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Q&A with Jeff Sutherland on Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Posted by Ben Linders on Nov 05, 2014 |

In his new book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland explains how the Scrum framework can be used as a general business practice to accelerate work of all kinds. He describes how bottom-up organization can be done by giving teams a clear goal and allowing them to decide how to accomplish it, and how to use continuous improvements and minimum viable products to get frequent and quick feedback during projects.

You can download an excerpt of The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time to get an impression of this book.

InfoQ did an interview with Jeff about using the Scrum framework outside of software development, the characteristics of great teams, increasing happiness, how to use product owner teams, and on experiences from applying Scrum for education.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book on Scrum. What makes it different from other Scrum books?

Jeff: A couple of years ago, Ken Schwaber and I wrote “Software in 30 Days.” I had all these great stories that I could not get into that book because Ken wanted it focused totally on IT. The magic of Scrum does not come from IT. Only when you understand where it comes from can you implement it well. My son, a war correspondent with National Public Radio had been working part time on the book “The Power of Scrum.” He proposed we do the first major Scrum book for business people in all walks of life. It would need to be funded through a major publisher. Random House agreed to a large advance that allowed me part time and my son full time to focus on this book for a year. They insisted that less than 20% of the examples be in IT. Our editor is the editor of the Lean Startup book by Eric Ries. He has walked us through the process of removing all IT jargon and making this the first Scrum book that your mother will read and implement at home and in her work (not to mention execs in Fortune 100 companies).

InfoQ: The book contains many stories of Scrum being used outside of software development. How did these non software teams hear about Scrum?

Jeff: My son was helping translate “The Power of Scrum” from the Dutch version and he, of course, had heard about Scrum for 20 years at home. At the time he was leading the production of National Public Radio news from the Egyptian revolution with a team of high powered correspondents that he smuggled into Tahrir Square. He decided to do Scrum with two daily meetings a day and his team won every major journalism award that year for their comprehensive, high-quality reporting of the Arab Spring. During the year he focused full time on the book, I had him interview people using Scrum in many non-software environments.

InfoQ: What made them decide to use the Scrum framework?

Jeff: For home, family, and weddings, Scrum coaches introduced the idea to get things done twice as fast with half the work. For Eduscrum.com, the leading implementation of Scrum in education, a DevOps expert I trained in Scrum at Schuberg Philis in the Netherlands suggested to his chemistry teacher father that he use Scrum in school. I have been encouraging government leaders to use Scrum for the last decade, as well as people in marketing, finance, sales, etc. The venture group I work with, OpenView Venture Partners uses Scrum everywhere in their business. We have almost a billion dollars invested in Scrum companies and we want Scrum implemented in every department of every company because we get three times the work in 1/3 the time when our investors are coaching companies.

InfoQ: In your book you mentioned three characteristics of great teams: Transcendence, autonomy and cross functional. Can you elaborate on that?

Jeff: Scrum derives from the work of Nonaka and Takeuchi and their study of Lean Product Development at Toyota, Honda, 3M, and other lean companies. The best teams always have transcendent goals, autonomy, and innovate through cross-functional teams that learn together how to build great product. Nonaka is the leading expert on the planet on knowledge generation in companies.

For example, Nonaka and Takeuchi studied the Toyota Prius project and noted that the team had transcendent goals. Toyota’s next step to zero emissions and greening the planet was a car that got twice the gas mileage and could be delivered in half the time. The team was challenged to figure it out on their own and to clarify for management any help they needed. They were autonomous is choosing how to do it, how to select the work, and when to do the work. Teams are cross-functional, cross-learning, and every person helps every other person achieve the goal.

We have some high performing teams at Google who have adopted the Scrum that Taiichi Ohno implemented at Toyota. Every team member works the top of the Scrum board whether they know how to do the top story or not. As a result, every team member can do everything. If there is an impediment they work on that first. The average Scrum team better hope they never have to compete with Google!

InfoQ: Happiness precedes important outcomes, people are successful because they are happy as you stated in the book. Can give some advice to teams that want to increase happiness?

Jeff: At Scrum Inc, we use the Happiness Metric to start the Scrum Retrospective for all teams. How do I feel about my job on a scale of 1-5. What will make me feel better. When we have the info from every team member, the team brainstorms what single improvement will increase happiness the most in the next sprint. We then put this as the Kaizen at the top of the Sprint Backlog with acceptance tests for completion in the next sprint. This has caused the team improve output by 400% in the first year and to keep improving for the past three years. Harvard research shows happiness increases production for any type of work.

