Scrum and its Relationship to Other Management Techniques

(On relationships of Scrum,TOC, BPR, Systems’ Thinking, Knowledge Management, TQM, Complexity, Manufacturing, New Product Development, etc.)

Although there are great synergies between TOC and Scrum, there are also vast differences. Both provide patterns to resolve systemic problems akin to those described in Systems’ Thinking by Senge, but TOC resolves systemic problems that are more akin to process improvement ala TQM, rather than complete overhauls as in BPR, which I argue, is closer to what Scrum does – it reengineers the process from scratch, by implementing high performance patterns altogether.

For the most part, TOC, and The Goal, assume a somewhat repeatable business process, where the process of removing constraints, exploiting constraints, finding new ones, etc.; is an ongoing process in a somewhat stable, repeatable process.

Scrum, on the other hand, generalizes this technique in the absence of a repeatable process, it simply removes *any* constraints constantly, with no assurance that the constraints removed will remain so the next day, and that the particular constraint optimized
“has been removed”, and that we can move on to new ones at that point. It is usually the case, however.

Another important difference is that a Scrum team is already an organizational structure that avoids process anti-patterns like handoffs, iteration and re-work (among different organizational structures, between an “analysis” team and a “design team” for example, or between an organizational structure building component A, communicating with another one building component B, in a Conway’s Law configuration i.e. where Organization Follows Architecture.

In that sense, a Scrum team is a true “Case Team”, as termed in Michael Hammer’s BPR, i.e. an organization structure that is *completely responsible* for the success of a process or project, where the ScrumMaster is the “Case Manager* ala Hammer, that responds to the Product Owner.

From the Knowledge Management perspective, TOC optimizes the process and therefore, more knowledge of the processes themselves are more valued, while in the Scrum (Case Team) perspective, the individual contributor’s knowledge is more valued.

On the other, and to make things slightly more complicated, Scrum sits atop a number of processes, that as more applications of the same kind are built, tend to be more repeatable, like configuration management, testing of certain components, vertical slice development or new applications on top of reusable architectural services.

The interesting thing to note, is that in Scrum, smaller reusable processes develop underneath as a base of knowledge but they don’t drive development, while the Scrum process, acts as a “work generator/work management” “process envelope” (a superprocess, or meta-process, if you prefer), that drives the work. (In Complexity terms, it is the Maxwell Demon that provides the autocatalytic cycles to drive self-organization, ala Kaufman’s “Origins of Order”.

Curiously, manufacturing is turning more and more to the original BPR patterns to build things. However, New Product Development always requires one meta-level more of work organization to handle the variability of “building something new every time”. In software development this difference evolves into a more continuum spectrum. The first application in a domain is New Product development, but as new ones get added, only a percentage is New Product development, the other percentage is more like manufacturing, and therefore more repeatable.

But don’t worry – no one needs to understand all the above gibberish for Scrum to work. On the other hand, it is nice to understand these things to properly understand Scrum in the context of other management techniques,

- Mike Beedle

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Doctor, it hurts when I do this…

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this…

Doctor: Then stop doing it…

A wonderful definition of insanity is “doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting different results.” Yet, for some strange reason, we persist in using methods that are not working. On several projects at a past employer, I was hearing reports of our corporate-branded custom methodology resulting in late delivery, incorrect delivery, and reduced features, etc. The argument given was always “this extraneous factor happened,” or “the customer kept changing their minds,” or “the customer wasn’t implementing the methodology properly.”

What was the solution? Why, to do the same thing again, only harder! This I hear from many of my colleagues quite frequently. When all is lost, and the methodology is failing, cling more heavily to its rules and structures. Now sometimes this is valid. If, in fact, the methodology is being poorly implemented, and if the methodology is supportive of the environment and culture and circumstance of the project, then by all means, tighten up the implementation. Sadly, however, seldom is a proper analysis done of the fitness of the methodology to the needs of the project.

One of the very nice things about Scrum, for example, is that it is a short-cycle iterative feedback system. It is not a large methodology with lots of process. In a sense, it is a process for uncovering the work that needs doing, and for structuring that work in a highly compartmentalized way. Because of this, it is often quite resilient to external factors. Also, Scrum assumes that outward conditions will change, and assumes further that many of these changes are entirely out of the project’s control. Therefore Scrum is organized to find these externals irrelevant to its measures of success. It’s classic lateral thinking.

Why mention the above? Because the most common failure of a methodology is its inability to handle fundamental change. It requires a certain number of assumptions. If these assumptions change, then the whole project needs to be re-conceived. If you have a project lifecycle that lasts about 2 years, this is a very expensive re-conception. In this context, my above paraphrase could be re-stated to: “Insanity is doing the same thing, in a different context, and expecting the same results.”

