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Scrum Beyond Scrum

On my professionalisation journey to Scrum Alliance Certified Team Coach, I am collecting badges and certifications like a cub scout at a swimming gala. I am also going to conference presentations, reading books and learning from all sorts of people by talking to them.

One thing is common – nothing I am learning, or have learned since Certified Scrum Master, is really anything to do with the Scrum Framework itself.

Don’t get me wrong – it is all extremely useful skill and knowledge; and it’s all invaluable to helping Scrum teams improve. But it’s not just about getting better at Agile. A lot of it will help in a multitude of situations, whether agile or not.

That’s because the skills, knowledge and experience that I am gaining on my path to CTC are mostly concerned with people, teams, organisation and especially, their culture.

I’m not deepening my understanding of Scrum itself, but I am deepening my understanding of how it can be applied and optimised.

None of this should be a surprise, of course. The origins of Agile and Scrum are from manufacturing, and many of the theories and models we rely on are based on research that’s nothing to do with product development.

And the reverse is also true – many of the techniques and approaches that have evolved in the agile community are also valuable in other contexts.

For instance, the Lean Startup entrepreneurial approach is heavily influenced by agile thinking, and retrospectives are used by teams taking an otherwise classic waterfall project management approach.

This means that good agile coaches can provide value to organisations in far wider contexts than just their agile delivery teams. And a good agile coach should also recognise that their mindset, knowledge and skills don’t always have to result in teams applying Scrum or Kanban.

This has been further reinforced by some other leadership training that I have been doing.

It is focussed on the leadership of large organisations in a more traditional sense, and none of the trainers or experts involved would identify themselves as ‘agile’ experts.

Some aren’t even very aware of what agile is. And yet, time and time again, I found the ideas, theories and models being presented resonating strongly with other things I have learned from the agile community. Some of the language and names are different, but they boil down to the same kinds of things.

For example, neuroscience researchers now recognise the role Oxytocin has in creating effective team interactions. Some of the ways they recommend teams increase their oxytocin levels are to have time-limited team challenges, high levels of autonomy and giving complete attention to the task at hand.

All things that should be present naturally in good agile teams – though we might use the language of goals, self-organising teams and limiting WIP.

Another example is the importance of engagement to individual and team performance. There are lots of people talking about engagement, autonomy, impact and purpose from a senior leadership perspective, without seeming to realise that those aspects are already baked into the Agile Manifesto and most agile approaches (at least they are when you do things properly).

It is also helping me understand why some agile techniques work the way that they do. For example, focussing on agreeing what’s NOT in scope over what IS in scope works because people find it psychologically harder to remove things from lists than add to them, which can help limit attempts on scope creep of your early versions or MVP. And involving the whole team in breaking down stories and agreeing the goal of a Sprint helps provide a connection between their work and the value to the organisation, which increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, helping them focus and pay better attention.

This means good news for agile practitioners! We are already building the skills recognised as being important for leaders of any type. Having and applying an agile mindset has value in many situations, even those that are far removed from product development. It also means there is a wealth of information and knowledge that isn’t specifically aimed at agile teams, but which can be extremely valuable in agile contexts. Our development isn’t limited to things with an #agile hashtag.