Turn the Software Development Team Around With Scrum

In his book, Turn The Ship Around!, L. David Marquet tells us how he transformed the culture of a united states submarine from a leader-follower culture to a leader-leader culture.
Moreover, he proves the benefits of this cultural change that made the submarine crew improve from the least to the most effective one.
While reading this book, thing that I enjoyed and recommend, I couldn’t help but projecting the ideas explained in the book against my experience with agile software development teams and more specifically the SCRUM framework usage. The book made me see the different practices and principles used in SCRUM under a new and interesting perspective.
I’ll try to share this with you in this blog-post.

The first concept that caught my attention in the book is around control. The author speaks about the importance of delegating control and decision making authority, and provides some of mechanisms to implement this. I chose to zoom on the following ones: Short, Early Conversations Make Efficient Work, Use “Intend to …” to Turn Passive Followers into Active Leaders, Eliminate Top-Down Monitoring Systems, Think Out Loud.
You must be wondering by now, what does that have to do with agility and software development. Well in agile software development, autonomy is one of the main characteristics for team effectiveness, delegating control and decision making is contributing to the autonomy of the teams and individuals. It’s clear that we are on the same page here.
Adopting short and early conversations to improve efficiency is just another way to describe the following agile principle: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”. The similarities don’t stop here, when applying SCRUM, the Daily stand-up ritual makes the team adopt the “I intend to …” mechanism. Moreover, SCRUM offers many opportunities for team members to adopt a “think out loud” mechanism, whether in backlog grooming sessions, poker estimations, sprint reviews, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives.
SCRUM teams commit on their deliveries in sprint plannings and naturally monitor and report their progress to their stakeholders in sprint reviews, thus eliminating the top down monitoring activity. It’s not uncommon to see SCRUM teams producing indicators on their progress, the quality of their work, and making use of visual monitoring in order to share the information.

The second concept in the book is about competence, continuously improving it and acquiring new ones.
SCRUM enables this continuous learning approach for teams. For instance the retrospective is the dedicated ceremony in SCRUM to inspect how the team is doing and define improvement actions. It’s also common for effective SCRUM team to leave some “slack” in their backlog to work on some innovations and learning tasks. Moreover, it’s usual for software development teams adopting SCRUM to also adopt the extreme programming principles, the latter introduces several practices aiming to improve the teams competence like pair programming and code review.
Going back to the agile software development teams characteristics it’s clear that with the competence concern we’re hitting the mastery characteristic the team should have to become effective.

Last the author speaks about the clarity and it’s importance when applying the previous principles.
In SCRUM clarity of the goals is achieved through the customer collaboration, the recurrent sprint review and sprint planning sessions. The introduction the product owner role within the team helps in clarifying the goals anytime it’s needed. So last but not least we get to the third main characteristic necessary for an agile software development team; the purpose.

In summary, in Turn The Ship Around!, L. David Marquet tells a story of deploying autonomy, mastery and purpose to a submarine crew and making it improve from a below average score to the highest score. The SCRUM agile framework, when applied correctly, can help you do the same for software development teams.

photo credits:
US Submarine existing Curacao harbour (license), La conversation (license), skills (license), clarity (license), scrum (license),