One of the biggest challenges in a successful Scrum implementation, is the manner in which Scrum is adopted by an organisation. Special Forces have struggled with the issue in the wider Military for decades. Can they teach us anything about scrum adoption and integration?
Ninja Software Development
Comparing the SAS and Scrum teams is a bit of a stretch, I know. I mean, one of them aggressively pursues a mission objective with a relentless focus and zeal bordering on fanaticism and then, we have the SAS. Let’s see if we can find any areas of commonality.
SAS teams work at an optimum size. Large enough to be autonomous and get the job done and small enough to be agile and make communication simple. That’s remarkably similar to a Scrum team which is designed to be cross-functional and self-organising.
The SAS. The First Scrum Team?
Scrum development teams do not use titles. Though development team members may be specialized (ie: Analyst, Tester etc) everyone is considered simply as a Developer. It helps to foster cooperation and engenders a common focus on getting the job done. SAS Teams also have specializations (ie: Medic, Communications etc) but they’re all soldiers first and foremost.
SAS teams do not do up-front planning to win a war. Instead, they focus with intense concentration on a mission or battle. Scrum teams don’t do all their project planning up-front. Instead, they focus with great concentration on an iteration.
Scrum teams produce a Sprint Goal during Sprint Planning. SAS teams produce a mission goal during mission planning.
SAS teams invest considerable time in drills and rehearsals. They know and understand the fundamentals. This level of understanding is vital and enables them to operate effectively when a plan goes wrong and they need to adapt to changing circumstances. Scrum teams that have a thorough understanding of Scrum are able to handle operational changes with ease and deal with changes as they arise.
Scrum teams conduct Sprint Retrospective meetings to discuss what went well and what went badly during a Sprint. They’re interested in improving the next Sprint. SAS teams conduct mission de-briefs. They’re interested in what went well and what went badly. They want to make the next mission performance even better.
The Politics of Envy
The comparisons don’t end here but I’m sure you’re seeing a very obvious trend. This trend can also teach us something because one of the biggest hurdles that the SAS face is resentment and envy from other sections of the military. This is especially true of the more senior staff who can be resentful of the extra resources and attention that the SAS get. Does this sound familiar to you?
Whenever I inspect a Scrum implementation, I invariably ask how other senior managers view the Scrum team. As an independent reviewer, I’m often treated to an unvarnished version of the truth. You’ve probably heard similar comments yourself: “Scrum team. Hah! Don’t make me laugh. They don’t plan, they suck up resources and never give anything back.” or “That Scrum teams thinks they’re just the cat’s pyjamas. They need bringing down a step or two”. How about “They never provide delivery dates. How can I plan the marketing and sales effort?” and so on.
For a Successful Scrum Adoption you NEED Top Level Support
In a thesis document titled “The Integration of Conventional Forces and Special Operations Forces”, the author points out: “Far more important to the SOF warrior is that the ends justify the means. The authorization for their unorthodox actions often resides at the highest levels, and often SOF find themselves with a champion to ensure their existence and defend their actions. General George C. Marshall personally pushed for the establishment of the Army Rangers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed the director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to maintain a direct pipeline to the White House, and later President John F. Kennedy heaped praise and attention on the Army SF, much to the dislike of his conventional chiefs of staff (Horn, 2004, 12). Recently, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has personally ensured that SOF have taken the role as the supported command in the WOT, greatly increased their budget, and authorized an increase in manpower.”
Scrum teams won’t achieve universal popularity within an organisation. By their very nature they challenge elements of that organisation. They reveal gaps and under-performance. The relentless pursuit of impediment removal shows where there’s room for improvement. All this activity can often reflect badly on others and they rarely welcome that form of exposure.
In a nutshell then: Let results speak for themselves. The SAS have proven their worth many times over. They achieve seemingly impossible results and they’re remarkable cost efficient. The head of any organization is going to love that and that’s the only person you really need to please.
If this article has whetted your appetite but you’re still not sure if Scrum is for you, take a look at this article on the top 10 reasons to use scrum. Do it now. Or, we’ll send the boys round!
Oliver Nielsen says
Good read Derek! I also enjoyed your writing, creative in places:)
You’re right, there are similarities, and for good reason: Jeff Sutherland was a fighter pilot, and Scrum partially builds on his military background experience (but I’m sure you know that).
Keep up the good work! At a stable velocity of course;)