If your organization has less than 50 people, how hard is it to adopt and succeed with Scrum?
The number of people in your organization is not relevant to how effectively you adopt and succeed with scrum. Sure, if you are talking about wanting to scale scrum, that is a different kettle of fish, but if we are simply talking about adopting scrum and shifting to agile product development, it doesn’t matter how many people you have in the organization.
As the organization grows, you can see organizational friction occur because there is more paperwork, more people who need to be involved, and differences in decision-making criteria than when it was simply a matter of a founder with a couple of staff members.
Systems, processes, and policies are developed to ensure the security and stability of the organization, but that can fly in the face of business agility if the organization focus on command and control rather than collaboration and innovation.
In my experience, scrum usually starts with a pilot where the organization test how effective scrum is in helping them achieve their objectives. It is seldom a wide-scale adoption of scrum.
In an organization of 50 people or less, there isn’t much of a distance between the scrum team and the leadership team. If the team need x to be considered, it’s usually a matter of an email or a personal chat with one of the directors to get something approved.
So, it’s generally easier from that perspective than in a large, multi-national organization to get something approved or to get an impediment removed.
Leadership teams are excited about the prospect of agile and are willing to make decisions quickly, experiment, and adapt to make the pilot a success, or at the very least, ensure that the pilot has a realistic chance of succeeding.
So, you often find that it is easier to adopt scrum in a small organization because the leadership teams are actively supporting, maybe even championing, the pilot initiative.
Reasons scrum fails.
The annual state of agile report consistently reports that organizational culture and bureaucracy being the primary reasons why agile fails.
Shifting from a rigid, robust command and control style of management to leadership based on agile values and principles is hard, especially if the team being asked to make the shift have no guarantees of success or any idea of what ‘good’ looks like in the context of scrum or agile.
So, in any organization, adopting scrum is easy, it’s the organizational policies and frameworks that make it incredibly difficult to sustain or grow. It’s the challenge of navigating complexity whilst navigating layers or organizational complexity at the same time.
Leadership or management teams are the single biggest impediment to the successful adoption of agile, and conversely, if you have their support and buy-in, you’re likely to succeed and thrive.
So, get this part right and everything else falls into place. Make sure the leadership teams are onboard with the experiment and take the time to educate them and coach them through the journey to business agility.
Take advantage of a smaller setup
In a small organization, you’re likely to have a personal relationship with the boss or one of the directors.
The leadership are actively involved in the work, rather than sitting in an ivory tower, and so they tend to be a great deal more invested in the success of initiatives to improve customer satisfaction and improve organizational effectiveness.
Take the time to have a chat.
If there is something blocking the team or a potential impediment coming down the pipeline, just arrange a cup of coffee with the boss and walk them through the potential problem and solution.
You’re going to find that those impediments disappear if the leadership team understand why something is a problem, how it can be resolved, and what the potential outcomes of that intervention are going to be.
Inform, educate, and coach.
Help them make great decisions, and guide them to the actions and decisions that are going to allow your scrum team to thrive. They have just as much enthusiasm about the success of scrum in your organization as you and your team do, so leverage that and get things done quickly and effectively.
Offers rather than demands.
If you really want to succeed with scrum, learn how to invite people into decisions and how to make offers effectively.
If you start with making demands or insist on something being done a certain way, you are likely to fail because every decision is a grudge decision.
If you invite people to explore an opportunity, take the time to walk them through their concerns and questions, and make offers which they can explore and dissect, you are likely to get the outcomes you are looking for.
It removes the confrontation element of asking for a resource, decision, and so forth.
It becomes you and I versus the problem rather than you versus me.
We are exploring potential avenues and taking the time to consider how each option compares to the other before committing to an experiment or decision. Making an offer allows people to evaluate the merit of your idea, and decide based on data, feedback, and evidence rather than meeting a demand.
In essence, collaboration and cocreation rather than being forced to walk an unknown path.
So, adopting scrum is relatively simple, it is the organizational and leadership elements that present the greatest risk. Involve the leadership team in the journey to business agility and allow them collaborate and cocreate the way forward with your team.
About John McFadyen
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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