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Happy Scrum: Scrum to the rescue

In the previous post Happy Scrum – A cognitive perspective , we examined the cognitive limitations experienced by humans, and how this reality causes problems with the Waterfall environment in the software development industry. So now what? We still have to deal with complex projects despite our limitations, don’t we?

Scrum is a superior approach because it provides a framework more attuned to our cognitive abilities. It presents a very different paradigm for managing complex projects. Instead of top-down control (through planning and upfront designs), Scrum allows control through self-organization and frequent feedback control loops. This not only impacts project success rates, but also impacts levels of frustration and satisfaction!

According to Hackman & Oldham (1980)[1], job satisfaction is based on an employee’s feeling about specific job aspects such as co-worker relations, feedback, workload, pay, stress, working conditions, autonomy, supervision, promotional opportunities, and more. Let’s examine a few of these factors and see how Scrum contributes to success and satisfaction.

 

Autonomy

Autonomy is the degree or level of freedom and discretion an employee has over his or her job. Granting employees the freedom of ownership over their work may help raise worker satisfaction. Job satisfaction is gained when individuals know they are responsible for the outcome of their work. Employees who are not given decision-making autonomy tend to get bored quicker than those who are given autonomy.

The position of project manager is conspicuously absent on Scrum teams, a profound difference when compared to the traditional approach. Scrum preaches ‘self-organization’, so teams are expected to manage themselves. In Scrum Teams demonstrating efficiency, members can simply look at the task board and pick up the tasks that are suitable for them, instead of someone assigning them items. Teams distribute their own work; complex problems are solved through the synchronized actions of individuals.

 

Co-workers

At most workplaces, co-workers spend long hours together, so personal relationships develop among employees. This type of association can be vital for a company in terms of employee engagement as well as quality and efficiency of work.

The results of Putnam & Myers’ study (1998) demonstrate how co-workers in small groups finalize projects in less time due to the higher productivity of smaller groups compared to bigger groups[2]. Cooperation in bigger teams is not as good as in smaller teams due to many factors, but the vital factor is that the co-workers in smaller groups “fulfill to a greater extent their psychological need of being accepted as a part of the group.”

The recommended size of a Scrum team is five to nine engineers, which is considered a small team. Such a team, according to Putnam and Myers, “significantly improves its productivity process through shorter development time and greater team effort.” Another reason smaller teams have higher productivity is the responsibility taken by individuals for the work of the whole team.

In addition, by performing the routine of daily meetings, each team member’s position is being evaluated. This permits them to get help when needed – resulting in increased levels of cooperation between team members.

 

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is an individual’s experience of maintaining harmony (balance) between work and personal relationships. Kazi & Zadeh (2011) propose that an imbalance or dissatisfaction in work leads to dissatisfaction in personal life[3]. This can lead to job turnover. For organizations to remain competitive, they need to understand and address issues surrounding work-life balance in order to maintain job satisfaction among employees.

A common mistake in sequential development is to defer important work such as integration and testing. When delivery dates approach, teams usually find themselves in ‘crunch-time’, dealing with a crushing workload of issues. The result is a steep increase in intensity that often requires team members to work overtime trying to get the release out. Scrum, on the other hand, preaches the use of best technical practices such as refactoring, continuous integration and automated tests, such that each sprint’s work encapsulates all of the work for delivering a feature. As a result, a given sprint’s intensity will likely increase near the end of the sprint as teams work to ensure the product matches the team’s ‘definition of done’. However, the overall intensity of work during each sprint should closely resemble the intensity of the previous sprint, ensuring the team’s work is done at a sustainable pace. The aggregate result is a leveling of the work. It doesn’t come in huge chunks or intense bursts, especially late, when it’s most harmful. This leveling means that Scrum teams will likely work fewer overtime hours and therefore be less likely to burn out.

 

Feedback culture

Another aspect of good cooperation of individual team members is constant feedback, which has an impact on team efficiency. Creating a feedback culture has recently become popular in many organizations, especially for those in which employee engagement and work satisfaction are important. A satisfied employee is more productive, creative and overall more valuable.

Feedback, an integral part of the Scrum process, is present in almost all of Scrum events: daily meetings, refinement meetings, review meetings and retrospective meetings. Opportunities to inspect and adapt elements in the process are abundant, thus providing effective and essential tools to develop performance.

 

Conclusion

In this post we have seen that our cognitive limitations prevent us from fully comprehending all aspects of a complex project in advance. In contrast, traditional approaches assumed that we can comprehend changing variables that will eventually arise as projects progress, resulting in both frustration and failure to deliver. Experience has shown that Scrum is a superior approach because it accepts the aforementioned cognitive limitations. The environment created by Scrum not only removes the need to comprehend everything up front but also allows a team to continuously reorganize, learn, think and adapt to get the work done. This increases levels of cooperation between employees, removes unnecessary stress, allows a certain level of freedom and promotes a culture of positive feedback. The end result is not only a successful project but also happy employees.

[1] Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1980). Work redesign. Journal of vocational behavior.

[2] Putnam, L. H., & Myers, W. (1998). Familiar Metric Management – Small is Beautiful-Once Again. Retrieved from QSM: http://www.qsm.com/fmm_28.pdf

[3] Kazi, G., & Zadeh, Z. (2011). The Contributions of Individual Variables: Job Satisfaction and Job Turnover.

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