With Scrum and other empirical processes, you re-formulate the project on a cyclical basis (say, a month). Thus, all new information can be assumed for the next cycle safely, and everyone is secure in the knowledge that all things can be re-examined next cycle. A problem is turned into a strength.

I’m not saying that Scrum can’t be misapplied, or that people can’t get into trouble there… but the fundamentals of Scrum and empirical processes are such that, if reasonably applied, you shouldn’t need to bang your head into the wall month after month. After all, in the end, if it’s that bad, it’s much cheaper to cancel a scrum project than a traditional plan-based project, because you will tend to know sooner that it needs to be cancelled.

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Agile Household Management – Update

My wife and I have been doing weekly iterations to deal with our household management stuff. As we go along, we are definitely getting through the high-priority items on our household backlog. Along the way, we have encountered a couple of glitches.

1. We missed doing our weekly planning meeting one week. Basically, it was a really busy weekend with way too much stuff going on, both expected and unexpected. We simply failed to remember to do our planning meeting until it was too late to fit it in.

2. Most weeks we miss a number of items that we have selected to complete that week. It can be anywhere from 10% to 70% of the total number of tasks. Usually we get the “larger” tasks done and it is just smaller stuff that we miss.

3. I don’t have nearly the same visibility into the work as my wife does. I travel and am away from home four days a week. As a result, I don’t get to see the state of the house or participate in daily planning except for the three days that I am home.

So, we’ve discussed these things and decided that one thing that will help is to create an information radiator. We will be putting up our weekly selection of tasks on yellow sticky notes on a prominent wall in the hallway between our bedrooms and the rest of the house. The location is a compromise between visibility and privacy. We don’t want the tasks to be in a public portion of the house.

We hope that having the tasks up will allow me to be a little more conscious of the work that needs to be done. As well, it will be a frequent reminder of what is left to accomplish. I hope that this will be a fairly easy and valuable addition to our agile household management process.

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Interesting Article by Scott Berkun

Why smart people defend bad ideas by Scott Berkun looks at a fascinating, and fairly common, problem. Interestingly, this problem of smart people doing dumb things / defending bad ideas, is often related to perception. Agile principles and practices are about aligning perception among all the stakeholders, and in particular, between an execution team and the rest of the stakeholders. By aligning perception, the best environment is created for doing the right thing. In the case of a business, your project teams are the experts in “how” to do stuff, and your business teams are the experts in “why” to do stuff. This combination of “how” and “why” is done as efficiently as possible using agile work methods.

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People are Creators – Effectiveness

Our effectiveness as creators depends greatly on our knowledge and our skills. Less obviously, our effectiveness as creators also depends on our emotional and mental state, and even what some would call our spiritual state. Finally, our ability to create can be greatly magnified or greatly reduced by our environment, particularly the other people who are around us. Which is interesting, because our creative nature affects our environment.

CreativeMilieu.png

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Reality is Perceived

Our senses and the devices we create to extend our senses, are filters through which we perceive reality. We don’t get to sense all of reality. Then, our minds take in the streams of information from our senses, and filter them further. Our attention or focus, our preconceptions, our mood, all determine the way we filter information from our senses. If we are feeling guilty, we may be more likely to hear other peoples’ conversation as criticism. If we are feeling proud, we may be more likely to hear those same conversations as praise.

If our perceptions are wrong then no amount of logical excellence will give the right answer. So it is a pity that almost the whole of our traditional intellectual effort has been directed at logic and so little at perception.

Logic will not change emotions and feelings. Perception will.” (Edward de Bono, Textbook of Wisdom, 1996)

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About People, Tools and Processes

Experienced, smart individuals who work together effectively will always perform better than junior untalented people thrown together at random. The experienced effective group will build its own tools and create its own processes. The random junior group will be unable to effectively utilize tools given to them, nor will they be able to effectively follow a process.

When a team needs improvement, don’t impose a process or throw tools at them. Instead, concentrate on improving the team and the individuals within it. Technical, personal and team training and coaching will always be time and money well-spent. Spending money on processes and tools before an excellent team is in place can be very risky and wasteful.

Individualism and competition have no place in an agile work environment. Instead, the agile environment supports and fosters teamwork, collaboration and consultation. In turn, teamwork, collaboration and consultation depend on trust and truthfulness.  “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.”

Nevertheless, processes and tools still have some importance. Great people with a great flexible process and great flexible tools will be hyper-productive. A junior group may need training on tools that will help them be more productive. Just be sure to never let processes and tools get in the way of the team.

In many ways, improving people is a sufficient practice for agile work. All the other principles, disciplines and practices would eventually arise out of this one practice. However, the depth of individual and group improvement needed for this practice to stand on its own is very great. Therefore we make the other principles, disciplines and practices explicit.

