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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Jeff Sutherland on Scrum Beyond IT and his New Book

Jeff Sutherland on Scrum Beyond IT and his New Book


2. I think let’s start and talk about Scrum Inc., your new venture.

Scrum Inc. is an evolution, back in 2005-6 catch Ken Schwaber, my partner who has helped bring Scrum to the world, wanted me to help him, particularly in Silicon Valley, I’ve been a CTO or VP of engineering for many different companies, so I started moving out in the field helping out Ken and that business exploded so fast, my company said “hey, you have to do something about this, we have more Scrum business than we have selling product”, so I had been working with a venture capital company, a company called OpenView Venture Partners in Boston, we have over 30 companies doing Scrum and the venture group does Scrum for everything internally, they said “why don’t you come on in, you can work out of our offices”, so Scrum Inc. started there, inside a venture capital firm.

After a couple of years, the venture capital firm was “Jeff, you really need to get out and do a bigger thing around what Scrum is, the content”; they said “you come up with more new ideas about Scrum in a week than we can implement in a year, you really ought to get out there and spread the word on Scrum in a bigger way than is happening right now”. So, Scrum Inc. was formed to use the traditional basis of the consulting and training in Scrum, to actually start moving Scrum into other domains. So, for example right now we have an eXtreme Manufacturing practice starting up lead by Joe Justice, who founded Wikispeed, an open source company that builds cars with Scrum. We have a certified Scrum master course now where you go in, there is a car hanging from the ceiling and every exercise is building a car. If anybody is interested, there is another one in Seattle, in the Wikispeed shop, so we have all the hardware, all the tooling in Seattle and we are starting to do those regularly.

The third thing that Scrum Inc. has focused on is the content, writing books, case studies, we’re building out a site called ScrumLab that incorporates all the learning we’ve discovered in Scrum over the last 20 years; we probably have more than 20 online courses up there now that people can get credit for, SCUs, PDUs. My latest book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, is a very different book. A couple of years ago, I finished the book that I did with Ken Schwaber called Software in 30 days which is really Scrum around the IT area and I really felt at the time there were all these things going on outside of IT, in a broader way and the way people were working differently around the world, in education, in government, in agriculture, in manufacturing that we wanted to write about. At the time, my son, who had been a journalist for National Public Radio for many years, a war correspondent, had already begun translating a book called The Power of Scrum or helping to move it from Dutch into English, had to completely rewrite it, he was doing that part time, and I said “you know, JJ, we need to write a big book around Scrum” and he said “if you are going to do that, we really should work with the agent that does all the book work with the National Public Radio correspondents”. So, we did that, we spent several months working up a proposal, a 45 page proposal, the agent sent it out to every major publisher and he said for the first time in history every publisher wanted to talk to us about Scrum.

So, we had to spend a week or two just meeting with all these publishers and they are people who did all the great books, our editor is the guy who did Lean Startup for example, but the people that did all the Lean books, the people who did Good to Great, all the Jim Collins books, and they were asking us what is this Scrum thing, why would people who know nothing about IT be interested in Scrum? So, we would start talking about this, they would say well, don’t give us this Scrum lingo, what is really important about Scrum? So, we started talking, it’s all about teams, it’s about making work visible, it’s about self-organization, so they said how does that work? And as we dug into it they said “really, what you are talking about is behind everything that is going on right now in the iPhone, in the iPad, you’re talking about building cars with this stuff, this is the secret sauce that’s changing the way industry is working”, they said “we know nobody knows about this, how come nobody knows? We want you to write the story in a way that the general business leader, who knows nothing about IT, can say <>”. And our agent went out and did an auction and we had competitive bids, we had enough to fund my son to work heads down for a year doing nothing but helping me write this book. So, it’s a different kind of Scrum book, we’re trying to get people to pre-order it now, because if we get enough pre-orders we might be able to even get on New York Times list and if we could, we’d be the first Scrum book on the New York Times list.


3. That would be fascinating. So, what is that secret sauce, what is that is so appealing and that is truly driving a massive change in the world of work at the moment?

I just did a TED talk on this, again, I had a talk to people that knew nothing about IT and Scrum, what is the key to all this? I started with my background at West Point, I was a cadet at West Point and in my last year there I was responsible for training the cadets how to march on the parade field, it was a big deal at West Point, and my company was the worst company in the core of cadets, for a hundred years they had been known as the loose dukes for their sloppy parade field performance and no matter how much extra marching we did, no matter how much we talked to them, the culture was just like many of our companies, me, ogre. So what I did was, I decided telling them to do something is not going to help, I put notes up on the wall on the company bulletin board after every parade, here’s everything that happened, it’s just all the points we’ve lost for Charlie sticking his sword in the ground, for the company commander not articulating his commands in the right way; so everybody walked by and saw color coded notes on our performance after every parade and within three months that company went from dead last to the number one company in the core and that taught me making work visible causes people to self-organize, to achieve great things.

