This post is the first of a series about Scrum, an adaptable method for helping people develop personally and professionally. By the end of this series, you’ll have some useful information about how to implement Scrum to get the very best out of your team members (as they define it), and to stay on top of changing conditions in order to remain productive and on-track.

Let’s start with a little context.

Traditionally, industry and technical experts would convene in a room to isolate themselves from external distractions, and there they would conceive a grand plan. This plan would contain dependencies, priorities, schedules, and deadlines. The planning professionals would allocate staff, materials, and resources to the various tasks. To accomplish this, planning professionals would often use something like Walker and Kelley’s Critical Path Method (Fig. 1) to determine which components of the plan had flexibility, and which did not. They might have used a Gantt Chart (Fig. 2) to display the schedules visually. These approaches have been widely-used since the 1950s, and are taught in many management and engineering courses worldwide. These methods create very good plans.


Figure 1: An Activity Network with Critical Path on Nodes 1, 2, 4, 7, 8.




Figure 2: A Gantt Chart with Critical Path on Tasks A, C, E, G.

Despite the undisputed expertise of the planners, their plans would fail all too frequently. Unforeseen circumstances would arise. Lines of communication would break down. Staff and resources would be inadequately allocated, and inefficiencies would result. Deadlines would get missed, schedules would slip, and costs would increase. People would become unhappy. The plan would begin to fray at the edges. If experts were making the plan, then how could it fail – and what, if any, were the alternatives?

In 2001, the major automotive and heavy industry manufacturer Toyota took a position on management philosophy, known as “The Toyota Way”. The premise is a simple one: When project planning decisions are made by people other than those actually carrying out that work, when lines of communication are obscured so that changing conditions cannot be promptly reported, and when any company fails to improve the people who comprise it, the failure of any grand plan is all but certain. This philosophy is summarized in the following maxim:

Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.

Fast forward to 2013, when Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland described a project management framework in a document called “The Scrum Guide”. This document summarized a management approach based on successive iterations over short-term deadlines, rather than a singular long-term planning horizon to be attained in one attempt. The approach was also characterized by comparatively flat management structure for decision-making, ample opportunities for reporting technical issues integrated into the management process, and only three defined roles for team members. Finally – and, I think, most importantly – it allows people to self-select for the work which they feel competent, qualified, and eager to do.

Of course, I’m leaving out a lot of history here (Takeuchi and Nonaka’s pioneering work in 1986, Schwaber and Sutherland’s original efforts in the early 1990s, the advent of Lean Manufacturing, and the appearance Agile Manifesto), but I hope the examples of Critical Path Method, an overview of The Toyota Way, and a cursory description of Scrum are sufficient to convince you that there are a few different ways to manage teams and get results.

To learn more, you’ll have to stay tuned – and you’ll soon be able to start practicing Scrum to get results with your team! Next, we’ll discuss the different roles in the Scrum team, and how they all contribute to making amazing projects happen by unlocking the creativity and passion in every team member. Thanks for reading.

This is the first of a series of brief articles about Scrum theory and practice. These articles are for you! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or give comments. Let me know what you’d like to see, and what’s unclear – and, in true Scrum fashion, I’ll try to tune the future posts so they’re more interesting, informative, and entertaining for you.