Scaling Scrum and Globalization

“Scrum works for small teams, I agree, but how does Scrum work in large organizations?” This is a question commonly asked by executives, by team members and by Scrum Trainers.  In every Scrum Training you need to answer it.  But the question really is why do we get this question?   There are a number of possible reasons:

  1. People already work in successfully scaled environments and want to know how Scrum can do the same;
  2. People work in successful small teams and want to scale;
  3. There is a threat of off shoring and they want to know how to do it;

In fact there are hundreds of possible reasons and all overlay the underlying phenomenon: More and more software product development is done in non-collocated teams.  Although consultants say this is a bad idea, very successful projects have been done in distributed environments.  So – what is the real underlying problem?

My answer to this is: We have no clue how to work in a globalized world!  We have no clue how to work in a world in which everyone is connected via the internet!  We do not have a guideline on how to organize all this!  Paired with increasing pressure on product-development teams by new market players, established companies need to find ways of dealing with this new development.

We are not prepared! We have no clue! Some people have figured it out and used the new technologies.  Some – like Google or 37signals.com, WordPress and YouTube build the infrastructure for us: For instance Google not only builds incredible services but in fact they enable knowledge workers like me to collaborate with other people: google docs, gcal, google talk.  And I – although I am not working with Google, believe the reason why they are able to do this is because they have teams that want to work more easily together — across countries.

Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that produced it. — Conway’s Law

Most companies are organized like small villages.  Every day you go to the well (the coffee machine) to get the newest information.  They establish their own culture and they have their own language.  And like most villages they are reluctant to understand that there is more than their own village.  Larger corporations are a bit more like cities — here informal rules are replaced by processes.  People need to follow these processes because cities become so complex that rules are necessary to help one to live within this complexity.

So we will get Software from villages that will be flexible and easy to understand, we will also get software from large corporations that are hugely complex and you will need years to understand it.

And now we get a new development –> the internet enables and forces us to work with people around the globe.  It enables us to work in small distributed teams that are connected via Skype all the time.  More importantly: “good people will find other good people”.  People who do not perform are not part of this anymore. There is no need in the internet to work with people who cannot keep up.  They do not get invited to be part of the game.  That’s it.  But – the funny thing is — we will get software in future that will be able to handle all this because the software will always reflect the social structure it was built in.  So people will create software that is built in a distributed way, because that is how they are living and working.

Maybe I am wrong, but I still believe you need to lead development activities.  Social groups tend to need a leader.  At least some kind of leadership.  If this were not the case we would not see millions of books about being a Leader.  There is a need.

But we do not have one for this new way of working.  Scrum is definitely not a leadership model.  It is the other way round — you need to have good leadership skills to make Scrum real.

Any ideas?

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