The Agile-Scrum method: bullshit or bull’s eye

Are you already applying the Agile-Scrum method within your organisation? Then you’re certainly not the only one. Because Agile Scrum seems to be the new holy grail for organizations in the private and public sector. The question is: should you jump on the bandwagon too? Or is it just another management fad? Is it bullshit or bull’s eye? We checked it out, using science as a basis.

What is Agile?

Agile stands for “agility. The approach assumes that during the project the circumstances change. The project team responds to changes and problems and effectively maintains control over the end result and its quality. And that end result is not 100% certain yet either. This is a big difference with the traditional project approach, in which the specifications are laid down in detail and a formal process is set up. The Agile approach is different. The project team starts a process without the specifications, the process and the end result being fixed in detail. This fits into this rapidly changing world.

In short, Agile is about gaining a competitive advantage through a superior process. In terms of decision making, speed, quality, implementation and learning from (side) effects. By going through this process faster and with better quality than the competition, the learning curve is steeper. This learning effect is an essential part of the Agile approach. This makes ‘agility’ an attractive concept for many organizations.

War in your organization

Agile has its origins in the military. As early as the 6th century B.C. Christ the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (book: ‘The art of war’) stated that it is important to be one step ahead of your opponent in the decision cycle. A more contemporary application is the military tactics approach to command that has been used in armies since the 19th century(Wittmann 2017). Mission command is more or less similar to a task-oriented management style. The American military strategist John Boyd developed a more formal approach to agility. His view: agility is the ability to perceive and understand changes in the environment, make appropriate decisions and translate them into specific actions(Enck 2012).

Scrum: a rugby term

Agility has found its way into almost every organization in various forms. Whether it’s product development or marketing. Or even as a framework for learning and development. The most widely used Agile approach is Scrum. The term comes from rugby and refers to the restart of play after a foul. This requires a fast-moving team in an environment characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. The same agility is needed for organizations that develop complex products and services.

Does the Scrum method contribute to job satisfaction?

A successful Scrum process usually consists of three elements: roles, working methods, and processes(Schwaber and Sutherland, 2017). It is important that a Scrum team consists of people with different functions and competences needed to achieve a common goal. The team works together autonomously, without direct intervention from outside. The idea is that Scrum leads to more autonomy, collaboration and competence development(Broeck et al. 2010). But does this really work in practice? The answer is yes. Because there is considerable evidence that a Scrum approach contributes to people’s job satisfaction(Deci et al. 2017).

Does Scrum have an effect on performance?

Each Scrum project aims to achieve an overarching goal that is aligned with the organization’s strategy. It can be about a product or service. Or a project that must be controlled to stay within certain time, budget and quality limits. The team breaks down this overarching goal into smaller pieces and places them in a queue: the Backlog. During a Sprint Planning meeting, the team decides which Backlog items to pick up during the next Sprint. Each Sprint lasts 1 to 4 weeks. Does this also lead to better performance in practice? Indeed, the literature suggests that this method has a positive effect on team performance(Locke and Latham 2016; Kleingeld et al. 2011).

Scrum ensures clear objectives

The Scrum approach makes it clear what is expected of everyone in a given process step. For example: the product owner translates the customer expectations in such a way that the Scrum team understands these expectations from a technology perspective. There are many other built-in mechanisms that ensure that the expectations of all the people involved are aligned with regularity. And that everyone is working towards the same goal.

In summary, Scrum supports a common language and people’s ability to learn. There is considerable evidence that Scrum has a positive impact on team performance(DeChurch and Mesmer-Magnus 2010). However, it does take time, money and energy to truly implement a Scrum approach within an organization(McComb and Simpson 2014).

Scrum is about servant leadership

The Scrum method is mainly characterized by the absence of a formal hierarchy in the implementation team. Instead, a so-called Scrum master fulfils the role of moderator and coach. The Scrum method is suited to a servant leadership style. Team members organize their own work, with a minimum of formal leadership interventions.

Does this work? Looks like it. There is evidence that a less hierarchical approach increases innovativeness (Naranjo-Valencia et al. 2016). This in turn supports the claim that Scrum is most useful for finding solutions to complex problems. Moreover, the Scrum approach leads to positive results such as job satisfaction, better team performance and task realization(Hülsheger et al. 2009).

Conclusion: the Agile and Scrum methods add value

Maybe your hair stands on end when you hear the term “agile”. We get it, given the numerous management fads we’ve seen come and go. And by far the majority of fads lacked scientific underpinning. But our finding is that the Agile and Scrum method does add value. Definitely not bullshit. This is also our own experience. In recent years we have participated in several Agile transformations ourselves. From product development projects to large-scale reorganisations. However, with the Scrum method you do not automatically score bull’s eye. Because whether your Agile transformation will indeed add value depends on a number of factors. Consider the culture of the organization. And to the degree of expertise in Scrum.

The type of leadership also influences a successful Scrum process. It is important that it is about servant leadership. A leader who encourages team members and tackles contemporary challenges carefully and quickly. With an eye for economic, social and ecological interests. We call this: value-creating leadership.

Do you want to know more about value creating leadership? Then download the ebook Leadership in the Economy of Value below. Or
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Pim Valentijn

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