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Agile Corporate Culture Change

Corporate Culture Survival Guide BookIn “The Corporate Culture Survival Guide”, Edgar H. Schein describes a method for implementing culture change in corporations. He says:

As the change team works on the ideal state and the present state [of the corporate culture], it probably has to periodically redefine the change problem in terms of the gap or gaps identified. In other words, though the process is a set of steps undertaken in sequence, there are many feedback loops that force going back to earlier steps to guarantee clear thinking. . . .

As various gaps are identified in concrete form, it becomes apparent where cultural assumptions aid or hinder the change agenda. For example, having sales teams work together on big accounts may sound simple until it is discovered that the organization’s individualistic culture prevents changing the incentive system to a group-based compensation program. The change program then has to shift to examining how to change some of the individualistic assumptions; this might entail an entirely new change program not previously thought about at all.

In other words, expect and embrace changes in understanding brought about by learning from work performed. Deliver corporate culture change work iteratively. Plan corporate change adaptively.

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People are Creators

People are creators: we willfully change our environment, we imagine new things and through our actions, manifest those things in the world. All people do this. Human beings enjoy having an effect on their environment and seeing the results of that effect. We all have this ability. We all derive satisfaction from the exercise of this ability. And we can all learn to improve this ability.

In any endeavor we take on, we are attempting to create something new. A new system, a new object, a new pattern of behavior, or a new way of thinking. We are attempting to create change. This is one of three fundamental axioms of Agile Work.

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Management and Business as Sources of Waste

Waste can be of several different types. Independent of what the types of wastes are, they can also come from different sources. When attempting agile work, it is essential to identify the underlying causes or sources of waste. Once these sources are identified, efforts can be made to change them so that they cause less waste.

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Test-Driven Work

In an agile environment, all work done needs to be directly related to the needs of stakeholders. Stakeholders request or “pull” work from the team, and they do this by defining prioritized work packages. The team needs some way to know when they have completed a work package, so both work packages and iteration tasks need to have testable acceptance or success criteria. The team collaborates with the stakeholders to determine what needs to be done to successfully complete a work package.

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The Qualities of an Ideal Test

These six qualities of tests describe how to make a test as effective and as useful as possible. The qualities are similar in style to the INVEST qualities of user stories – but they don’t form a nice acronym.

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Entry for Agile Work on Wikipedia

Can be found here. It is very bare-bones and will eventually be fleshed out. Presents the outline of the basic axioms, disciplines and practices of working agile. Please feel free to contribute.

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Iterative Delivery

Work can often be divided up so that the smaller pieces are valuable on their own. By dividing work this way, a team can deliver value incrementally. The team can choose a short period of time called an iteration and select a small amount of work to complete in that time. This work should be valuable on its own. For example, if a team is building something, then at the end of each iteration whatever is built is usable as it is. This means that each iteration includes all the planning and design as well as construction or creation necessary to deliver a final product or result.

For example, a volunteer group may desire to attract new members. A non-agile approach would have the group plan their membership campaign completely before actually executing on it. An agile approach using iterative delivery would have the group plan a small piece of work that will attract some small number of new members, execute it, and then start a new iteration. One iteration may cover the creation of and delivery of a door-to-door flyer in a neighborhood. Another iteration may cover the design, creation and publishing of a small advertisement in a local newspaper. Each iteration includes all the steps necessary to produce a furthering of the group’s goal of attracting new members.

In a business environment, iterative delivery allows for a much faster return on investment. The following diagram compares delivering value iteratively with a non-agile project delivery where results are delivered only at the end of the project:

Iteration Value Delivery

One can see clearly from the diagrams that the non-agile delivery of value at the end of a project is also extremely risk prone and suseptible to change. If the project is cancelled just before it delivers, then a fairly substantial amount of effort is wasted. In the agile iterative delivery situation, an endeavor can be cancelled at almost any time and it is likely that substantial value has already been delivered.

Even if the work cannot actually be delivered incrementally, it almost always can be divided in a way so that it can be inspected in stages. Either method of dividing work allows us to do the work in iterations.

Iterations are fixed and consistent units of time during which work is performed and between which planning, inspection and adjustment is done. The empowered team will decide on the length of iterations for their work. As a rule of thumb iterations should be shorter than the horizon of predictability. Generally, iterations should never be longer than one month, no matter what the endeavor.

At the end of each iteration, a demonstration of the work completed is given to the stakeholders in order to amplify learning and feedback. Between iterations, the stakeholders collaborate with the team to prioritize the remaining work and choose what will be worked on during the next iteration. During the iteration, the stakeholders need to be accessible for questions and clarifications.

Iterative and incremental delivery is used to allow for the early discovery and correction of mistakes and the incorporation of learning and feedback while at the same time delivering value early.

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