The biologic reasons behind Scrum

Every software developer I have met in the past, wanted to create exceptional software. Unfortunately, they were hindered many times. My daily experiences show that Scrum is a natural, biologic countermeasure against the usual shortcomings in projects.

Usual shortcomings in projects

We all know the reports about the failure rates of projects. The highest risk for failing projects are missing or changing requirements and the lack of concentration towards the product. Some of these shortcomings are

  1. Requirements are neither consolidated nor prioritized. Finding one stakeholder who is willing to take ownership and prioritize his/her requirements is already difficult, but getting multiple stakeholders to an agreed and approved set is next to impossible.
  2. Requirements change constantly during development. When the requirements under development do change, developers have to undo their work and start with the new requirement. This leads to a low satisfaction rate for everyone.
  3. Stakeholders approach the developers directly at any time. Since there is no open agreement among the stakeholders, they approach the developers directly in order to get „their“ features implemented.
  4. Stakeholders don’t approve of the final product. Since the requirements had never been consolidated among the stakeholders and they never agreed on what was to be developed when, they do not agree with the final product. “This is not what I wanted“, “If you had implemented my requirements then I could approve the product.“
  5. Missing ownership of the product. When there is no authority that will clarify the issues and take ownership, the developers have to take decisions themselves – and they will.

Developers created the „product owner“

To counteract the shortcomings 1, 3, 4, and 5, the developers defined a new role that would be the single point of contact for consolidated and prioritized requirements and called it the product owner. This product owner is and feels accountable for the success of the product, i.e. who would take the blame if the stakeholders would not approve of the final product. At the same time, the product owner is the only person who may approach the development team for the definition and changing of requirements.

Developers created the „sprint“.

To counteract the shortcomings 1, 2, 3, and 4, the developers created short development intervals during which they will work on a defined set of requirements until they have finished these work products. They call this short time interval a „Sprint“. At the beginning of the sprint, the product owner selects the currently most important requirements that the team should work on. The product owner knows that he is committing himself and that he cannot change his selection during the sprint. Since these intervals are relatively short, the development team will receive feedback more frequently from the stakeholders and align everyone towards the success of their work products.

Developers want to feel great

Simon Sinek has described very clearly how bodily chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol help us do things and make us react. With these in mind, I finally understood the reasons for Scrum a lot better.

By being able to finish their work products, the developers can frequently cross off requirements from the long list of requirements. When we cross off tasks from a visible list, our body provides us with a shot of dopamine. With dopamine we feel highly accomplished.

By frequently showing the work results to the product owner and the stakeholder, and therefore frequently getting good feedback, all developers of the team (and the product owner as well) receive serotonin. Serotonin reinforces the relationship among everyone through common pride and reinforces confidence within the team.

By having someone who will take ownership and protect the developers, they will also receive oxytocin which will form a bond of trust among everyone involved. This extends from the team through the product owner all the way to the stakeholders. The more sprints are finished, the level of oxytocin will become higher and higher and at some point will be enough to form strong relationships among the team, product owner, and stakeholders.

During a sprint, stress levels will certainly rise and as a consequence, our bodies will produce cortisol. Cortisol makes everyone fight for themselves. Oxytocin will counteract the cortisol because of the already formed strong bond of trust and confidence.

Since dopamine is highly addictive, we need the next round quickly – and start the next sprint. Only oxytocin will counteract the addiction which will result in getting dopamine without the addiction. Again, oxytocin counteracts this ego tendency.

The mechanisms behind scrum makes everyone feel great, achieved, and confident. They will form bonds, trust, and assertiveness that the common goals will be reached.

Teaser alert: My next blog post will be about how everyone – not just developers – can achieve this feeling of accomplishment during their daily work by using a similar approach.

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