Feb
08
2011

SCRUM’S intuitive improvision brings agility to Business Process Management

Lunge brothers go the distance with running shoes

During a recent ride home (on one of Germany’s famously prompt trains) I read an enlightening passage in Dr. Andreas Zeuch’s excellent book on intuition (Feel It!: So viel Intuition verträgt Ihr Unternehmen). The passage in question is directly applicable to the SCRUM method of software development, which seeks to reduce long-term planning and even written documentation to the bare minimum. In the following I provide the unabbreviated passages alongside the relevant SCRUM methods:

<<<< Passages start here >>>>

For us, planning is more like a pattern of thinking that we pursue as time allows. Ultimately, we don’t know what the future will hold.
SCRUM: “Uninterrupted” plan-based work during just a single iteration

Why should we try to plan far in advance everything we’ll do, when we’ll do it, reconsider everything multiple times, and then put a label on the whole thing?
SCRUM: When working under a deadline to release a new product (such as a new version of SAPERION), we avoid making firm commitments regarding the number of specific functions that must make it into the product.

Instead, we continuously re-visit this question in the context of the current situation. What can we do now? Of course, we already know what our cycles are, how long it takes to convert shoe production, etc. So what do we do next? What is currently on the table and what do we want to do now? We keep a certain number of things in reserve and pick off the ripe fruit that appears to be the most promising.
SCRUM: With each new iteration, the list of new functions in the backlog is reprioritized or new functions may be added as needed.

But what happens if we try to make extensive plans about which fruit is now ripe for picking and – based on that – establish a series of steps, culminating in an arbitrary point in time? It just doesn’t work. We are often asked about plans, but for us plans do not hold the same importance as implied by the questions. The standard question from journalists goes like this: “What are your plans like?” We don’t have any. We simply recognize potential and then seek a path that will let us most effectively exploit that potential. I can’t say exactly how it will turn out because we like to remain flexible. That’s where the biggest opportunity lies.
SCRUM: The concept of an uninterrupted iteration lasting 2 to 4 weeks was developed precisely because software development firms (and others) discovered that a series of unanticipated new requirements for customer projects repeatedly throw extensive early planning into disarray. But when long-term plans are only in rough form, adjustments can be made with each new iteration.

<<<< Passages end here >>>>

You just read Ulf Lunge’s description for how his company, a Hamburg-based shoe manufacturer, takes its business to the next level. The aforementioned book discusses professional use of human intuition. The Lunge brothers are probably unaware that they have actually implemented an agile method along the lines of SCRUM.

In his brilliant book, Mr. Zeuch encourages the use of professional intuition when making decisions in complex situations. And the number of such situations is on the rise. He states that we must liberate ourselves from the compulsion to use various management methods in an attempt to fully penetrate complex subjects and achieve absolute certainty about the future. Our world changes so often and so irrationally that making the “right” decision is only a matter of luck.

Since our conscious mind can only work sequentially (tediously processing one thought after another), we should learn to rely more on our intuition. During the same period of time, our subconscious mind can access different parts of the brain and process significantly more information. We perceive the results as a “feeling”. The book discusses research results that show that intuition is available equally to experts and new recruits, although experts, due to their experience, have a higher rate of success. However, there are also potential traps, so intuition must be used with caution and practiced.

Managers who are open to the use of intuition and wish to integrate it into their company’s culture must be willing to accept mistakes. Use of intuition reduces the need for extensive analyses, which often fail to provide additional enlightenment anyway. Intuition-based decisions are much faster.

The final chapter deals with how to encourage a culture of innovative improvisation. I recommend the book to anyone who is open to exploring new approaches to corporate management. My intuition tells me that this form of collaboration is the right way to go.

The initial Post in German: agiles Geschäftsprozessmanagement durch intuitive Improvisation a la SCRUM

My posting (available in German only) on Professor Dueck’s views on our obsession with planning and certainty addresses this same topic.

On the topic of SCRUM, this posting (available in German only) discusses SAPERION’s use of SCRUM during agile development of ECM products.

Finally, read a discussion of whether business process management and SCRUM-based agile development are compatible here.

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Written by Dr. Martin Bartonitz in: process management | Tags: , ,

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