The Scrum Guide: An Interview with Jeff Sutherland

[interview]
Summary:

In this interivew, Dr. Jeff Sutherland, one of the inventors of Scrum, talks about a new community website, ScrumGuides.org. He covers the backbone of the Scrum concept, how Scrum can increase productivity, how organizations fail to implement it properly, and how Scrum is like a martial art.

Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, and Scrum Inc. have just announced a new community website called ScrumGuides.org. This official source is looking to act as a convergence point for the Scrum community, where interested members can read and post about the latest and greatest in the world of Scrum. In this interview, we dig into this fresh website and learn about Scrum from one of its earliest adaptors. 

 

Josiah Renaudin: First, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Jeff Sutherland: In 1993, I was a professor of radiology, biometrics, and preventive medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine doing supercomputer work on modeling human cells funded by the National Cancer Institute. We were working with tools and advice from Bell Labs created by Kernigan and Richie, the inventors of the C language. Because we were using Tandem multiprocessor, fault-tolerant systems in our research, and had the best research team outside of Silicon Valley for Tandem computing, a large banking company recruited me as VP of advanced systems. They wanted me to help roll out ATM systems for 150 banks across North American using the Tandem for transaction processing. This led to my experience as CTO, VP of engineering, and/or CEO of eleven software companies, all of which implemented Scrum, which continues to today. I also am an agile coach to OpenView Venture Partners since 2006. We have almost a billion dollars invested in companies that do Scrum and expect twice the return of traditional VC companies.

Josiah: Could you describe what “The Scrum Guide” is and what you see as its goals?

Jeff: The Scrum Guide is the definitive description of Scrum as articulated by the founders and supported by the Scrum Alliance. Only the essentials are in The Scrum Guide. We have removed all nonessentials so it is the minimal description of Scrum. Failure to implement anything in The Scrum Guide will cause dysfunction.

Josiah: What do you believe is the backbone of Scrum? What, in your mind, defines the concept?

Jeff: This is like “what is the backbone of object technology.” It is a set of several interlocking parts which together can provide extreme performance. Any part missing will make extreme performance impossible.

As my new book illustrates, Scrum enables you to do twice the work in half the time. So implementing Scrum in my company makes the team four-hundred percent more productive. Here is a graph of points per sprint over several years at Scrum Inc.

raw scrum velocity

Everyone needs Scrum if they want to do twice the work in half the time.

  1. It is essential to have a ready backlog of work to do that is clear, prioritized, broken into small pieces, estimated, and testable. Anything missing here will delay getting stuff done. This is not rocket science.
  2. It is helpful to have a cadence, a rhythm. Lean is based on this and Scrum derives from lean product development. So at Scrum Inc. we use weekly sprints.
  3. A daily meeting is always needed to replan what work is to be done and who is to do it for the day. The goal is to get the team into the “zone” where “situation awareness” drives extreme performance.
  4. A review of work done at the end of the week allows assessment of progress and staging for the next week.
  5. A restrospective after the review allows us to identify the “Kaizen” or top process improvement to be implemented in the next sprint. This generates continuous improvement in velocity and quality.

As soon as we stop implementing any of these things, the velocity goes down and quality deteriorates. Continuing for any length of time to not do these things will reduce us to the mediocre performance of most companies.

Scrum is like a martial art. You practice every day or you get slow and weak.

Josiah: In what ways does Scrum increase productivity, and do you think enough organizations and teams are implementing it correctly?

Jeff: About fifty percent of so-called agile teams are not agile because they do not have tested working software at the end of a Sprint according to Standish Group analysis, which Ken and I published in “Software in 30 Days.” We call this “bad agile.” Since about seventy-five percent of “agile” teams say they are doing Scrum, at least fifty percent of Scrum teams are dysfunctional. This is the biggest problem with “agile” today.

Josiah: Why do you think so many teams are unclear on the precise definition of Scrum? What are you doing to remedy this?

Jeff: All our training and online courses are directed towards solving the major dysfunctions in the agile community. Other trainers claim we teach “aggressive” Scrum. Some complain we are too focused on performance. They would rather teach slow, dysfunctional Scrum. Also, we found recently when we met with twelve of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley that about 80 percent of teams do not have working software at the end of a sprint, a gross violation of the Agile Manifesto. Since they have hundreds of “Scrum Coaches” in the valley, I asked management why there was so much dysfunctional Scrum. Several company management teams said they have started firing all the coaches because the teams they coach are not producing working software.

Josiah: How deep is the Scrum community? How many countries does it stretch to?

JeffThe Scrum Alliance can provide this data. Last time I checked, we were in over a hundred countries.

Josiah: How do you plan on spreading the word for ScrumGuides.org? What are your goals with the online community?

Jeff: All Scrum Alliance testing for certified ScrumMasters will be based on the Scrum Guide. We teach it in all our training. So does scrum.org.

Josiah: Where do you see Scrum going from here? Should it stay the same, or do you think it has room to evolve?

Jeff: The basics of Scrum will stay the same. The tools and supporting ideas around implementing the basics are constantly evolving. Scrum is based on Lean Product Development at Toyota, which means focus on the team and continuous improvement. So the implementation of Scrum gets better in every sprint for teams implementing it properly. The automobile industry has spent fifty years trying to do better and failed. This year, Audi caved in and implemented Toyota Lean Product Development. It will take fifty years for the dysfunctional software teams to get their act together.

In the software world, I articulated the “Future of Scrum” in the 1995 IEEE paper in the digital library. You can find it in the Scrum Papers here. This was based on the work I did as CTO of PatientKeeper. It described continuous deployment multiple times per sprint which all the best companies do today. At Google, for example, they run 75,000,000 automated tests a day and 15000 engineers deploy to a single code branch. Software Test Engineers are highly skilled developers that are in great demand on development teams. There are no separate test teams, a policy that the new CEO at Microsoft implemented in August 2014.

 

Jeff Sutherland

Dr. Jeff Sutherland is an inventor of the Scrum software development process. In conjunction with Ken Schwaber, Sutherland created Scrum as a formal process at OOPSLA'95. Additionally, Jeff helped to write the Agile Manifesto in 2001 and is the author of The Scrum Guide, which was published in 2010. A Graduate of the United States Military Academy, Sutherland was a Top Gun of his USAF RF-4C Aircraft Commander class. After eleven years in the military he became a doctor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. While there, he got involved in data collection and IT systems development. Currently, Dr. Jeff Sutherland is serving as a chief executive officer of Scrum, Inc in Boston, Massachusetts as well as Senior Advisor to OpenView Venture Partners.

 

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