Book Review: Jeff Sutherland, Scrum – The art of doing twice the work in half the time.

This book was released back in January 2016 so no new concepts here. In fact, as you will learn from reading the book the subject matter, Agile and Scrum have been around significantly longer than that.

The book has had mixed reviews since its publication and seems to have earned itself a bit of a marmite reputation. I notice that the ‘Agile’ purists and those from tech and systems dev backgrounds do appear more likely to be critical of the positioning and context for the text.

That being said, I like marmite and as with any book there’s usually enough info out there and on the back cover for you to make an informed decision about if a book is going to hit the mark for you or not. This one certainly hit the mark for me and was exactly what I needed to read to inspire a new thought process and way of working.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book from my CEO who is backing agile in our business. We’ve seen some exciting developments in our Tech function since implementing agile and are now on a journey to test and adopt the principles in other functions. This includes HR.

Upfront I’m going to say that this book is not going to tell you step by step how to use ‘Scrum.’ What it will give you is background and context, it will give you the ‘why’ from which you can start a journey to learn more about this and develop practical application.

I’m also going to add that this is my starting point on a journey to adopt ‘agile’ too and I’m on a massive learning curve. I might not get all of the terminology right straight off so bear with me as I do my best to give you my honest take on this and find my way through.

As you would expect Jeff Sutherland draws extensively on his personal history and background, celebrating his diverse and varied career. This is both impressive and arguably a little too indulgent at times, certainly from the perspective of some of the reviews I have read from tech specialists elsewhere.

There are nine chapters with helpful key takeaways at the end of each one. If you’re looking to get started with adopting agile, the takeaways serve as useful calls to action and flick the inspiration switch that’s all key to getting you moving on your journey. I’ve detailed some of the ones that stood out to me as a starting point below.

“Change or Die – Clinging to old ways of doing things will only result in failure. In the meantime, the competition that is willing to change will leave you in their dust.

Fail Fast So You Can Fix Early – Working in short cycles and releasing product sooner enables more immediate end user feedback. This means you can eliminate anything that is wasteful or not working quickly to ensure that the work you are delivering is truly fit for purpose.

Don’t Guess. Plan, Do, Check, Act – Plan what you are going to do. Do it. Check whether it did what you wanted. Act on that and change how you’re doing things. Repeat in regular cycles and by doing that achieve continuous improvement.

Autonomy – Give teams the freedom to make decisions on how to take action. The ability to improvise will make all the difference.

Blame Is Stupid – Don’t look for bad people; look for bad systems – ones that incentivise bad behaviour and reward poor performance.

Time Is Finite. Treat It That Way – Break down your work into what can be accomplished in a regular set, short period – optimally one to four weeks. And, if you’ve caught the Scrum fever, call it a Sprint.

Everyone Knows Everything – Communication saturation accelerates work.

Multitasking Makes You Stupid – Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don’t do it. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong – it does.

Working Too Hard Only Makes More Work – Working long hours doesn’t get more done; it gets less done. Working too much results in fatigue, which leads to errors, which leads to having to fix the thing you just finished.

No Assholes – Don’t be one, and don’t allow the behaviour in others. Call out anyone who causes emotional chaos, inspires fear or dread, or demeans or diminishes other people.

Work Is a Story – Think first about who’ll be getting value from something, then about what it is, and then why they need it. People think in narratives, so give them one.

Know Your Velocity – Every team should know exactly how much work they can get done in each Sprint. And they should know how much they can improve that velocity by working smarter and removing barriers that are slowing them down.

Make Work Visible – Have a board that shows all of the work that needs to be done, what’s being worked on, and what is actually done. Everyone should see it, and everyone should update it every day.

Happy Is the New Black – It helps you make smarter decisions, be more creative, less likely to leave your job and more likely to accomplish more than you ever anticipated.

A Leader Isn’t a Boss – A Product Owner sets out what needs to be done and why. They understand the business case, the market and the customer.

Rip Up Your Business Cards – Get rid of all titles, all managers, all structures. Give people the freedom to do what they think best and the responsibility to be accountable for it.”
Jeff Sutherland

By the time you’re through chapter nine you’re likely to be at the stage where you want to get going, you’ll certainly have a mind that’s buzzing with fresh ideas. So, helpfully Sutherland has included an appendix titled, ‘Implementing Scrum – How to Begin.’ Again, it’s not going to spell out everything step by step in great detail, there are other books more suited to that but it does bring together the themes from the previous chapters and connect them in a simple way so you can see how it all fits together and how you might begin.

My conclusion is that as a ‘Scrum’ Newbie this book was right for me as a starting point. It’s inspired me to take action and change the way that I work and how my team works. We’re now on a journey to learn more and just get started. I’m sure there will be successes and failures as we move forwards with this but we’ll fail fast, learn and adapt. It feels like an exciting and pivotal moment and I’m not sure that it would have happened if I hadn’t read this book.

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