Scrum is an Agile framework.
What does that actually mean? Are we supposed to fill it? Could we grab it, put it on the wall and paint our image in it, the way we see it, the way it works for us?
Probably, we can. Seemingly, many organizations attempt to connect the numbers and dots in precisely that way, trying to get a hold on their portfolio planning and utilising Scrum for metrics to fill their project reports - solely focusing on accelerating output and pushing velocity through the roof. But let’s be careful, since we can easily get trapped in this. A framework isn’t there to just fill it and use it. Did we take the time or the effort to ponder over further possibilities that the frame might entail?
The framework is not meant to contain just our own painting, our own image, whatever it is that is known to us. It is there to draw attention to something beyond… like the frame on the photo. Let it be a window. A transparent artifact, always representing a mere part of reality, depending on the spot from where we are and from where we are looking, not at it but through it, giving us an opportunity to inspect what we are spending our efforts on, or maybe… what we are wasting them on?
The power of the Scrum framework is in its simplicity. The predictively recurring Scrum events form a synchronized pulse creating a steady heartbeat for the members of the Scrum team. The drone is persistently present, but only discretely so, not drawing attention, because the frame is not what it’s about. It’s a minimalist frame, that vanishes after a while, and is merely setting the scene… trying to create a fertile setting for a space in which, as soon as the Scrum team is accustomed to the pattern of the heartbeat, all team members can focus - as one organism - on collaboration, innovation and co-creation.
Interhuman friction due to role shifts, adapting to new responsibilities and accountabilities, as well as difficulties with alignment of expectations are well-known characteristics of a team’s storming phase. But Tuckman, with his forming, storming, norming and performing model of team dynamics was only partly right. We now know that storming will always be there to some degree, accompanying the complexity and quickly-changing environment of today. A team, in fact, is constantly hovering over its storming arrhythmia, longing for it to clear up, using the heartbeat of the framework to gradually pave the road to high performance, focusing on value and gradual improvement.
Indeed, the Scrum framework is a ‘liberating structure’ in every sense. Agreeing as a team on the structure to work with - and taking up one of the roles and its respective responsibilities therein, provides a clarity on what to expect and how to cooperate within that constraint. The frame and heartbeat might appear to be limiting structures at first, but once applied as intended, prove to provide liberation – within the safety of knowing that the entire team is referencing through the same framework.
Metaphorically: Imagine a team looking at the sea and the framework is not there. What are we looking at? What are we seeing? What area of the horizon are we exploring?
It will be hard to be aligned unless someone or something tells us where to look and what to look for. Then put the frame, the window, on the beach. All of us are looking through it – together, exploring a far bigger wedge of the sea than we ever could imagine doing alone. At the same time it is enabling us to jointly aim for what could be beyond the horizon, when we all look in the same direction.
Mind you, it is just a framework. “Metaphors are all nice and well, but what about the real world?” - you might dryly remark. Some teams indeed never really achieve this ‘selfless’ wavelength of high performance. And Scrum as a mere facilitative tool is certainly not to blame for that. Some teams tap into it rather effortlessly. But it requires a common understanding of the framework - and the discipline to jointly be accountable for its success. Furthermore, and most dauntingly, it builds on human trust, as an unconditional recipe to create psychological safety.
Just like the Scrum master serves the team to enable every team member to be at her/his best, the Scrum framework is there to create the best possible circumstances for generating flexible value creation in a transparent and predictive way.
Browsing through the Liberating Structures list of Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless1, it is easy to notice a parallel and detect some clear common attributes:
- A Liberating Structure is simple to introduce. Just like Scrum they are easy to learn but can be hard to master. Having a good facilitator is a must.
- They are result focused. Not used for the sake of it, only for the extra value it generates.
- They involve rapid cycling, meaning fast iterative rounds generating input and feedback.
- They are inclusive, asking everyone’s opinion to make informed decisions on the way forward.
- They are seriously fun and boost a sense of freedom and responsibility within a group.
These attributes help us to:
- Share and spread vital knowledge
- Cope with complexity
- Include every member of the team and unleash their potential
- Adopt a habit of creative adaptability
- Promote anti-fragility
And on top of that, Scrum - being an Agile practice strongly rooted in Lean principles - reintroduces systems thinking and the routine of improvement in the process of co-creation.
If there is one principle in the world that should never change, let it be this one.
“Stay agile, never change” - Adam Weisbart2
- 1 For a full but ever growing list of these liberating structures, visit http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls-menu/ and http://www.liberatingstructures.com/ls-in-development/
- 2 The epic quote by Adam Weisbart, concluding every podcast: see https://weisbart.com/agile-answers/