Scrum and what makes organizations tick

20 July 2011

Organizations all have to solve a common problem; they somehow have to motivate their workers to do their best and to toe the line. Especially big organization have to cope with the forces of alienation / enstrangement of an abstract workforce; everybody is doing his very tiny part of the whole, and certainly most people do not have a global picture of what is happening / do not care about it at all. There are all sorts of psychological models of how to motivate a ‘workforce’ ; mostly it tries to identify peoples ‘needs’ versus ‘expectations’ whatever / in a way it’s like most psychology - about how to press the right button / stimulus - response that is. I think that there can be the following basic approaches:

  • The big carrot trick; Once upon a time, with fast growing companies you had the incentive of vesting stock options; now that is somehow less tangible, except for a few companies that are also very picky with their hiring process ;-)
  • Building of pecking orders_ - hierarchy building. Every member of the organization is supposed to value his position in the order of things and strive to get to a higher rung. Also there is the very personal question of ‘where will I be once I leave the current pecking order’ that is supposed to be a factor of employee retention. However the end result of this effort often stinks.
  • Another lever is the degree of autonomy that a lower level manager gets. However I do think that a high degree of autonomy breeds serfdom at the workplace, power seldom brings out the best in man, especially not among control oriented geeks.
  • Exploration into Non hierarchical methods of building and organization. For example the Viable Systems model tries to view an organization as a system model that stresses the importance of such concepts as Information flow / feedback between the different parts of an organization. Optimization of information flow is regarded as a major task, which also requires total transparency and also everybody needs to have a say in things - participation that is.

Very interesting approach, unfortunately Professor Stafford Beer , the author of this approach was an management consultant / adviser for the Chilean government of Salvador Allende which sort of labeled him in terms of ideology. I think it’s a pity, because the cybernetic approach of studying organizations is not a question of who owns what, it’s a question of how to run a business.

Fast forward to the WEB 2.0 world where we now have the Scrum methodology of (software) development The aim of Scrum takes is to build Self Organizing teams - that is nobody can tell the team the details of how to create the product (sort of the Manager is not supposed to interfere with the technical details). Also a large part of the process is about information flow and how to incorporate early feedback into the (software) product.

(Personally I dislike Scrum stand up meetings, as they are always held early in the day - the time of day where I tend to do things productively) However the concept is certainly an interesting one … Another problem is that Scrum started out as a simple methodology, but then started to be ever more complex; (this is the way of things with Software). So with a sophisticated process you sometimes lose touch even with stated ‘overriding principles’ that is … And that’s probably the way with all Ideologies, in a larger sense.

Another point is that SCRUM when compared with the Viable System Model has much less rigor. SCRUM, unlike the “Viable System Model”, is not a discipline of analyzing systems or processes; it is more of a set of procedures that promise to set up an environment in order to enable people to ‘get things done’ (sounds very amorphous- they like that with software).

Also interesting to note is that the Scrum methodology of (software) development people don’t know anything about this Viable System Model , though both approaches do share a lot of ideas …

(Current Music: Crossby, Stills and Nash: You don’t have to cry )