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free summary of Scrum by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland


Scrum was groundbreaking when Jeff Sutherland introduced it as a way to improve human progress. Some describe Scrum as being a pivotal moment in human history. It is a strategy integrated into the majority of the world’s top technology companies. We know it works, but this book outlines why it works. The book utilizes multiple examples to explain how people struggle to conduct tasks with agility and efficiency. The author claims that Scrum can solve this. Scrum has a wide range of achievements. Jeff’s system has helped bring the FBI into the 21st century, perfected the design of an affordable 140 mile per hour/100 mile per gallon car, and helped reduce poverty in the developing world. This book is built upon insights Jeff gained from martial arts, judicial decision making, advanced aerial combat, and robotics.


About Jeff Sutherland

Jeff Sutherland is a graduate of the US Military Academy. He attributes his systematic way of thinking to his time working as a Vietnam fighter pilot. After working in the military for 11 years, Jeff became a doctor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The University of Colorado is where he first became interested in IT systems development. He would eventually become a biometrics expert, early innovator of ATM technology, and Vice President of engineering or CTO at 11 different technology companies. Jeff attributes this success to the foundations of Scrum. 

Chapter 1 – The Way the World Works is Broken

“Greatness can’t be imposed; it has to come from within. But it does live within all of us.”

– Jeff Sutherland

Jeff starts the book by noting that one of the most common ways people seek to increase their productivity is through planning. Jeff accepts that planning can be useful in some circumstances but that blindly following plans is stupid. Overplanning is one of the most significant faults in society. Organizations often try to plan out an entire project by drawing up complicated and confusing charts that include every sub-task. However, when detailed plans meet reality, they fall apart. Detailed plans are too rigid and are unable to adapt to changes. Therefore, Jeff encourages us to learn to expect change. This expectation will inspire discoveries and ideas. 

Within this chapter, Jeff provides some clear tips on how to challenge our broken working world:

  • Inspect and Adapt – Do not let yourself fall into autopilot without evaluation. Occasionally stop the work that you are doing and review what you have done. Consider if the approach you are taking is still working. Consider whether you could have done better
  • Change or Die – Clinging to the old ways of doing things is a sure-fire way to fail. You have to be willing to change, or your competitors will change before you and leave you behind in your old, unproductive ways
  • Fail Fast so you Can Fix Early – There is a tendency for organizations to place too much of their energy into procedures and meetings. It is often better to create visible value that can then be inspected at short intervals. If you are doing any work that is not producing real value, then you should stop it. If the product you are creating needs amending, then this should be changed early

Chapter 2 – The Origins of Scrum

Chapter 2 of Scrum is a quick run-through of how Jeff Sutherland realized that the way the world works is broken. 

Jeff first identified the flawed approach society has to productivity when helping deploy ATMs throughout the US. He believed the old method of conducting software development, such as the waterfall system associated with ATMs, was flawed. Plus, Jeff hated society’s overuse of Gantt Charts. He then stumbled across a Japanese paper, published in 1986, titled “The New New Product Development Game.” This paper, written by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, focused on the importance of cross-functional teams in producing a faster and more flexible working environment. 

These are the takeaway messages, inspired by Takeuchi and Nonaka’s paper, that now form Scrum’s fundamentals:

  • Hesitation is Death – Do not hesitate for too long. Instead, follow these actions: Observe, orientate, decide, and act. You need to know where you and your team currently are. Assess your options, make a decision, and then act on that decision
  • Look Outward for Answers – The most adaptive systems are those that learn from the environment around them. They observe the best features of other systems and apply them to their own
  • Teams Must Be Structured Correctly – For an organization to excel, its teams must be cross-functional, autonomous, and empowered
  • Don’t Just Guess – Rather than guessing whether something will work, just do it. Plan what you want to do and then do it. Check whether this action produced the desired outcome and change your future decisions accordingly. Repeating this in regular cycles will help you and your team achieve continuous improvement
  • Shu Ha Ri – This Chinese mantra stands for obey, detach and separate. We must first obey the rules and forms that work. Once these are mastered, you can start to innovate. Finally, in a heightened state of mastery, you can discard the initial rules and make unique decisions

Chapter 3 – Teams

“More resources make the team go slower” – Jeff Sutherland

The success of Scrum is based on the success of the teams within an organization. In this book, Jeff argues that team efficiency has a much more significant impact than individual efficiency. This greater impact is by several orders of magnitude. Unlike traditional ideas surrounding productivity, Jeff explains that too many people and too many resources will make the team less efficient. For a team, you want a minimum of 3 people. Generally, seven people are the ideal amount for a team. A team of greater than nine will only slow down the team’s efficiency. 

