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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Culture Game - Extract #2

The Culture Game - Extract #2

Mapping the Lessons of Agile to ANY Enterprise

This book maps the lessons of Agile software development from teams to the enterprise. The book distills the lessons of the Agile software development revolution, and provides a how-to manual that can help you to map the lessons of Agile to your enterprise. The result is a handbook that any organization can use to enable enterprise-wide learning. These lessons can apply to any company that wants to leverage organization-wide learning as a competitive weapon.

In software development, team learning is an absolute and essential requirement for success. That is why the essential lessons from Agile practice are so important. These lessons can be extracted, generalized, repurposed, and scaled up to enable enterprise-wide learning. The lessons of Agile team learning do scale, although many Agile practices do not, as you will learn from this book. The Agile revolution in software development contains all of the keys to fostering wide-scope, enterprise-wide learning.

The Agile revolution of the past 10 years answers three questions. What is the best way to initiate team learning? How do we actually make it happen? How do we DO it?

The Scrum Framework

One of the lessons of Agile software development is that structure matters. The roles, meetings, documents, and rules help determine the results we get. Organizations are social systems. What is valued and how authority is distributed are materially significant to a healthy system. Scrum is a team framework that encourages group-level learning.

Scrum employs three personal roles and three types of meetings to engineer effective interactions by and between team members. Scrum is built on a set of values that distributes authority in specific ways.

Scrum encourages the periodic examination of experience through a meeting called the retrospective. The Scrum framework encourages experimentation, proactive management of boundaries, and a high degree of structuring interactions.

Scrum encourages everyone to focus his or her attention. That is why someone not in authority facilitates all Scrum meetings; the convener who is in authority during the meeting has an assistant to keep the meeting on track.

Teams that do Scrum well learned that they perform better when coached, and team members have become very good at paying attention collectively. Teams display their visual artifacts such as task boards, diagrams, and charts prominently on the walls of their workspaces. Ideally, the entire team occupies and shares the same workspaces.

Scrum is a Good Game

The practice of Scrum is a root of the Tribal Learning Practices. Scrum is a teamwork-and-learning framework to build complex products using teams of knowledge workers. Scrum encourages and helps create a total team-learning environment, or safe space, for knowledge creation.

As described in Part One, the Scrum framework qualifies as a game. As long as people opt-in, rather than being forced to play, Figure 3 demonstrates that Scrum has all the essential elements of a good game. [1]

Figure 1. Scrum is a good game

Good Game Properties

How Scrum Implements a Good Game

A clear GOAL

Scrum defines the Sprint Backlog and Sprint Goal as part of the game

A clear set of RULES

The Scrum Guide is the de facto rule book for Scrum

A way to receive feedback
(a way to know the SCORE)

Every Sprint, the team shows the work just completed and declares the work DONE

Optional participation by all players

In Genuine & Authentic Scrum, all the people in all the roles consent to participate

Tribal Learning

Tribal Learning is the group learning process that takes place inside medium-sized groups – tribes that contain fewer than 150 people. It involves learning not just about the work, but also about the people doing the work. Tribal Learning is what happens when you use the set of tools described in this book. Tribal Learning is the act of learning taking place at the level of tribe – in groups from about 20 to about 150 people. The Agile software revolution has taught us how to manifest team learning. The lessons of Agility now provide the basis for learning at the next-wider scale – Tribal Learning.

Why aim to achieve Tribal Learning – that is, learning in groups of about 20 to about 150 people?

First, such learning helps foster a more nimble, agile organization overall. Tribal Learning helps an organization to identify opportunities, threats, environmental changes, and risks more quickly. Such learning helps an organization respond to its environment with very small delays. This is a distinct competitive advantage.

Second, genuine Tribal Learning, while being quite fun and satisfying, is also a hallmark of great organizations. Great organizations enjoy a level of performance far in excess of their peers and competitors.

Agile software development has taught us how to generate extensive team-level learning. The lessons are there and are described concisely in Part Two. Now you can apply these lessons across your entire enterprise. This book describes how.

Scrum creates the potential to achieve substantial levels of happiness and enjoyment. Figure 5 depicts how it creates a sense of control, a sense of progress, a sense of belonging, and a sense of high purpose. There is a lot going on in Scrum. Teams that do Genuine & Authentic Scrum usually display many of the Tribal Learning behaviors described later in this book [2]. Of organizations that have adopted an Agile methodology for their software development, over 70% reported the use of Scrum as their framework for organizing teams. [3]

How This Book is Organized

This book is organized into four Parts.

Part One introduces all the ideas in this book. It also provides important preliminary information on essentials of Tribal Learning, including extensive coverage of a core concept – psychological safety. Everyone reading this book needs to examine Part One.

Figure 2. How Scrum delivers happiness

Four Requirements for Happiness

How Scrum Delivers Happiness

A sense of CONTROL

Per the rules of Scrum, only the Team is authorized to select WHAT work they will do, and HOW they will do it.

A sense of PROGRESS

Per the rules of Scrum, the Team and the Product Owner cooperatively define a definition of DONE. When the Sprint is complete, they use this definition to measure the work. Teams declare victory after every Sprint.

A sense of BELONGING to a group and being CONNECTED to others

In Scrum, Teams are authorized to self-organize in any way they see fit. Teams are cross-functional, and team members share work equally. Individuals identify with their Team as they bond to each other.


In Scrum, service to the product vision (expressed as the Product Backlog) is the purpose of the Team. The Team is competent to face a difficult goal based on a clearly articulated product vision.

Part Two provides the bottom-up tools that anyone in any organization can use to encourage more Tribal Learning. Most of these tools are simple and free. You simply need some willingness to try them for yourself. These tools are best utilized within a small group of people who are working together to tip the culture in the direction of more learning and more fun at work.

[1] Scrum is now mainstream, and many organizations are using it. A significant problem is that the people involved are not opting in. This actually kills the game of Scrum by removing the essential sense of control. I have written a blog post that drives deeper into this idea. Agile and executive coaches may want to take a look. See this link.

[2] Chapter Six lists and explains all of the Tribal Learning Practices

[3] See Jeff Sutherland's blog describing Agile and Scrum

About the Author

Dan Mezick advises leaders, teams and organizations. An expert on culture design and business agility, Dan speaks frequently at industry conferences on culture change, organizational learning, and teamwork. He is an organizer of the agile CULTURE Conference, the signal event coming to Philadelphia & Boston in September of 2012. Sponsored by INFOQ, this event is keenly focused on the emerging art & science of culture design for teams and organizations. You can learn more here.

Dan's organization New Technology Solutions provides training programs, consulting & coaching to businesses of all sizes that are seeking more business agility. You can reach Dan at , by phone at 203 915 7248, via Twitter @DanMezick, or via his blog.

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