Scrum: A vehicle for corporate culture change?
We’re always testing different tools and methods to improve our customer experience. For the past 7 years, one of these has been integrated in software development: Scrum. Granted, the initial stage requires a lot of work. Successfully completing Scrum training, creating a backlog and diving into working in iterations (sprints) is no easy task.
The transition also involves starting from page one. Changing everything, from how you work alone or in a team to how you communicate. That being said, over time, you gradually adjust to your new daily project-based routine and the positive changes it brings. The improvements in teamwork are particularly noticeable. All of a sudden, everyone works together in interdisciplinary teams to solve problems and pursue shared goals. Needless to say, this has a lasting impact on relationships between individual team members. At mission-one (part of the port-neo Group), an open mindset, mutual respect and appreciation became the standard overnight. This left me thinking: Could introducing Scrum have a lasting impact on an entire company’s culture? Can the positive aspects of agile development be transferred to other areas? And have our customers noticed the changes at all, perhaps in the form of an improved customer experience?
How can employees achieve good results?
In 1960, Douglas McGregor developed two fundamental management methods while teaching at MIT: Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X suggests that human beings are inherently lazy and will avoid work wherever possible. Motivation to work relies on external factors such as payment or penalties. By contrast, Theory Y is underlined by the belief that humans are naturally driven and capable of strict self-discipline and control. Only a quick skim of the Agile Manifesto is required to see which management theory it’s based on: Theory Y. In agile environments, it is assumed that employees deliver strong results through self-motivation. Self-organising teams are a key factor in the successful introduction of Scrum. Employees need to be able to perform their work independently, organise themselves and make their own decisions.
What change can Scrum enable?
Scrum teams transform the roles of individual employees and managers alike. Begging the question: Are managers really a necessary feature in these structures? Yes, they are. In an agile environment, the role of a manger is to neither organise work packages nor motivate employees as an external force. Instead, they are tasked with giving team members freedom and room to show initiative.
From the very first day scum is introduced in software development, the team starts to rethink the way they work. Relationships between teams and customers also change. Work packages are defined together, mutual expectations are discussed and the shared commitment is assessed. This improves the flow of information, changes the decision-making process, enhances the quality of results, accelerates the delivery of business value and shifts the focus in the team from ‘I’ to ‘We’. The longer the process lasts, the more lasting the transformation of the culture within the team – and the customer’s experience. The transformation won’t go unnoticed by other teams, who will likely ask: What are Development up to? Then it’s finally time to introduce the rest of the company to Scrum management. The process looks something like this:
- Introduce the agile process model at an informational event
- Invite colleagues from different departments to the sprint review
- Include stakeholders in daily Scrum meetings from time to time
From a company perspective, it can also be particularly beneficial to focus on three aspects as potential culture changers:
- Establishing a team focus
- Building trust
- Value, i.e. the value for customers
Establishing a team focus
In a Scrum environment, a team’s focus shifts. The sense of the team as a ‘We’ is strengthened, shifting the focus to the quality of results, which offers several advantages:
Higher quality work results
Focused and motivated employees
Improved relationships between team members
Improved relationships between the team and clients
Tasks with real added value are prioritised
This shift from an ‘I’ to ‘We’ mindset is crucial for cultural change within a company. When successfully implemented in every department, each individual employee will benefit along with the entire company and all of its customers.
With Scrum, a team delivers a certain business value and deliverable to our customers sprint by sprint (every 14 days in our case). The standard process with planning, implementation and checks no longer applies. The trust placed in the work of the developer and Scrum team grows as a result. Trust is the key ingredient for lasting cultural change within companies and a positive customer experience in the long term.
One thing’s for sure: The world around us is changing. The way we work, the markets, employee demands and customer requirements. In order to continue on the path to success, companies need to adapt and rethink the way they work. Time and again, these changes don’t come from the top but instead from the bottom or mid-levels of an organisation, as is the case with Scrum.
It’s important that managers recognise this need for change as quickly as possible and act accordingly. Scrum could be the first step to enacting lasting positive change within a company and its customer relations.
Zeljko is the Unit Director of Software Products and a Scrum Master at mission-one, part of the port-neo Group. His training seminars address topics related to Scrum, governance, organisation and agility, paving the way to future success for companies.