The following bullet points summarize how Jeff characterizes a team that has the fundamentals required for becoming excellent:

  • For teams to be truly great, there is a need for the team to have a higher purpose than the individual’s goals
  • There is a need for autonomy, whereby each team has the right to make decisions without needing authorization. Each team should be respected as masters of their craft. This ability to improvise will prove vital in helping improve productivity
  • Teams should be cross-functional. Each team needs to contain every skill required to complete a project
  • Based on Jeff’s research, it is clear that small teams get work done faster than big teams. This is why the idea of 7 team members (plus or minus two) was introduced
  • Don’t blame people. People are not to blame for bad outcomes; it is bad systems that are to blame. Systems that incentivize bad behavior and poor performance are those that will encourage team failure

Chapter 4 – Time

“The greater the communication situation, the more everyone knows everything–the faster the team.” – Jeff Sutherland

As humans, we struggle to focus. This struggle to focus is why Jeff is an advocate of the Sprint Cycle. Sprint Cycles are when work features are built as quickly as possible over a chosen period. During this time, you aim to move as many tasks from Backlog to Doing. Your Backlog is an accumulation of the tasks or work that are currently uncompleted. You should specifically focus on the tasks that can be Done by the end of this period.

Backlog–>To Do–>Doing–>Done

During this Sprint Cycle, Jeff suggests that you ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday to help the team finish the sprint?
  2. What will you do today to help the team finish the sprint?
  3. What obstacles are getting in the team’s way?

On top of this, Jeff encourages teams to map information and communication flows. Mapping this out will help your team spot bottlenecks and areas where information bogs down. Another way to maximize the team’s productivity is to make sure that meetings are consistent and short. Jeff recommends meetings be held every day or every week, but for a maximum of 15 minutes. As a team, you need to make sure that this time involves providing the most actionable and valuable information. Hence, everybody in the team has to participate actively. 

Here are some of the main points Scrum has on the topic of time:

  • Time is finite, and it should be treated that way. To make the most of time, you should make your work time-based. Break your work down into regular, set, short periods. These Sprint Cycles should be between one and four weeks
  • The end of your Sprint Cycle should have something to show for it
  • Communication is vital for making use of time. Communication saturation accelerates work
  • Only have one meeting a day. Include a time during the day when you check what can be done to increase speed and just do it

“The thing that cripples communication saturation is specialization—the number of roles and titles in a group. If people have a special title, they tend to do only things that seem a match for that title. And to protect the power of that role, they tend to hold on to specific knowledge.” – Jeff Sutherland

Chapter 5 – Waste is a Crime

“No Heroics. If you need a hero to get things done, you have a problem. Heroic effort should be viewed as a failure of planning.” – Jeff Sutherland

In this book, Jeff describes three kinds of waste: Muri, Mura, and Muda. Muri is associated with waste through unreasonableness. Mura is associated with waste through inconsistency. Finally, Muda is associated with waste through outcomes.

“Multitasking Makes You Stupid. Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don’t do it. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong—it does.” – Jeff Sutherland

One of the practices that is frequently encouraged in organizations is multitasking. However, Jeff believes that it is better to do one thing exclusively and then move on to another project. As Jeff puts it, “Doing half of something is essentially doing nothing at all.” Jeff believes that doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. So, work on just one thing at a time and do things right the first time. Plus, if you make an error, you should fix these errors or bugs as soon as you notice them. Waiting to fix something at a later stage could lead to the fixing process taking you far longer than if you just fixed it now.

Working long hours produces waste. Working more hours doesn’t get more done; it gets less done. Although working hard is vital for success, working too hard is what makes people fatigued. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Work weekdays and work reasonable hours. Take vacations to prevent burnout. This also ties into Jeff’s point that heroic effort should not be seen as a good thing. Instead, Jeff views heroic effort as a failure in planning. 

Additionally, the goals that you create must be ones that you can achieve—making goals that are challenging and attainable can motivate you. Impossible goals will just leave you sad and will lower your motivation. 

