, engineering and process can tweak things to stay on course to achieve desired outcome.

Talking about alignment, US and India launched their respective missions to Mars about a year ago. A very big part of the journey to Mars that lasts about a year to complete is to adjust the trajectory of the space vehicle to aligned with the ultimate goal (red planet). This requires various teams handling a multitude of functions to work in complete collaboration and constantly align the vehicle to ensure that the vehicle does not go off course. Any kind of misalignment can have catastrophic results.

Passion  – Alignment creates passion. Once every member of the team is aligned with the end goal of the product with clarity about what defines product success, they contribute in their unique way using their skills to make it big and successful.

Unfortunately, team members work in silos either unaware of the end goal to be achieved or are just not allowed to create impact outside their territory.  There is no focused intent to leverage the team’s creativity, skills or knowledge to drive decisions.

A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

John Maxwell

Time and again companies like Amazon and Google have shared instances where teams were able to come up with innovative solutions just by understanding a problem, doing some experimentation and adapting to feedback and these are the people who feel passionate about what they do. The intent of a scrum team is to create this combined passion for what is expected to be achieved.

Delight – The term delight is often associated with customers but it holds equal importance when it comes to the team we work with. The question one may ask “so how do we delight the team?”. As humans we get a sense of delight from small gestures from people around us. These can include writing a note of gratitude for all they do for the team and the project, engaging in activities to familiarize with the ups and downs of their lives or by just acknowledging what they do as a member of the team.

There is no delight in owning anything unshared

Seneca the younger

When a team comes together to achieve a common purpose and hold each other accountable for the collective success, delight happens. Acts of support, trust, belief, respect, openness result in a overall delightful environment and experience.

Click here to read about an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley called impact design to evaluate a delightful experience.

Celebrate – A unique attribute of scrum teams is their ability to celebrate success and failure. The cause of a success or failure is never attributed an individual but the whole team.

“Each day offers a reason to celebrate. Find it and experience true bliss.”

Amy Leigh Mercree

The important aspect of celebration in this case is that the celebration should become part of the team culture. Celebrations should happen frequently, for the whole team and in a way such that it leaves a lasting impact of the team members.

Conclusion: As organizations embrace the scrum team idea, the thought process needs to go beyond the need, skills and title of a role. Instead the focus needs to be towards creating an environment where unique skills are coming together to achieve a common goal in a inclusive environment where there is passion, alignment and celebrations and delight is not just for customer but for every member of the team.