The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Life gets busy. Has Scrum by Jeff Sutherland been on your reading list? Instead, learn the key ideas now.
Jeff Sutherland’s Perspective
Jeff Sutherland is a graduate of the US Military Academy with an engineering degree. 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, an early innovator in ATM technology, and Vice President of Engineering or CTO at 11 different technology companies. Jeff attributes this success to following the foundations of Scrum.
Scrum was groundbreaking when Jeff Sutherland introduced it as a way to improve human progress. Some describe the publication of Scrum in 2014 as being a pivotal moment in human history. Its name is borrowed from the game of rugby to emphasize the importance of intense teamwork. It is a strategy integrated into most of the world’s top technology companies. We know it works, but this book outlines why it works. The book explores multiple real world scenarios to explain how people struggle to conduct tasks with agility and efficiency. The author claims that Scrum strategies can solve this dilemma. Scrum orientation is found at the roots of many modern achievements. Jeff’s system helped bring the FBI into the 21st century, for example. Scrum has also helped to 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.
StoryShot #1: ATMs Were the Inspiration for Scrum
Sutherland first identified society’s flawed approach to productivity while he was helping to deploy ATMs throughout the US. He believed the traditional method of conducting software development, including the “waterfall” system associated with ATMs, was deficient. Sutherland also detested society’s overuse of Gantt Charts that illustrate the schedule and status of piece parts of a project. He once stumbled across a Japanese paper, published in 1986, titled, “The New New Product Development Game.” This paper was written by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, who focused on the importance of cross-functional teams in producing a faster and more flexible working environment.
StoryShot #2: The Scrum Fundamentals
These are the takeaway messages, inspired by Takeuchi and Nonaka’s paper, that formed the fundamentals of Scrum:
- Hesitation is Death – Do not hesitate for long. Instead, follow this series of actions: observe, orient, 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 surrounding environment. 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 act. Check to see whether this action produced the desired outcome and then change your future decisions accordingly. Repeating this step 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 norms that have worked already. 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.
StoryShot #3: Sprint Cycles Are Crucial For Improving Efficiency
As humans, we struggle to focus. This struggle to focus is why Sutherland is an advocate of the Sprint Cycle. Sprint Cycles are operating when work features are built as quickly as possible over a chosen period. Sprints are often called time boxes. These time boxes each have a set duration and should be kept consistently so that you can develop a work rhythm. During this time, you aim to move as many tasks as possible from Backlog to Doing. Your Backlog is an accumulation of the tasks or work assignments that are currently unfinished. You should focus specifically on the tasks that can be marked “Done” by the end of this period.
During the Sprint Cycle, Sutherland suggests you ask yourself the following three questions:
- What did you do yesterday to help the team finish the sprint?
- What will you do today to help the team finish the sprint?
- What obstacles are getting in the team’s way?
StoryShot #4: Map Your Information and Time
Sutherland encourages teams to map information and communication flows. Mapping helps your team spot bottlenecks and areas where information flow bogs down. Another way to maximize the team’s productivity is to make sure that meetings are held consistently and purposefully. Jeff recommends that meetings be held daily or weekly, but for a maximum duration of 15 minutes. As a team, you need to make sure that this time involves providing the most actionable and valuable information. So, everybody on the team must participate actively in some way.
Here are some main points Scrum embodies on the topic of time:
- Time is finite, and it should be treated that way. To make the most of your time, you should make your work time-based. Break your work down into regular, set, short periods. These Sprint Cycles should range between one and four weeks.
- The end of your Sprint Cycle should bring some deliverables to show for it.
- Communication is vital for making good use of time. Communication saturation accelerates work.
- One meeting a day should be the limit. Include a time during the day when you check to determine what can be done to increase the speed of the workflow and just do it.
StoryShot #5: Blindly Following Plans Is Stupid
One of the most common ways people seek to increase their productivity is through planning. Jeff accepts that planning can be effective 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 often fall apart. Detailed plans are too rigid and prevent us from adapting to changes in the relevant environment along the way. So Jeff encourages us to learn to expect change. This expectation will inspire discoveries and new ideas.
Within this storyshot, Jeff provides some clear tips on how to challenge our broken working world:
- Inspect and Adapt – Do not let yourself fall into autopilot mode without evaluation. Occasionally stop the work that you are doing and review what you have done. Consider whether 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 do and leave you behind, mired in your old, unproductive ways.
- Fail Fast so You Can Fix Early – There is a tendency for organizations to invest too much of their energy into procedures and meetings. It is often better to create visible value that can be inspected at short intervals. If you are doing any work that is not producing real value, then you should stop. If the product you are creating needs amending, then this adjustment should be made early on.
StoryShot #6: Success Is Built on Team Efficiency
Scrum works when the teams within an organization operate efficiently. Sutherland argues that team efficiency has a much more significant impact than individual efficiency. Too many people and too many resources will make a team less efficient. For a team, you want a minimum of three people. Generally, seven people is the ideal number for a team. A team of greater than nine will tend to degrade the team’s efficiency.
The following bullet points summarize how Sutherland characterizes a team that has the fundamentals required for excellence:
- Agreement on a higher purpose than any individual’s goals
- Autonomy, whereby each team has the power to make decisions without needing permission from others
- Cross-functionality in which the team contains every skill required to complete a project
- No finger-pointing or blame. People are not to blame for bad outcomes; it is bad systems that are to blame.
StoryShot #7: Multitasking Makes You Stupid
One of the practices frequently encouraged in organizations is multitasking. Sutherland believes it is better to do one thing exclusively and then move on to another project. He thinks that doing more than one thing at a time slows you down and degrades your performance at both tasks. So, work on only one thing at a time and do things right the first time. If you make an error, you should fix these errors or bugs as soon as you notice them. Waiting to fix something later on could reduce efficiency.
Scrum PDF, Infographic and Animated Book Summary
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This content was first published in 2020.
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