Finally, Jeff encourages practices that make working easier and trouble-free. Scrum is about enabling the most flow possible. Therefore, we should remove any policies that stunt the team’s efficiency. If possible, remove any forms, meetings, approvals, or standards. These things only get in the way of being a productive team. Additionally, don’t allow any behaviors that cause emotional chaos or diminishes others in the team.

Chapter 6 – Plan Reality, Not Fantasy

Like the points made early on in the book, this chapter outlines how overplanning can negatively impact your productivity. 

Jeff encourages only planning things that need to be done. Hence, we should never be projecting everything out years in advance. All you need to do is plan enough to keep your team busy and efficient.

Additionally, a common mistake in planning is to plan in terms of absolute terms like hours. Planning in this way is too rigid and does not account for varying factors that can impact task time. Therefore, use something more flexible like T-Shirt sizes to describe how large a task is. 

When planning, try and think about the work as a story (a realistic one, though). So, think about who will be gaining value from a task. Then, think about what the value is. Finally, consider why they need this value. 

Know your team’s velocity. Every team should know how much work they can get done in a Sprint Cycle. They should also know how much they can improve this velocity by through working smarter. 

You can set your team goals that might have seemed audacious before adopting a Scrum mindset (such as doubling your production).

Chapter 7 – Happiness

 Jeff describes happiness as a significant factor in predicting outcomes. Happiness can be applied to both individuals and teams and is defined as a combination of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

It is important to note that true happiness is found in the process, not in the result. Often organizations will reward achievements. Instead, we should be rewarding those who are striving for greatness. It is the role of the Scrum Master (the person in charge of the team) to keep teams from developing too much pride and complacency. Pride is often associated with rewards based on results. Instead, reward your team members when they are doing the right things to propel them towards greatness.

Here are some of the reasons Jeff Sutherland believes that happiness makes your team perform better:

  1. Happiness helps you make smarter decisions
  2. Happiness enables you to be more creative
  3. Happiness means individuals are less likely to leave their job
  4. If you can quantify your happiness, you can see how it improves your performance. Happiness is a future-looking metric, while all other metrics are backward-looking

One part of team happiness that Jeff included was the idea of complete transparency within the organization. No secrets should be kept. For example, everybody should know each other’s salaries and financials. Hiding things from each other only serves those who are looking to help themselves. 

Importantly, we should not let our happiness take over us completely. We should not let our happiness lead us to believe that we are performing better than we are. Thus, we should always measure our happiness against performance. 


Chapter 8 – Priorities

“If you can’t actually take time off without having to make sure everything is going right at the office, the thinking goes, you aren’t managing your teams well.” – Jeff Sutherland

What you prioritize as an organization should be based on asking yourself the following questions:

  • Will it have a significant impact?
  • Will it be relevant to the customers?
  • Will it make money?
  • Will it be the easiest option to implement?

However, to decide which task to do first, you must create a list of everything that could be done on a project. Then, put the items with the highest value and lowest risk at the top of your Backlog. Finally, fill the rest of your list by using this same formula with the remaining tasks.

Concerning revenue, Jeff recommends identifying 20% of input that yields 80% of the output. As a team, you need to work out where the most value can be delivered from the least effort. This is called the Minimum Viable Product and is associated with Rapid Prototyping. Rapid Prototyping is getting a product to market as quickly as possible. 

To rapidly prototype in a non-tech setting, you need to test your product but get it out to end-users as quickly as possible. Then, receive feedback from your end-users and iterate accordingly.

Principles of Scrum
Scrum Principles

Chapter 9 – Change the World

The final chapter of the book explains how Scrum has the potential to change the world. Scrum accelerates every single human endeavor. It can be applied to everything. This chapter provides examples of how Scrum is already doing precisely that. Here are two of the examples that are far removed from the corporate world. 

  1. Scrum is being used by a large number of Dutch high schools. They have seen an immediate improvement in test scores of more than 10%
  2. Scrum is being used in Uganda by the Grameen Foundation to tackle poverty. Scrum is being used to deliver agricultural and market data to poor rural farmers. Since the introduction of Scrum, farmers have seen double the yield and double the revenue

In sum, Scrum gives people the freedom to excel. It encourages organizations to remove titles, managers, and the structures that hold organizations back from reaching their potential productivity.

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