Lessons from Scrum Adopters – 2013

The recently published the ‘State of Scrum Report’ – http://www.scrumalliance.org/why-scrum/state-of-scrum-report – is a good opportunity to see how organizations across the globe are dealing with the adoption of agile practices. Here are some highlights that will be useful to people and organizations looking to adopt Scrum.

Metrics – What does Success Look Like?

Among the difficulties encountered when adopting Scrum, the top two reported reasons were:

  1. The lack of clear metrics to measure the success of Scrum projects
  2. The difficulty of transition from Waterfall

While the #2 is a no-brainer, the #1 – metrics – is an important reminder that a good strategy should always include a definition of success. In my experience, it often gets forgotten until later. A good approach to avoiding this pitfall is to work with various functional teams to establish metrics and paint a picture of success. Engage an outside coach or consultant to help if needed. Many of us had to face this challenge at some point – lean on the outside expertise.

The ‘Why’

Among the top reasons why organizations adopt Scrum, the top three are:

  1. Fulfilling customer needs
  2. Meeting budget, time and scope constraints
  3. Completing projects that will drive innovation and market share

While these three will hardly surprise anyone, these indicate that the core values of agile methods and Scrum in particular are in line with the current economic realities – focusing on customers, and driving innovation as a strategy to gain market share while managing budget and deadlines. Agile champions: use these points to address the ‘WIIFM’ part of the pitch – the ‘What’s In It For Me’ question. For stakeholders and senior leaders in particular, these will likely resonate, if positioned appropriately.

One Way or Many

The report states that 13% of  companies that started with Waterfall now use Scrum exclusively; most – 79%  – use a mix of Waterfall and Scrum; 8% went back to waterfall. This is another point worth noting. When answering the question as to what is right for your organization, and how diverse your project management toolkit needs to be, many factors come in play. The size of the organization, cultural realities, political constraints all have to be considered. Remember that no single technique or agile framework is the answer in all circumstances. And remember that changing culture requires patience and a phased, patient approach with a multi-year vision. While you may aspire to turn your organization into a successful Scrum culture, confront the reality. Maybe starting with a Kanban like flow is a better answer. Consider using Stacy’s Complexity Matrix as a conversation starter. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great starting point to understand how to position your agile rollout strategy. I have used it successfully in the past.

Stealth Mode

Simply put, any attempt to roll out agile via a stealth approach  is an exercise in futility. Sure, a team may accomplish something by applying Scrum in a stealth mode. But it won’t stick in the long run. Why? Agility is a system of values. It implies empowerment, accountability and transparency among other core principles. Stealth and transparency do not mix. If not careful, a well-intended stealth attempts at agility may end up achieving the opposite – souring organizations on agile methods due to political disconnects, the lack of alignment, underwhelming results, and the misunderstanding of what happened.

The report makes the following observations:

  • The Scrum culture requires management support
  • Key to success: (1) buy-in and support from leadership, (2) a culture that facilitates Scrum, (3) all the training and community support you can get

Get management support – obtain sponsorship, establish a communication strategy, and understand the realities of organizational and cultural inertia. Process change is hard, culture change is harder still. Get help from inside and outside. Pilot the new methodology in a way that gives you and your team some early success stories.

And – try to have fun in the process.

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