The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Life gets busy. Has Scrum been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
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.
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 most of the world’s top technology companies. We know it works, but this book outlines why it works. The book uses multiple examples to explain how people struggle to conduct tasks with agility and efficiency. The author claims that Scrum can solve this. Scrum has many achievements. Jeff’s system has helped bring the FBI into the 21st century. Scrum has also 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.
Shot #1: ATMs Were the Inspiration for Scrum
Sutherland first identified the flawed approach society has to productivity when helping deploy ATMs throughout the US. He believed the traditional method of conducting software development, including the waterfall system associated with ATMs, was flawed. Sutherland also 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 was written by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. They focused on the importance of cross-functional teams in producing a faster and more flexible working environment.
Shot #2: The Scrum Fundamentals
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 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 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.
Shot #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 when work features are built as quickly as possible over a chosen period. Sprints are often called time boxes. These time boxes are of a set duration and should be kept consistent so that you can develop a work rhythm. 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.
During this 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?
Shot #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 bogs down. Another way to maximize the team’s productivity is to make sure that meetings are consistent and direct. Jeff recommends meetings be held daily or weekly, 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.
Shot #5: Blindly Following Plans Is Stupid
One of the most common ways people seek to increase their productivity is through planning. Sutherland 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. Detailed plans are too rigid and are unable to adapt to changes. So, Sutherland encourages us to learn to expect change. This expectation will inspire discoveries and ideas.
Shot #6: Success Is Built on Team Efficiency
The success of Scrum is based on the success of the teams within an organization. Sutherland argues that team efficiency has a much more significant impact than individual efficiency. 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 Sutherland characterizes a team that has the fundamentals required for becoming excellent:
- Have a higher purpose than the individual’s goals.
- Autonomy, whereby each team has the power to make decisions without needing authorization.
- Teams should be cross-functional. Each team needs to contain every skill required to complete a project.
- Don’t blame people. People are not to blame for bad outcomes; it is bad systems that are to blame.
Shot #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. Sutherland believes that doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse 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 at a later stage could reduce efficiency.
Shot #8: There Are Three Kinds of Waste
In this book, Sutherland 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.
Shot #9: Working Too Hard Causes Mistakes
Working long hours produces waste. Working more hours doesn’t get more done; it gets less done. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Work weekdays and work reasonable hours. Take vacations to prevent burnout. Sutherland views heroic effort as a failure in planning.
Additionally, the goals that you create must be ones that you can achieve—establishing goals that are challenging and attainable can motivate you. Impossible goals will simply leave you unhappy and will lower your motivation.
Shot #10: True Happiness Is the Process
Sutherland 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.
True happiness is found in the process, not in the result. Often organizations will reward achievements. We should instead 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 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:
- Happiness helps you make smarter decisions
- Happiness enables you to be more creative
- Happiness means individuals are less likely to leave their job
- 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.
We also shouldn’t let our happiness take over us completely by leading us to believe that we are performing better than we are. So, we should always measure our happiness against performance.
Shot #11: How to Prioritize
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?
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. Making people prioritize by value forces them to produce the most important work first.
Concerning revenue, Sutherland recommends identifying 20% of the 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.
Shot #12: Scrum Can Influence Any Sector
Scrum accelerates every 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.
- Scrum is being used by many Dutch high schools. They have observed an immediate improvement in test scores of more than 10%.
- 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 witnessed double the yield and double the revenue.
Shot #13: Never Plan Fantasy
Sutherland encourages only planning things that need to be done. So, 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. 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 through working smarter.
You can set your team goals that might have seemed audacious before adopting a Scrum mindset (such as doubling your production).
Final Review and Analysis
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. Jeff Sutherland believes that Scrum can be applied to any organization of any size and have a significant impact.
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