Scrum as a tool for innovation and partnering
Erik van Eeuwijk
Read more by Erik van Eeuwijk
What is Scrum?
Scrum is easy to learn, yet hard to master. Scrum is a framework designed to help a team of people with different professional backgrounds work together effectively in solving complex problems and creating products of the highest possible value. In IT, Scrum has become the de facto standard for developing complex IT products. This framework has been around for over 25 years but really gained traction over the past decade. INFO transitioned to working with Scrum teams back in 2012 and we have been using Scrum in all of our projects ever since. In this blog post, we explore some of the reasons why we made this choice and why Scrum is the best option for us.
Scrum explained in 10 minutes
Why use Scrum?
Back in the day, when more traditional project management approaches such as PRINCE2 or PMI were the go-to frameworks for managing complex IT projects, we looked at IT differently than we do nowadays. IT was often considered to be a separate entity – it was a department that operated based on pre-defined assignments: tell us what you want us to deliver upfront and we will deliver it at a fixed price on an estimated deadline.
“By using Scrum, we are able to truly embrace change and to turn these changes into opportunities for improvement.”
When applying such frameworks, we assumed little would change (hence the abbreviation “PRINCE” – “PRojects IN Controlled Environments”). This approach would often include upfront Systems Analysis activities to define and agree on all the product specifications before the development started. It would also include explicit change request processes to deal with those changes that did occur during the project’s lifespan. We now refer to these types of project approaches as “waterfall” frameworks, as they share a linear, phased approach to realizing project outcomes.
Traditional vs Scrum approach
Scrum as a tool for innovation
Nowadays for many practices – and this certainly goes for INFO’s practice – that approach is no longer the most appropriate one. Because innovation is our core business and we because of our role as your business innovation partner, we expect things to change all the time. New business opportunities, technological advances, and market movements provide many occasions to rethink the scope and to ensure a better fit for the purpose. Aiming to define the complete product upfront doesn’t match that reality. Instead, we need to continuously figure that out as we go. By using Scrum, we are able to truly embrace change and turn these changes into opportunities for improvement. In that sense, Scrum is a great tool for facilitating innovation.
Also, IT can no longer be seen as a separate entity that simply takes orders from the business. The boundaries between IT and the business have blurred to a degree that IT has become an integral part of or even a main driver for business change. Because of this, IT development increasingly overlaps with the field of organizational development. As long as the IT products are not completely self-sufficient without any end-users or human operators, they are very much about humans and their interactions. An IT system cannot be successful if it does not align with the people that are to use it, with the processes that those people are to operate, and without proper embedding in and support from the rest of the organization that is to run it. This is why INFO also provides support when it comes to making all of the pieces work together as a whole. IT products are just one of the “pieces” that make up an effective business operation, so a clear view of the bigger picture will be greatly beneficial for achieving the desired business outcomes.
Partnering is essential
Hopefully, I haven’t said anything new here, but what makes the above relevant for the choice of INFO to use Scrum? It is relevant because, if we are in the business of initiating successful organizational change through IT development, the partnership becomes much more important throughout the endeavor. In this context, I understand partnering as “reducing boundaries through trust”. We need partnering on different levels: partnering between different disciplines of the team (team level), partnering with the business (business level), and partnering across the different horizons within an organization (organization level). Partnering on all these levels becomes more important when IT is a catalyst for organizational change. This is why I wholeheartedly embrace INFO’s emphasis on partnering in our way of working and our service proposition. We build strong relations with our clients, help them make the tough strategy and business decisions that drive them forward, and let them join our teams. We work alongside them and are with them every step of the way in realizing their products and organizational change.
“Partnering on different levels becomes more important when IT is a catalyst for organizational change.”
A more fitting mindset
What makes Scrum and Agile more suitable for us and our clients compared to waterfall approaches is that they do a better job of facilitating partnering on the team level and the business level. It’s not that more traditional frameworks don’t allow for such partnering, but rather that they give priority to another end in mind. Waterfall approaches prioritize establishing and maintaining control through a plan-driven approach (i.e. “Trust is good… Control is better”), whereas Agile frameworks prioritize establishing and maintaining partnering through a value-driven approach (i.e. “Control is good… Trust is everything”). This emphasis on partnering is clearly reflected in the Agile Manifesto (e.g. “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”) as well as in the underlying principles (e.g. “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”).
We can also recognize partnering when looking at Scrum teams. Scrum defines a development team as a multi-disciplinary group of people with all the skills required to realize the product vision. It also provides a framework to facilitate effective collaboration between professionals with different perspectives, backgrounds, and professional languages. So, Scrum works great to facilitate partnering within teams. It also works great for partnering with the business, as it takes a business representative and puts that person in the driver’s seat of the project team as the Product Owner.
At INFO, the Product Owner is always somebody that works for our client in order to truly embrace this partnering aspect of Scrum. In the next article in this series, I will further explore how we strengthen our partnerships with our clients by leveraging this aspect of Scrum.
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