InfoQ: Teams sometimes have high expectations from Product Owners. One solution is to setup a team of product owners that addresses all the team needs. Can you give some examples on how to do this?

Jeff: Teams need to understand that the Product Owner is responsible for big stories that generate more revenue. To get stories broken down so that they are Ready for implementation in the sprint, requires the team to work with the Product Owner. It is a collaborative effort. At Scrum Inc. we measure the Product Owners on doubling revenue per point of velocity of the team. When the team doubles velocity and the Product Owner doubles revenue per point we have 400% more revenue and give a big chunk of that back to the Product Owner and Team. Everybody is really happy about this!

InfoQ: You wrote about your visit to the Ashram college where you saw how students use eduScrum to learn chemistry. InfoQ also interviewed teachers from eduScrum and from Blueprint Education on using Scrum for education. Can you share some experiences from your visit?

Jeff: Eduscrum started in chemistry at Ashram college and has now expanded into many other classes within Ashram college and other schools in the Netherlands. When I visited the school earlier this year, I visited many classes.

When the bell rings, the teenagers come running into the room laughing and joking and run to the wall to post their Scrum board with sticky notes and have their daily meeting – usually less than 10 minutes. Then they literally run to their desks and start work. The teacher does nothing. He/she is the Product Owner and only talks to clarify the backlog and answer questions. They usually are not allowed to talk more than 10 minutes when the students ask for a short lecture on a difficult topic. The teachers job is the Product Owner’s job to verify stories are done. For the school, Done means every member of the team understands the story.

I asked the kids if this was more fun than “waterfall” classes. They all screamed “Yes” because they have a “Definition of Fun” in addition to a “Definition of Done” for every story. When I asked about grades they said the Scrum classes average over 7 on the Netherlands scale of 1-10 and the non-Scrum classes average 5. They also said they finish the semester weeks early and get special projects. So Scrum is faster, better, and a lot more fun.

The teachers say Scrum eliminates virtually all motivation and discipline problems as the teams are self-managing. The teams work through vacations on their own if they are behind or adopt special projects. I also noticed that handicapped children become full members of the teams and are first-class citizens with this approach. One autistic boy who could hardly talk to anyone two years ago became a Scrum master and great communicator for his team. This approach to education is beyond awesome. It is transformative to the children and you have to see it to believe it!

InfoQ: Is there some advice that you would like to give to agile teams all around the world?

Jeff: Recently I visited 12 of the largest and most successful companies in Silicon Valley on a book tour. They average number of Scrum teams in these companies was more than 200, many much larger than that. I was impressed at the scale at which Scrum is being implemented.

Unfortunately, over 80% of these teams do not have tested, working software at the end of a sprint. This creates huge delays and many problems. Scrum becomes slow, hard, and painful. It is a gross violation of the second value in the Agile Manifesto. Therefore, it is “Bad Agile.” The Product Owners and customers cannot count on anything except being late.

I want to communicate to all teams, that for Scrum to be fast, easy, and fun as at the Ashram college, you must have working product at the end of the sprint. This is not that hard to do but takes focus and discipline. One of the teenage girls at Ashram college told me her father came home to dinner one night totally depressed. When the family asked why he was so morose, he said that Scrum had just been implemented in his IT team. The daughter asked he father what they were doing and immediately noticed they were doing it all wrong and started to coach her father on what to do with his team the next day.

Perhaps all teams without working software should ask their children to come in and coach their teams! They would have a lot more fun.

About the Book Author

Jeff Sutherland is a former US Air Force “Top Gun” and the co-creator of the SCRUM process. This methodology, developed in 1993 and formalized in 1995 with Ken Schwaber, has since been adopted by the vast majority of software development companies around the world. Jeff is a leading expert on how the framework has evolved to meet the needs of today’s business. Realizing its benefits are not limited to software development, he has adapted this strategy to several other industries including: finance, healthcare and telecom. His processes are now widely used for managing challenging projects and hyper-productive development teams. As the CEO of Scrum Inc. and the Senior Advisor and Agile Coach to OpenView Venture Partners, Jeff shares best practices with organizations around the globe.

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