Leading a Scrummy lifestyle: Part One

Leading a Scrummy lifestyle: Part One

We've been using the Scrum agile development framework (or just "scrum") at Socialize since early this year.  Hats off to Jason, our VP of Engineering, for really championing it and to Sean and Isaac for implementing it with the developers.  Our workflow is to use Basecamp to discuss ideas (Basecamp is like Democracy: it's not great, but it's the best thing out there -- you can read my rants & raves about Basecamp here), then Github for issues & code repository, and Pivotal Tracker to manage our dev process.  We do fast iteration cycles with one-week sprints, planning meetings every Monday and daily stand-ups to reconnect.

I'll explain what all that means below, if you don't already know, but here's the point of this blog post:  Scrum has worked so well on the dev side -- what if it was possible to implement scrum across an entire company, including its non-development components like user acquisition, sales, even accounting, HR & finance?

We decided to find out.  I'm going to write a series of blog posts with our experience implementing Scrum throughout our company, with a focus on the non-development parts of the organization, as I haven't really seen other companies do this yet.  I figure this is a good opportunity to share our knowledge and learn from yours, so please post your experiences with Scrum, agile and general, and other workflow approaches in the comments.

In this first blog, I'll talk about what scrum is (at least to me) and show you a video of Jeremia, our developer evangelist, and Christine, our wordsmithstress, discussing the pro's & con's of implementing scrum in the user acquisition department (the first non-dev team we decided to test it with).

There are individuals within our organization that know scrum way better than I do because they're using it every day -- Jason, Sean, Isaac and our incredible developers, for example, and I'll invite their comments.   Our goal is to institutionalize this agile mentality throughout the company.

So what is scrum, really?

To me it's simply a way of thinking about getting things done.  There are traditional development models like waterfall development, which (like a waterfall) takes a staged, or phased approach to development.  I'm going to abstract "development" into "workflow" for the purposes of this blog, since we're talking about using these models in a larger sense throughout the company's divisions.

The magic of scrum is that it takes time out of the equation.  Or to put it another way, assuming you have employees that are dedicated and are working hard, things take as long as they take.  You're not doing anyone any favors by setting arbitrary deadlines.  "This project needs to be finished by Friday" or "This deliverable is due in 60 days" cause way more problems than they solve.  When the team inevitably misses the goals, everyone is disappointed -- the goal setters blame those responsible for stepping up to an arbitrary date, and the implementers resent having a date put on them that didn't reflect reality.

The scrum attitude is that things take as long as they take, so the best thing to do is embrace that reality and instead of setting deliverable-based goals, instead focus on prioritizing everyone's time effectively so the most important and value-added items are being worked on first.

It's a very simple but monumental shift in thought.  Things take as long as they take.  Focus on what matters.

Here's a video of Jeremia & Christine talking about implementing scrum in the UA department.  In the next blog, I'll discuss some of the difficulties we've had implementing scrum in a non-development environment.