The Future of Agile Organizations

September 10, 2020


Jeff Sutherland

Serge Beaumont

Scrum at Scale starts with Leadership

Scrum and Agile have proved to be great tools to support organizations in their need for scalability. But as new ways of working spread across the organization, it becomes increasingly important to adhere to the basic principles and methodology. This is the argument of Scrum founder Jeff Sutherland in conversation with Xebia.

Successful organizations are overwhelmingly using Scrum. Apple recently became a two trillion dollar company, last year it was still only one trillion. “Apple is very secretive about their developments”, states Sutherland. “But some Apple employees that have attended in my classes say that Apple is so successful because they do Scrum ‘by the book’.” The same is true for both Microsoft and Amazon. Jeff absolutely foresees more and more companies embracing Scrum at Scale which is a framework to make the whole organization successful. “At the same time most companies that do Agile transformations “in name only” will fall to the wayside – they will go bankrupt or will be acquired. Scrum will be absolutely vital to survive and thrive.”

Leadership plays an important role in this. Professor John P. Kotter, Leadership & Change expert at Harvard University, recently stated he has never seen a successful Agile transformation on waterfall leadership. Sutherland confirms: “These are different operating systems. Directors need to come over to this new OS and use Agile principles, reports and leadership. If they don’t do that, they will fail. Leaders have to be really involved in being Agile themselves.”

Agile mindset

In 12.5 years Scrum has become a fundamental way of thinking in the Netherlands, according to Xebia. The Agile mindset is embedded and amplified into more different parts of our enterprises: construction, marketing, management et cetera. On the other hand the increasing acceptance makes it harder to stay close to the original Scrum principles. “The growing number of people involved with an incomplete vision on Agile, might lead to disillusion and give Scrum a bad name. Making sure it is correctly implemented – and not only the rituals – is an important part of my work.”

The main goal of Scrum is doing twice the work in half the time at scale. If the teams can double their output, and the product owner is able to double the value of it, you have 400 percent more revenue. Sutherland: “Then everybody is happy: the investors, employees, teams and the customers, who will get better products at lower costs. The Scrum at Scale Guide shows how to achieve this. It is the solution for companies that are already pretty well Agile but feel the pressure from competition.”

It is often said that Scrum is all about removing waste: things that are blocking productivity, quality and agility. But many managers do not realize they hamper servicing the organization, because they simply don’t understand it. “Management needs training to avoid this”, says the Scrum founder.

“Scaling is about increasing the autonomy throughout the organization”, Xebia adds. “Because autonomous teams massively reduce the complexity.” Regarding to leadership he cites quality management expert Edwards Deming: fix the system, not the people. “Leaders have to create the correct ecosystem in which everybody can flourish.”

The Scrum at Scale Framework provides the bare minimum to be really successful, says Xebia. “A lot of people read those books but are actually not or only partly doing what’s in it. Scrum in its essence is really well-construed. You can tweak, but not on day one.”

Future of work

In 2007 Jeff Sutherland proved he could double the number of Scrum teams spread globally across different locations, and more than double the production. Recent case studies, also in the Netherlands, show exactly the same results. “Because of Covid-19, companies not using Scrum were completely stuck”, Sutherland states. “It will also take them several months to start up again. A lot of leaders still do not realize the significant impact, but the advantage of Scrum is enormous. So even post Covid we foresee a much more distributed way of working.”

This leads to enormous amounts of savings. If you reduce the cost of offices, you will probably already outperform the competition. “The University of Wageningen for example needed one sprint of two weeks to enable all their teams and students working from home”, Xebia notes. “This is a huge organization that operates worldwide. They got it done, all thanks to Scrum.”

Xebia sees it also comes down to the level of engagement between leadership and team members. The reason it works so well is the leadership style is predominantly targeted on goals. “People get all the tools, capabilities and freedom to decide for themselves how to make the right achievements. That works extremely well in the reality of Covid-19, in contrast to the more top-down, directive micromanagement.”

Human aspects

Xebia likes to quote the Scrum founder on these human aspects: “It’s all common sense with an uncommon level of discipline. You have to do this disciplined down to the human level, then you get the results.” Xebia sees older employees are in general skeptical about new ways of working. But when they are willing to try it out, they never go back. “Employee satisfaction comes down to autonomy, mastery and purpose. Scrum is exactly tailored to these three elements.”

In the past development teams had a lot of common defects, concludes Jeff Sutherland. They were slow, delivering poor quality, the management was upset. People were not able to spend enough time with their families, were always under pressure. Customers were complaining. “As a manager that time I had some ideas that might be worth trying out... Make your life better within six months and deliver better quality in normal working hours. But we have to do certain things. Scrum all starts with leadership.”

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About Jeff Sutherland

Scrum and Agile have proved to be great tools to support organizations in their need for scalability. But as new ways of working spread across the organization, it becomes increasingly important to adhere to the basic principles and methodology. This is the argument of Scrum founder Jeff Sutherland in conversation with Xebia’s Scrum@Scale Trainer and Senior Agile Consultant Serge Beaumont.

About Serge Beaumont

Serge's career was always a mix of Agile and Software Development until 2007 when he was asked for his first full Agile Consultancy assignment. Now he is advising and guiding large enterprises in their change. Serge's expertise is in large corporate agile adoptions and Product Ownership. Serge combines enthusiasm and deep knowledge of software engineering, agile processes and human nature with a pragmatic approach that allows him to tailor Agile to a wide array of situations and organizations.

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