Peter Stevens: Scrum Maestro Transforming the World of Work

<a href=Peter Stevens" width="150" height="150" />Peter Stevens is a master and an evangelist in the world of scrum.

Scrum is an amazingly effective approach to project management developed for software development now being widely applied to other disciplines including manufacturing and services

Peter, located in Zürich, Switzerland, is all about (a) building the interest and desire for organizational improvement, and (b) execution. His spirit is infectious, his insights range far and wide, and his ability is remarkable.

I will soon have the opportunity to think and work together with Peter at a unique gathering in Washington, DC, this May 12 & 13, Revolutionizing the World of Work (more on that below). So, I took the chance to interview him and find out more about his ways of looking at the world and the insights he has on how to improve personal and organizational performance.

Seth Kahan: Describe SCRUM for a the average person, non-programmer.

Peter Stevens: Scrum is a simple, team-based framework for solving complex problems. Scrum encourages common sense, direct communication and rapid self-improvement among the stakeholders. Although Scrum was originally created for software projects, nothing in Scrum is specific to software.

The "Product Owner" brings problems to an interdisciplinary Team, which delivers finished solutions in 30-day cycles called "Sprints". The "Scrum Master" helps Team and Product Owner improve their performance by improving their skills and practices, removing impediments, and protecting the Team from unwanted interference. Each role has clearly defined rights and responsibilities, and the Scrum process ensures that these rights are respected.

Each Sprint must produce potentially deliverable value for the customer. The Team and Product Owner plan and review each Sprint together. 'Done' is clearly defined and the Team may only accept problems that it can complete by the end of the Sprint. If a problem is too big, it is divided into smaller problems and the total solution is produced on a step-by-step basis.

Why do you love it so?

Before I heard about Scrum, everything I had read about project management just seemed irrelevant. It was about slicing and dicing tasks into ever smaller chunks that no one really cared about, allocating "resources" to optimize utilization and trying to predict when the project will be finished. And of course, the plans were always wrong. And let's not forget the continual horse trading to get and keep the right "resources" on the project!

I first read about Scrum in 2005 or 2006. As I read the book, a light when on. Finally a way of organizing projects which made sense! People take responsibility for problems, solve them and show the customer their work. They produce something concrete and get immediate feedback. I tried it the first chance I got and the results were exactly what I had hoped for.

My first project could be described as "saving a sinking ship." Despite having just received its first delivery after two years of work, the customer was seriously unhappy and, dare I say, ready to kill! I'll be diplomatic and say, "The solution did not meet his functional expectations nor was it particularly reliable."

I was warned by colleagues not to take on the project because the customer was so difficult. I agreed to take it on anyway and convinced customer and team to try Scrum. The team was somewhat reluctant but the customer was so desperate, he was ready to try anything. In less than three months, we had a solution which made the customer and his customer happy. We had eliminated all the pain points. After 6 months, we had reestablished a basis of trust between ourselves and our customer.

One year later, during a regular retrospective with team, one of the members said: "People say this a terrible project to work on, but I don't see why. We have a great team. It's fun to work with each other and I learn a lot. The customer is there when we need him. And we're building something I can be proud of. What more is there?"

Two years later, we did another project for the same customer and customers' customer, and they were truly delighted about what we produced for them and how we worked together with them. And - we hit our targets on budget and delivery date to the day (the only supplier to even come close). It was not only more fun for everyone and produced better results, it was also a commercial success.

Why do I love Scrum? It works. For everybody! The people have satisfying work and good relations with each other. The customer gets real value from his suppliers and wants to come back.

How is SCRUM connected to revolutionizing the workplace?

The sad fact of life in so many companies is that Dilbert is not a satire. It is a reflection of reality. But it doesn't have to be that way.

When Steve Denning (author of The Leaders' Guide to Radical Management, Jossey-Bass 2010) went looking for people with really positive work experiences, he was surprised by how many examples came from the IT industry. Why from IT? Mostly because of Scrum and related practices.

When you do Scrum well, you create a balance between those asking for work and the teams producing the results. You establish a clear line of sight to your customers or users. You create an empowered environment for each and every team member and stakeholder. You create an environment which encourages excellence.

Scrum is one of the few frameworks whose purpose is to transform the work environment into a better place. As a simple, flexible framework, it is ideally suited for creating a substantially more innovative and satisfying work environment. If you want to apply the principles and practices of Radical Management, Scrum is an excellent framework for moving forward.

Why is the upcoming gathering in DC so important to you?

Scrum has been very successful at creating oases of common sense and creativity in the deserts of dysfunctional Dilbertism so prevalent modern enterprises.

We live in challenging times. To be successful in the future, I believe modern companies must go beyond having isolated oases of creativity. I see a lot of companies that get stuck at this point. They must become flourishing meadows of creativity and common sense. Companies that don't respond to this challenge will die. The job creation statistics over the last 25 years confirm this.

Even new companies will need to be built on new foundations, otherwise they will not survive long either. Once a company has over 50 or 100 people, the forces of Dilbertism can start to wreak havoc on its ability to be creative. So I believe this transformation in mindset is essential for every company.

Community is the key. By building a community, we can find like minded individuals who 'get it,' who share our goals, and who want to do something to change the situation for the better. Together we can carry this vision to the world more effectively than any of us could alone.

I also want to ask the question, 'What do we need to be successful?' Scrum is not the only framework, but it is one of the most successful. Why? And what can we apply to our carrying our own vision of a better workplace to companies in all industries?

So I think this gathering could be and should be the start of something wonderful. I hope to meet many interesting people and that we come out energized to make the vision of a better workplace into a reality.

Read Peter's blog, Scrum Breakfast.

Check out the upcoming event in DC, Revolutionizing the World of Work. These two days, hosted by Steve Denning and I, will be dedicated to remaking the management mindset; that is, reinventing business, government, education, and health. Perhaps you will join us! If you are interested, check it out now as the early bird registration ($100 discount) expires March 31st.

Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com) is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps, Marriott, Prudential, American Society of Association Executives, International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association, Project Management Institute, and NASA. He is the founder of Seth Kahan's CEO Leaders Forum, a year-long learning experience for CEOs in Washington, DC. His book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, is a Washington Post bestseller. Visit GettingChangeRight.com for more info and a free excerpt. Follow Seth on Twitter. Learn more about Seth's work at VisionaryLeadership.com.

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