After reading around the topic of why scrum is so popular for project management I came to the conclusion that there was no satisfactory answer available online. Most articles provided a lazy answer, concluding that Scrum is popular because its successful and simple, or rather, it is more successful because it is simple when compared to the alternatives. The success of Scrum lead to more users and popularity. Consequently it became a proven methodology. Scrum has been proven, – its true, but this is a Lazy answer, – so in this article I will attempt to provide a real answer by asking and aswering a less shallow, deeper question.
Why is Scrum So Successful?
To understand why Scrum is so popular we must understand why it is so successful. What about the Scrum Methodology makes it work so well?
Scrum, by all accounts is not the most Agile of Agile project management methodologies, it is rigid, – unflexible framework and was an earlier idea of what Agile should be, inconsistant with the Agile Manifesto in many areas. It is considered simple because it is prescriptive – structured, – it tells you how to do things. Human beings like structure, if we have too many options to choose from we spend too much time trying to make a decision, getting lost in the complexity of the potential outcomes of the decision to be made. Herein lies the path to a clear answer, from this point onwards we are entering the realm of the mind and human phsycology.
To be more precise we will be looking at the features of Scrum to see how they translate into improved performance, since when all is said and done, this is what „it just works” translates to, clear results with an upward trajectory on a graph of productivity.
Why is Scrum So Productive?
What this question is really asking is what makes people more productive (since Scrum is for managing teams). The answer of course is motivation, so here the question becomes, what about Scrum motivates individuals within a team? So now we have made it to the nuts and bolts of the question and answer.
What is it about Scrum that Motivates Individuals Within a Team?
Have you ever noticed that as you approach a deadline, the feeling of urgency increases? Consequently the activity of the individual in question also increases in tandem, working towards getting the task done before the deadline. What drives the increased activity is the fear of missing the deadline and the associated consequences, whatever they might be (Expectancy theory of motivation). This effect is referred to in the Temporal Motivation Theory (TMT) in Physcology and is about the relationship between motivation and time.
Scrum takes full advantage of the effects of this theory, by breaking down work into small periods of time known as Iterations, and thus maintaining an acceptable level of urgency by having constant deadlines, – each one with a small consequence. When working within a team, the accountability is to the other team members (the consequence of not getting the work, or not being able to get the work done is having to face the team the next day). This effect is further reinforced by practices such as time boxing and daily standups, where each team member must explain their progress and elaborate on future efforts.
The combined motivating events within Scrum methodology drive the team forward, with all team members accountable to the others, providing a sense of ownership and responsibility for the work. The ownership factor is a motivating force in its own right, best described by the human desire for a sense of achievement explained by the Need Theory proposed by psychologist David McClelland during the 1960’s. This theory highlights the need for work in which the results are based on individual effort where positive feedback (core to Scrum and Agile) is a primary motivator. This sense of responsibility is further enhanced by the Scrum practice of deligating management tasks to the team.
There are other theories that can also help to assist with explaining the motivating factors of scrum (such as Cumulative prospect theory (CPT) which deals with risk and the framing effect and Hyperbolic Discounting which is too complex to explain here). The end result is an Agile framework that motivates team members to the extent that it is effective in many business models, more so than alternative models.
This is not-to-say that Scrum is always more efficient than other models of Agile development for all types of business. Often, more Agile models such as Kanban can be more effective, but even here many businesses choose to keep the Scrum motivating practices, thus adopting hybrid models of development that are often applied for a best business fit model of Agile (in the case of Scrum and Kanban, – Scrumban).
In conclusion, Scrum is the most popular Agile project management framework because of its success and symplicity, which is based upon the underlying human psychology of motivation, and the need for a sense of achievement that comes from positive feedback and ownership of work done within a teamworking environment.
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