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What the hell is Scrum

Welcome to the Bookclub. Read an introduction to the book Scrum by Jeff Sutherland – The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

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Why Scrum?

It’s crazy what you remember when you’re just two years of age. 28. January 1986: I remember watching the evening news with my mom – it was my ritual before going to bed. I remember staring at the pictures on the screen. Before my eyes I could see the space craft Challenger disintegrate. It was the greatest tragedy in the US space program and the world was watching. The solid boosters were still firing uncontrollably and tumbled unguided in the sky. The pictures were shocking and although I was probably too young to comprehend what actually happened, I knew this was big.

„Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The US Space Shuttle Challenger exploded today immediately after its launch. All seven crew members – five men and two women – have been killed.“ 

Just seconds after the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle Source: Wikimedia

Leading up to the event a O-Ring seal failed at liftoff. A piece of just a few dollars in production, if not even cents. The same type of sealing is used in your shower head that gets you annoyed when the water is spilling out of the joint rather than washing the shampoo off your head. Except, that your shower head isn’t shot to space at a velocity of 3000 km/h sitting on top of a giant tank of rocket fuel ready to explode. Seven people died that day and the world was watching it live on TV. 

Simplified cross-section of the field joints between the segments of the pre-Challenger Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters

„The seals were not designed to handle the unusual cold conditions that existed at this launch“, concluded the Rogers Commission later. Furthermore:

NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes had been key in contributing to the accident.

About 25 years later I used the Challenger tragedy as an example in my risk awareness seminars. We used the same technology in our Steam Turbine design to prevent turning a power plant into a giant steam cooker. My point was, that any piece of hardware – no matter how simple – can lead to great tragedy when not taken care of properly. What I didn’t yet comprehend – although it was sitting there right in front of me – was that it’s not so much the technology that’s the problem, it’s the culture of the organization and the way we work that needs attention.

The way the world works is broken

Jeff Sutherland is a former US Air Force pilot that risked his live during recognition missions in the deadly skies of North Vietnam. Thanks to the tactics learnt for combat he and his navigator made it back home alive.

Jeff Sutherland, Creator of Scrum on a picture from 2009. Source: Wikimedia

He developed the framework of Scrum by noticing how we actually work, rather than we think we do. Sutherland studied systems and systems theory when he found incredible similarity to teams. Although Scrum is now widely used in the IT and digital world it is actually not exclusive to it. IT-systems of the 90s and early 2000s have just been so messed up that they most urgently needed fixing. Sutherland explains perfectly well how he also used it for other activities, like wedding planning or to fix things around the house that would make his wife happy. It is not some new sort of managerial hocus pocus. It’s rather a philosophy and a way to comprehend human endeavor. Although Scrum sounds like a silly fusion of the word scrape and drum, the term actually comes from rugby: “Careful alignment, unity of purpose, and clarity of goal […]. It’s the perfect metaphor for what I want teams to do,“ writes Sutherland in his book.

Change or die

Organizations spend millions of dollars and waste countless of valuable years planning complete fabrications. Budgets are overshot, projects are not delivered on time and taxpayer money is thrown after never ending public disgrace like you throw firewood into a bon fire. The capital of the ‘world export nation’ has ridiculed itself for years by building an airport that – so some Berliners are believed to have said – not even Chuck Norris could finish. It’s actually not that funny. We accept all of it and are calling it ‘managerial fault‘. It’s the way these things work, right?! But in a smaller scale we can witness the same in our organizations, in our own projects (also check out our article on How to become more productive that takes advantage of Scrum),

No room for waste

Where in the hyper productive world of the 21st century is room for such waste? The inevitably truth is: there isn’t. What was the fact for the dinosaurs millions of years ago applies to the business world of today more than ever. If you don’t adapt, you’ll die. 

“How much of your life is wasted on work that both you and your boss realize doesn’t create value. You might as well be digging holes and filling them up in again, for all the impact you’re having. […] Just because everyone has always told you that’s the way the world works doesn’t mean they’re right. There is a different way of doing things – a different way of working.“ 

Scrum explained

Scrum embraces uncertainty and human creativity. It basically sees every project and human endeavor as a exploration into uncertainty and for what it is: a learning process. It enables teams to improves with quick inspect and adapt cycles. By this and by prioritizing work along value teams can accelerate and get more work done in shorter amounts of time. „The best teams can achieve productivity increases of up to 800 percent and replicate success over and over again,“ says Sutherland. 

This is based on the twelve principles of the agile manifesto. Rather promoting the rigid chain of commands where decision making is done at the most furthest point way from the teams at the top of the organization and important information gets bogged down by organizational quicksand (such as with the Challenger Disaster) Scrum promotes trust and collaboration. 

A page turner

Jeff Sutherland has created a page turner with the help of his son JJ Sutherland. His  book is exciting to read and full of stories that explains the meaning behind all of it. I have read it in a matter of a rainy weekend, cuddled up on the couch and zoomed in from the first to the last page. What turned out to be just ‘further reading material‘ on a remote study on Agile Leadership has hooked me since. I bet I will have a similar effect on you as well. For just a few bucks you can get all the insights that usually only come to you in some fancy business studies. This book is just too important to be ignored, and I am asking myself why I didn’t come across it earlier.

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