How does a scrum master increase the productivity of a scrum team?
Welcome to part 38 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of a scrum master in interviews and client engagements.
I’m not fond of this as an interview question. What does that mean?
Productivity isn’t the goal of a scrum team. Effectiveness is.
We aren’t trying to create a feature factory that pumps out features every second, we are instead focused on building the most valuable product, in the most valuable way, at the most valuable time.
There is a huge difference between efficiency and effectiveness.
Project management is about productivity and the utilization of ‘resources’ optimally.
So, in the context of software engineering, that would imply that we are more concerned with how many lines of code is being written by software engineers rather than the quality of the code they are writing, or the quality of the outcomes that are being derived from writing that code.
Back in the day, I was a contractor writing software and the organization actually paid me for every line of code that I wrote. Every keyboard has an enter button, and so I could have maximized my earnings by simply entering new lines of code rather than writing eloquent and effective code.
The system created an environment where it incentivized ‘gaming the system’ rather than creating an optimal environment for people to do great work. If you can achieve an outcome in 4 lines of code and you can achieve that same outcome by writing 50 lines of clunky, nonsensical code, in a productivity driven environment you are incentivized to do the latter.
Productivity doesn’t make sense in a complex environment because it prioritizes output.
In agile and scrum, we are instead focused on delivering the most valuable, working software to a client in a way that eloquently solves their problem or enables them to do the job that is most valuable in their organization and context.
It is precisely why the agile manifesto was written. The desire to shift away from productivity and tons of output and instead focus on creating value for customers and the organization we serve.
Why do we build a product?
We build them because a customer has a problem that needs to be solved. We build them because a customer needs to achieve a specific objective and without our product or feature, they are unable to do so.
We don’t build products so that we can dump them in customer environments. If the product or feature does not improve their life, enable them to overcome a challenge, or empower them to do something quicker, better, or faster, then it is useless for everyone involved to create it.
In the world of product development, more is not better. You want something that simply and elegantly solves the problem.
So, you don’t want to incentivise output, you want to incentivize elegance and effectiveness.
The less complex the solution, the easier it is to use, the greater our customer satisfaction and customer retention. Because the solution is simple, elegant, and effective we are able to deliver value to customers more frequently and consistently.
Complicated versus Complex Environments
The traditional project management focus on productivity stems back from the days when we worked in simple and complicated environments.
In a simple environment, you are moving bricks from a truck onto a building site. There is a best way to do that and it got figured out a long time ago. In this scenario, your focus is on how to get the greatest number of bricks off the truck and onto the building site.
Doing that, consistently, means cost savings and optimizes earnings.
In a complicated environment, such as building a road, it’s hard and complicated work but we have figured out the best way to do the work and now it’s a matter of execution.
Like with the moving bricks scenario, the faster we build the road, the less money we pay for labour, and so we optimize profitability by ensuring that we earn the same amount of money for building the road but pay less money for labour because of increased productivity.
In a complex environment, we have never solved the problem before, nor have we ever created the solution. We don’t know what we don’t know, nor can we know until we have solved the problem or built the solution.
We have to be creative in the hypotheses we develop, the experiments we run, and in how we evolve into a solution from a place of knowing very little. We learn as we move through the process, and as we learn we adapt what we are doing to achieve the desired outcome.
It takes a lot of skill, creativity, knowledge, and perseverance to achieve the best outcome.
So, being productive doesn’t help us. If we build 1,000 of the wrong widgets and none of them work, it matters not that we have built those 1000 widgets. It has been a waste of time and money.
Being effective helps us.
If we build the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, then we create value for the organization as well as the customer and everyone is happy.
This is why the goal of a scrum team is not productivity. This is why being efficient is of no value to us in a complex environment. The only thing that matters is being effective at developing the solution we require or in solving the complex problem that lies before us.
About John McFadyen
For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
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