Does scrum really allow you to do twice the work in half the time?
Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-creators of Scrum, wrote a book called ‘Scrum: The art of doing twice the work in half the time’ and although it’s a great marketing hook for the lightweight framework, it isn’t true nor should the goal be increased productivity.
You’re looking to become more effective, not more efficient.
If you’re just delivering loads of stuff at the end of each sprint, but none of those things matter to customers or the organization, it serves no purpose. That isn’t a great scrum team, that is a feature factory.
Effectiveness over efficiency.
When you talk about twice the features in half the time, you are talking about a 400% increase in output. Be clear that we are talking about output rather than value on this, so this metric is an output focused metric.
Scrum is not an output focused agile framework, it’s an outcome focused agile framework.
We want more value to be captured and created, not more stuff to be delivered.
If we, as a scrum team, deliver 10% of what is on the product backlog, but those features create 100 times the value of all the items on the backlog, that is a great outcome for the customer and for the organization.
So, the phrase ‘doing twice the work in half the time’ is a terrible way to describe scrum and it’s probably done a lot of damage in the market.
The Gartner Hype cycle talks about a period of hype around a new technology or platform, which is often followed by a trough of disillusionment when the platform or technology fails to live up to the initial hype. This is a great example of that.
Scrum is an incredible agile framework for solving complex problems and creating complex solutions, and should be celebrated in that capacity, so I think the author made a mistake in prioritizing book sales rather than presenting the framework as a masterpiece in helping product development teams navigate complexity and uncertainty.
The content of the book.
So, we have established that the title of the book is incredibly misleading and has generated a lot of hype around something that we can all agree has no value in the world of product development but excites financial directors and CFOs around the world.
That said, what Jeff talks about in the book does align perfectly with the intention of scrum and how effective it is in helping teams shift from project management to product development.
Agile doesn’t have any best practices because we can’t copy and paste a formula for success. What works in one application won’t work in another application because everything is different. So, in scrum, we talk about emergent practices rather than best practices, and the book does a great job at explaining why that differentiation is so important.
You need to work with the team, the leadership of that organization, and the customers / stakeholders to identify what practices and processes and tools best serve the team in that unique context and application.
This is where Empirical Process Control comes into play.
We make our objectives, hypotheses, and language transparent in addition to the work that we are doing. We then frequently inspect the work being performed and use the data and evidence that we gather to inform what we should do next.
How should we adapt, or pivot based on what we have learned?
So, in fairness to Jeff Sutherland, nobody is going to name a book ‘adequate practices in Agile’ because nobody will buy it. They would name it ‘best practices in Agile’ or the loaded term ‘doing twice the work in half the time’ to hook people and ensure that the concept gets traction.
When you read the book and the author describes what he means by delivering twice the outcomes in half the time, everything falls into place and the hype is replaced with genuine case studies and rock solid examples of how scrum teams have outperformed traditional project management teams in almost every regard.
From productivity to innovation, from customer satisfaction to stakeholder engagement.
In almost every metric that we care about in the world of product development, scrum outperforms competitor frameworks significantly and it’s for this reason, this evidence of success, that scrum has become the most popular and adopted agile framework in the world.
Some people think that scrum and agile are the same thing, that’s how popular scrum has become.
So, I would recommend that you buy the book, ‘The art of doing twice the work in half the time’ by Jeff Sutherland and coming to your own conclusions about the framework based on the brilliant work the author has done.
Gaining buy-in from executive and leadership teams.
I have definitely leveraged the book to demonstrate to leadership and executive teams why scrum should be a primary focus for their application, and the case studies, examples, and thought leadership in that book has almost certainly led to multiple conversions.
In some cases, I bought loads of books and distributed them to specific people or left them in open areas where the right people would take notice and use the opportunity to read the book.
It does a great job of selling scrum in the context of agile product development. It does a great job of explaining why the framework is so effective at helping organizations solve complex problems and create complex solutions.
Consistently. Reliably. Effectively.
So, the title may be the hook but it’s the content that helps the concept land. It’s the evidence that helps convert sceptics into people who are willing to trial the framework. It’s the evidence of how successful scrum is at delivering what it says on the tin that converts sceptics into believers.
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