May 24th, 2011
By Angela Slezak
Ken Schwaber, national Agile Thought Leader and co-developer of the Scrum development framework, is the keynote speaker at the Central Ohio Agile Alliance’s (COHAA) 2nd Annual “Path to Agility” Conference Thursday, May 26, at the Arena Grand Movie Theatrea, 175 Nationwide Boulevard. IT Martini caught up with Schwaber and got a chance to pick his brain about what Scrum is and isn't, where and how Scrum is being used and what's next for the published author and Agile champion.
Agile and Scrum - A Background
According to the Agile Manifesto (www.agilemanifesto.org), “agile” is a term developed in 2001 to describe iterative and incremental software development. In contrast is the “waterfall” method where all requirements are written up front and software development begins after requirements. The age-old problem with the waterfall method is that by the time you provide the product to the customer, the customer may have changed scope and focus. Both time and money are wasted.
Scrum, developed and sustained by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, provides a framework for employing Agile processes and techniques. According to the Scrum guide (available for download at www.scrum.org), Scrum’s goals are to provide “transparency, inspection and adaptation.”
Method vs Process
Is Scrum less about changing IT software and product development and more about changing how organizations get work done?
“No, I’m not trying to change the entire organization,” Schwaber said. “But change in software development does change an organization.”
He explained that the current work environment is modeled on early Detroit manufacturing and mass production and today’s work environment needs ‘complex creative thinking.’
“The big question then becomes, ‘How do you make money with complex creative thinking?’ This is what creates the culture shift,” Schwaber said.
He contends Scrum is not a methodology, but a process.
“A methodology tells you what to do,” he said. “A process is a framework to establish some boundaries. A methodology cannot possible tell people what do to when they’ve never been there.”
Schwaber said 10 to 15 percent of the people he works with prefer to be told what to do. Scrum, then, puts them in a situation where they have to think. This is why Scrum is about engaged professionals, he emphasized. “Scrum is like buying a mirror and then creating a program to look in it several times a week. You will get a critical assessment of what you look like.”
In Scrum, Schwaber is selling an idea, not a product and he has had experience in both.
“Selling a product means saying ‘this is the answer to your problems’ and ‘if you buy this, you will be excellent.’ Scrum, on the other hand, is used to ‘find out,'" he said. “Selling an idea removes the belief in a silver bullet.”
Schwaber said he has had experience selling products that had little impact and where the ROI was deplorable. In selling an idea, he is trying to help the IT Community, “equip itself to meet the needs of the modern world.”
“If you buy it [software] and train everyone, you increase productivity by maybe four percent to five percent," he said. "If you employ, for free, the idea of a self-organizing team, you can achieve a 100 percent increase in productivity without spending a nickel. It’s hard work to teach [but] teaching doesn’t cost anything and actually increases productivity.”
To Scrum or Not to Scrum
When would Schwaber not use Scrum?
“A support center with a complicated work flow,” he answered quickly. “A support center is a huge flow of similar things. ‘Unique things’ is the home ground of Scrum.”
For something like a support center, Schwaber said he would use Kanban, a technique of incremental improvements or “lean” or “lightweight” software development where waste and redundancy is gradually eliminated.
Because it is a framework, Scrum is a high-level idea that can be applied to an organization's other departments, not just IT.
Schwaber said he had heard of someone in marketing using Scrum. “Marketing has goals, subgoals, iterations, adjustments and best accomplished goals.” The marketing person used Scrum for “more control of direction and visibility into progress.”
While Schwaber cannot quantify how many organizations use Scrum, on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. he learned the CIA, FBI and Canadian Revenue Agency are all using Scrum practices.
“I’m finding it almost everywhere I go,” he said.
It's not surprising to find Scrum in so many places. Schwaber, author of Agile Project Management with Scrum and coauthor of Agile Software Development with Scrum, has helped train tens of thousands of professionals.
He warned some people use Agile talk, but not practices. He said one can tell the difference if they ask questions such as, “Should I use collocated teams?” If they are using Agile, collocated teams are a logical offshoot of the practice. The organization is aware of the cost of dispersed teams. Perhaps there are compelling reasons to use them, but they are aware of the cost.”
“There’s no actual change in the organization,” when this happens he said. Just a change in “wording.”
Schwaber is currently working on two books with 2012 publish dates. Microsoft is publishing Agile Product Management and another publisher is publishing Software in 30 Days, a book that can, Schwaber says, be placed on the desk of any manager because it is written as a “popular management” book.
For More Information about Ken Schwaber, Agile and Scrum:
IT Martini connects IT Professionals in YOUR IT Community with events that focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and FUN. The May 26th event celebrates IT Martini's third anniversary and includes The Buckeye Ranch as its charity partner. The event will take place 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Park Street Cantina, Columbus. IT Martini would also like to thank additional Top Shelf Sponsors Expedient and Quick Solutions.