Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Scrum in TV shows and in real life

In an old episode of HBO “Silicon Valley” show, a soft-spoken MBA-bearing non-technical dude introduces Scrum to the hard-charging engineering team by presenting them with a Scrum board. The purpose of the system is declared to be “visibility into who is working on what”. As it becomes clear in the next 30 seconds, the actual value the team gets out of using the Scrum board (and, by extension, Scrum) appears to be the competition between the engineers who appear to work harder and faster on their separate stories to one-up each other.

So what is Scrum, and what does it do?

Scrum.org offers this definition: “Scrum is a management and control process that cuts through complexity to focus on building software that meets business needs.” If that’s too complicated, here’s another attempt at an explanation: “Scrum itself is a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex software projects.”

While this does not explain what Scrum is (one should take multi-day training courses to fully groke that), it starts to emerge that Scrum is about:

  1. teams
  2. complex projects
  3. visibility into the work of and collaboration between individual contributors

First two items describe common reality, while the last one is often a hard-to-reach state.

Visibility and collaboration are a worthy goal for many organizations. Teams produce better value if all participants were fully aware of the overall vision and what other people are working on.

Collaboration and friendly competition are known to improve productivity and quality of the work. Installing and maintaining a Scrum board is a lot less work than adopting proper Scrum. Yet, it is a tiny investment with outsized return.