The feedback that many in the architecture and interiors industry are getting is that their customers want Scrum, and the reason they want Scrum is feedback.
The customers who value Scrum the most are the customers who bravely accept their limitations. Do they really know how best to do their jobs? Perfectly? Do they really know if they are even building the right product? Recognising and confronting these uncomfortable truths is smart and Scrum is a valuable aid in overcoming the problem.
Scrum is used in environments where the work is sufficiently complex that even the most well-informed and careful design amounts to mere speculation until it is tested empirically. Feedback informs and validates the design.
Proficient Scrum helps teams to thrive by giving them regular opportunities to observe what it is they are doing well and adapting every aspect of their processes and working arrangements to help do it better. Feedback informs and validates your working practices.
As designs and processes are inspected what is generated is feedback. Scrum is helping because it mandates and captures feedback regularly, mandates teams to listen to it and gives them a framework in which they can respond to it.
In order for your process to be empirical it must produce real outcomes soon enough for a response to be possible. Scrum’s primary mechanism for this is organising teams to produce a real outcome in a timebox, known as the Sprint. It has taken off in software, particularly web applications, where producing real software, putting it in front of real people and getting real feedback is possible within a Sprint of just two weeks duration.
I have some sympathy for teams working on large physical products such as buildings. Biweekly delivery of completed skyscrapers is clearly impossible, but I notice with satisfaction that substitutes like samples, mock-ups and models are used instead when this happens. This is evidence that teams already want to gather and respond to genuine feedback, the intent of Scrum is to maximise that process.
There are traps here. For example, Scrum is known to work best when teams of 6 to 12 people are fully independent. Having outside dependencies breaks the tight feedback loop created by sprints. A typical solution is to split the team with one team ending up more distant from the end-customer and losing out on feedback.
Another trap is that, for whatever reason, internal expertise substitutes for real feedback. The manager of one major new retail website was worried customers could register with a name and address containing naughty words. A Sprint was invested on creating a filter to spare the blushes of customer service personnel.
This project was organised into Sprints and work was presented internally every two weeks but the whole project was speculative – there were no customers and no customer services. Even months later it was not known how well the product was received in places like Boggy Bottom, Hertfordshire, or Billericay, Essex. Expert input without a feedback loop is just speculation.
Scrum has really taken off in software, but software is taking over the world and many large corporations have their own technology teams organised with Scrum.
There are also Scrum projects outside software and its influence is growing in marketing, schools and government. Interiors professionals have a responsibility to ensure the environments they create enable and support this important trend.
About Simon Gibbs
Co-founder of Agile Stationery, Simon Gibbs has extensive experience in different companies at every stage of the Agile adoption process. His experience combined with his passion to create products that change the way you interact with paper and enable new ways of working, has led to Agile Stationery, where the goal is to become the one stop shop for collaborative tools with an uncompromising focus on quality.