It’s these fundamental ideas that drive Scrum, when I left West Point I became a fighter pilot, I spent many years flying F-4s, Phantoms, and a lot of what I learnt there is embedded in Scrum. And one of the things I learnt was, when I was a cadet I slept in General Eisenhower’s room, and General Eisenhower is famous for saying planning is everything but plans are worthless, as soon as the first shot is fired the plan blows up. So, when I wound up coming into, a big bank hired me at one point, they had hundreds of programmers doing these big projects and they are always late and I looked at the way they were running it and they were using these Gantt charts, everything is planned out, everyone is on the right time, all the times are assigned and if anybody misses anything in the sequence the whole thing slides into limbo. It reminded me of trying to train new fighter pilots how to land a fighter at the end of the runway, if you don’t do it exactly right you can go landing half way down the runway and slide off the end of the runway. So I said these guys don’t know how to land an airplane, when you coming down final in a high performance jet you are constantly looking at air speed, altitude, rate of descend, distance to the runway, heading, throttle position, angle of attack, you are checking and adjusting constantly to bang that thing right at the end of the runway. We need a tool that helps us do that, it’s called a burn down chart. So, all these things that systematically come into place and the stories behind how, like flying a hundred missions over northern Vietnam gave me a good insight into planning, I wrote in the book.

Shane: Excellent. So, Scrum is simple, but really, really hard.

Yes, absolutely.


4. How do we get that message into . . . my feeling is we got into the information technology teams relatively well; you are really pushing the boundaries in taking it into the business world as a whole.

Last year we did a paper on Scrum in sales; doing Scrum well requires discipline, which is why it’s hard, it’s like playing rugby, it’s a messy, brutal sport, it’s where the Scrum analogy comes from and sales guys just don’t want to be that disciplined. But the company the case study was written on was selling Scrum training, consulting, software development with Scrum teams, so they had some motivation to learn, so we got a really great coach in there working with them and in six months, you’d see in the paper, these guys doubled their revenue, same products, same sales guys, twice the amount of money. And once they did that, the CEO said “you guys are never going back, we can’t go back to half our revenue” and they did an analysis why and they said a wolf pack brings down more meat, that’s the key. When we go into these other domains we have to figure out how to frame it in a way that really connects for the people in their work that they do and bring down more meat, it’s really the goal of sales guys. So, every domain that we go in we have to figure out what is it that motivates them, what is it that will make them disciplined enough that they will execute that team process that they can really grab the benefits.


5. What are the organizational boundaries to doing that? If I think of sales as an example, one thinks of sales people are competitive against each other, you are asking them to totally collaborate.

Yes, collaborate. So, Scrum breaks down boundaries and if the goal is to optimize the revenue for the company and the sales guys need to figure out how they act in a way that optimizes the whole, not just their quota and if they do that, they can double their revenue, so everybody gets a benefit. So, again, one of the things that makes Scrum hard is you want to make everything visible and transparent and for those people who want to protect their own turf, whether it be knowledge from a systems guy or their customers, their sales guys, they have to open their kimono and they have to have a reason to do that, and if they can make twice as much money and if they can actually work less to make twice as much, for people who are thinking clearly, it’s worth the tradeoff. So, we have to get in there and it’s really about getting at the core of what motivates people and what will give them significant benefits for actually doing less work and having more fun.


6. And how do you get that message to managers who are used to telling people what to do?

This is probably the biggest problem today; I think managers particularly in the United States they all know they have to be agile in the modern world, but getting agile and being agile is different than saying we need to be agile.

Shane: They have to be agile.

Right. So one of the initiatives at Scrum Inc. has been focused on managers and management workshops, managers training and again we have to come in and say; I remember I worked with a global company, recently, and they flew in 30 guys from all over the world to talk about this Scrum thing, because they are already doing Scrum for their new product development. First thing we asked them is why would you ever want to do Scrum, Scrum is going to give you a big headache, the teams are going to surface all these impediments and then a lot of the ones they can’t fix they are going to expect you as managers to fix them, they are going to be complaining all the time. And the management thought about that and they said well, we need to talk together, so we let them pow-wow for five or ten minutes, they came back and they said “we are growing at 3% every year, we are at number one in the industry, our competitor is growing, number two, 6% a year, we need Scrum, we’ll take the headache”, so then we go through, “ok, here’s what Scrum can do for you, but only if you as managers help”.

And so, if you want to make things really work, you need to start acting like the management of Toyota, and here’s the way they think and here’s the way they do and you need to open the kimono and everybody needs to know what’s going on, everybody needs to understand what the problems are and be at work fixing them and making life better for the teams that are in production; that’s the core of the message. And the kind of reporting that you’ve been getting is not helpful to those teams, here’s the reporting that will help them and allow you to manage the company, that’s what you need to ask for. And particularly when they ask for help, you need to start helping them. And of course, stepping back and letting go and not ordering them around, but setting aggressive goals for them and then letting them figure out what to do and assisting them when they need help. So, the management needs training just like the software developers in how to think differently. This is a radical different way of doing things.


7. Jeff, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, it’s been really good and I look forward, when is the book coming out?

It’s going to be launched on September 30th, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many different sites and every pre-order will help us get this Scrum book on the New York Times list, so pre-order now.

Sep 05, 2014