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InfoQ Presentation: Scrum at the BBC

In this presentation from JAOO 2005, Andrew Scotland tells about the New Media division of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), which in 2002, found itself with a lot of uncertainty in its business domain: lots of change, an emergent industry domain, emergent strategy. Add to this the growth of their software team, resulting in inconsistent processes across teams and ongoing emergent capability.  After reading the "Black Book", Scotland decided to try using Scrum to manage all this change and uncertainty.  Three years later - was it worth it? 

Yes - Scrum has made one of the biggest single transformational changes to our business over the last 2 years. It has helped with delivery and is forcing us to look at other upstream work processes to continue to evolve our business. It has taken a long time but it is now part of the language and fabric of the vast majority of our business area.

This presentation tells how BBC New Media moved from creative chaos, no clear delivery model and a de-motivated & disenfranchised technical team with lots of unfinished software to a state where hundreds of people are delivering iteratively, the language of Scrum is now integrated into the business, and this software group is known for their ability to deliver.  Along the way, their culture also shifted as they learned to "let go" while at the same time improving their processes.

They chose Scrum because its practices and principles are easy to understand, it provides a business interface and and a voice for the technical team, allowing expectation setting on both sides, but it does not enforce new engineering practices for existing teams.   XP had been tried and discarded for their purposes - perhaps as a result of how it was implemented.  Interestingly, once Scrum had taken hold and the team had bought in to making frequent, working deliveries, the reasons for the XP practices, for example TDD, became evident.

His advice for others contemplating a similar path:

  • Understand the important problems you want to solve
  • Drop a pebble in the pond, not a boulder - start small
  • Don't be too controlling, monitor and intervene
  • Focus on the values and behaviours of your teams
  • Experiment with what works for your particular team or business
  • You need to develop good coaches (formerly managers, team leads)

At some point the team, in frustration, is sure to blame Scrum, saying it's not working.  Scotland warns that this obscures opportunities for further improvement: "blaming Scrum is the easy option." 

You'll tend to find that Scrum is so simple, it's not the cause of the problem.  It's something else: it's communication that's not happening, it's people not talking to each other, not understanding each other and their issues.  This means you need to be a coach - you're no longer a manager, but a coach.

Watch the InfoQ video of Andrew Scotland's JAOO 2005 presentation: Scrum Boosts Effectiveness at the BBC.

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