Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
By Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
You may be tempted to ignore this book review when you see the title — Scrum. You might be thinking it only beneficial for a rugby team or the software coders in your life. I was surprised when I got a few chapters into this book about the relevance to business and non-profits. Author Jeff Sutherland and his colleagues developed and first used the Scrum framework in leading IT teams, but there are many other avenues to use the framework and gain the benefits described in the book.
The book dives deep into the origins of Scrum. Sutherland describes his time as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, using the OODA model of Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act to successfully navigate unexpected events. Next, he added his academic experience of statistics and biometrics learning systems theory to research cancer. When funding for his cancer research dried up, he applied his learning to making ATM networks talk to each other. This is not a focus of the book, but it is very evident that Sutherland is an innovator. Using best practices and learnings from one arena and applying them to other areas is a major source of innovation and advancement.
Scrum, the name and initial concept, actually didn’t come from Sutherland himself. Scrum is a framework that helps teams work together. Scrum describes a set of meetings, tools, and roles that work in concert to help teams structure and manage their work. The book describes how Sutherland’s team was searching for a new method to develop software and came across a study in Harvard Business Review from a couple of Japanese business professors. The study had made an impact, but hardly anyone was using the methods described outside of manufacturing, and at Toyota mostly. Sutherland gives nod to the Toyota Production System, W. Edwards Deming (and his Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle), and to other Japanese-rooted concepts where it is more of a lifestyle than a new fad in work styles.
After going through the origin story, Sutherland focuses on the aspects of Scrum project management framework and how to implement it. Each chapter is full of nuggets in and of themselves, and combined into the total concept, they prove to be a massive generator of efficiency and effectiveness. Contrasting the traditional waterfall method of project management, it is evident why so many teams are using the Scrum method. Each chapter has concepts, research, stories, and actionable tips for each aspect of the framework. Each chapter ends with a section titled “The Takeaway” that succinctly reviews the four to six key concepts from that chapter.
There are six chapters dedicated to different areas of the framework. Sutherland discusses teams, time, waste, plans, happiness, and priorities. There is some contrast to the traditional waterfall method of project management and other seemingly tried-and-true workplace norms. The research-based foundations and anecdotal evidence make for compelling arguments to support the use of Scrum. The book doesn’t miss the truth that management typically wants control and predictability and “Scrum embraces uncertainty and creativity.”
For example, teams at work are traditionally driven from the top-down and specialized or siloed. Using research and examples, Sutherland argues that teams should be self-managed and cross-functional. One example of a successful Scrum team is when Sutherland’s son, J.J., was sent to Cairo to lead the reporting efforts for National Public Radio during the Egyptian Revolution. The team on the ground in Cairo had to self-organize and everyone doing what was necessary (and not assigned) due to the communication break with Washington and the rapidly changing environment. Add J.J.’s role of removing impediments and you get a true-to-form Scrum team.
One of my favorite concepts and results is the idea of time discussed in Chapter 4. Grouping action items and time blocks together to form sprints is a fundamental aspect of Scrum’s framework. At the end of each sprint, the team has something completed, ready to demonstrate to stakeholders and the rest of the team. Scrum also adds a daily check-in with all team members to discuss what they are working on and what can be removed to increase the speed. Daily Stand-Ups, as these meetings are called, happen in the morning and are meant to be short and effective. Another benefit of Stand-Up meetings is the fact that everyone knows what is going on. This helps the whole team stay up to date and have the ability to help where it is most needed (adding to the self-managed part mentioned in the previous chapter).
Sutherland wraps up the book with a chapter on areas outside of software development. He includes examples of how Scrum is impacting government, non-profit work, and even a great story on education. Scrum may have started in software, but it can impact any type of work you are doing. This book demonstrates that Scrum is innovating how businesses get things done. It is also a great example of how innovation happens. Regardless of industry or focus, this book is a good read if you want to be efficient and get the right things done.
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About Phil Klutts
Phil is an Edmond native and has managed to keep his wife here instead of traveling the world, which they both enjoy. They have two boys who love the outdoors, adventures, and learning new things. Phil is a problem-solver at heart and enjoys connecting people to the resources they need.
Phil founded the CK Group LLC after working for large and small businesses in the Energy, Construction, and Fitness industries. He focuses on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs improve their systems and processes. CK Group LLC's mission is to eliminate chaos and create clarity for small business by connecting vision, strategy, and implementation.