The role of Scrum in digital transformation - part 2

by Brendon Livingstone on 20/10/2016 10:00

The role of Scrum in digital transformation - part 2

In The role of Scrum in digital transformation - part 1 I started my interview with our Certified Scrum Training partner Rowan Bunning of Scrum WithStyle. In that part Rowan responded to my questions on how prepared organisations are for digital transformation and whether Scrum helps organisations who need to make regular and fast change.

In part 2 I continue the interview with Rowan... 

Brendon: What are the key ways that Scrum and related approaches make a difference for organisations who need to transform and change?

Rowan: Scrum is a way of improving macro-level transparency, control and manoeuvrability in a changeable business environment whilst creating a situation that allows end-to-end teams to reach for high performance.

Scrum helps organisations see where their needs are for change, allowing them to bring a customer focus and develop solutions that the customer will value. By shortening the feedback loop, the approach helps validate whether the right features are delivered and the product is viable.

Scrum is an excellent enabler of what a Chief Digital Officer is looking to achieve – getting a minimalist version of new digital offerings to market early and then iterating them rapidly based on real world customer feedback rather than internal speculation.

During my Scrum courses we discuss how having the capability to reliably release every fortnight means that you greatly reduce the pressure to add everything desired to the scope of that first release as there are ongoing opportunities to add additional features after the initial soft launch.

Whilst the first release of a new digital offering may be temporarily minimalist in scope, this does not mean that it has bugs or that it is below desired quality in terms of the features included. Scrum helps organisations satisfy the CIO’s quality and cost of ownership interests by introducing a “Definition of Done” that makes it transparent to all parties what the bar of quality is, so that teams are can adhere to this during each iteration. This Definition of Done covers everything from coding standards to legal approval and production readiness.

Having visibility after each Sprint on what items did not achieve Definition of Done, means that this “Undone” work gap can be managed. The aim of the game in Scrum is to close and ultimately eliminate this gap so that each Sprint produces an increment that is potentially shippable. This greatly enhances the business agility the Chief Digital Officer is after whilst adhering to the high quality standards that the CIO seeks to uphold.

The need to produce a “Potentially Shippable Product Increment” shines light on where your technical practices and organisational structures need to be tuned up to improve agility. Often there are large hand-offs between different functional groups, between perhaps analysis and design, design and development, or development and testing. This basically is exactly the opposite of what you're looking for if you're trying to get rapid feedback and validate adventurous new digital initiatives. Scrum’s solution to this is to restructure around stable cross-functional teams that can cover the end-to-end flow from concept to production release as comprehensively and with as little delay as possible.

In short, Scrum is a well proven way to determine what we need to tune up to improve the structures, to improve the teamwork, to improve the relationship between business and development group, and to improve technical practices in order to meet the challenges of digital transformation in an increasingly complex and changing world.

Brendon: Where should an organisation start if it needs to become more Agile to better deliver digital transformation?

Rowan: A good way to start is to get a conversation going about the motivation behind the change. A lot of Agile adoptions could do better if they had a clear picture of what they're trying to achieve. There may be very strong drivers that have been discussed in the business around the need for digital transformation, the challenges in the market, and the expectations of customers.

The people doing the work and involved in the change need to understand what those drivers are and buy into the real reason they are making change. Otherwise, people don't know what to optimise and what decisions to make to achieve the desired outcome. Also, the initiative may also suffer from reduced buy-in because people don't see the point of change - especially when it is difficult or it takes time for the change to happen.

From there, I think it is important that senior managers and executives develop a strong understanding of what Agile adoption is, the implications on their organisation and the role they can play to support it through meaningful action and decisions that are informed by a set of values and principles that are likely quite counter-intuitive compared with those that they have relied for many years. To do this, it is necessary to ask questions, listen to people with expertise in Agile adoption and to invest in learning personally.

Scrum does involve a different style of leadership. Working in an environment where there is uncertainty and questions of product viability needs different structures, different roles, different performance measurements, different ways to finance and budget, and a whole lot of matters that are well outside of the remit of the average development team.

So the third thing is having an experienced guide to help you through this organisational change. I know from my own experience that when I started out in Agile, I fell into all sorts of pitfalls and traps that I didn't see coming. There are a thousand and one different ways to inadvertently go in a direction that isn’t going to lead to successful Agile adoption.

Having someone who has been there before, and can see the pitfalls before you fall into them, can be very valuable for saving a lot of time, cost and frustration. It can be the difference between success with Agile and half-baked adoption getting stuck in the doldrums.

We often see Agile getting a bad name because it didn’t meet people's expectations – “we promised the world and we fell well short, and it could even be worse than what we had before”. That’s really unfortunate and it could all have gone a different way if you had an Agile coach, an experienced ScrumMaster or others with solid prior experience with the real-world challenges of Agile adoption.

It's also important that you have people who can work at different levels in the organisation, especially when the change involves working with a variety of people from management, stakeholders and business people to IT practitioners and technology vendors. There is such a wide gamut of different areas and competencies that are required to support the change at all those different levels and that may require multiple experienced people, and ideally a combination of external consultants plus internal people with experience. It’s important to really consider the implications and go in with eyes open.

While all of this might seem like quite a bit of investment, the benefits of a resilient Agile capability can dramatic improve an organisation’s chances of success with a digital transformation agenda. This can especially be the case when you are in a market where there is a looming threat of disruption, or where change is happening more rapidly than your current way of running IT programs and realising outcomes can keep up with. You can easily find yourself on the back foot and playing catch-up.

There can be real pressure to deliver, while you struggle to just keep up with your existing internal projects and your current way of working, let alone to transform into a whole different way using Scrum. Better to get onto the front foot while you can. Getting the right people on board to help and giving your people the time and support to learn new techniques to support agility can make all the difference.

Thank you Rowan

Rowan has a very full agenda delivering Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner training with Equinox IT and also delivering training and consulting services through his own company Scrum WithStyle. I'm grateful for the time he provided to share his excellent insights during this interview.

Recorded webinar: Overcome common Agile problems using Large-Scale Scrum

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