Scrum One, Scrum All: Why Agile Isn’t Just for Technical Teams

April 14, 2016

Listen to this post below.


When most technology company founders think of Agile and Scrum, they tend to think of how those methodologies can be used to improve the efficiency of their software development efforts.

And while that’s certainly understandable, given that Scrum was initially designed to help technical teams build and release products efficiently, OpenView senior advisor and Scrum Inc. CEO Dr. Jeff Sutherland says that Scrum can actually be used to improve the work output of any team or profession.

“At OpenView, we’ve found that Scrum can double the production of anything – it doesn’t matter whether it’s sales, marketing, software, finance,” says Dr. Sutherland. “It works everywhere.”

That makes sense, because Scrum’s roots actually stem from lean manufacturing, an industry that isn’t exactly analogous to software development. And the basic idea behind Scrum is to simply encourage teams to work better and produce higher quality outputs. Who couldn’t benefit from that?

Ultimately, that objective doesn’t just apply to software developers who are tasked with churning out lines of code. It also serves a distinct purpose for marketers who need to execute better marketing campaigns, outbound lead generation teams that need to improve their call efficiency, or even management teams that need to operate better board meetings.

The Business Case for Scrum for Non-Technical Teams

While the software development benefits of Scrum are pretty obvious (producing better software faster, improving user experience, etc.), marketers, salespeople, and management teams sometimes struggle to see how Scrum can help them do their jobs better.

Dr. Sutherland says getting past that confusion is actually very easy if non-technical workers simply focus on one of the biggest business benefits of Scrum: Executed properly, Scrum can make everything happen twice as fast.

For marketers, that could mean producing twice us much content and engaging twice as many prospects. For salespeople, it may translate to setting twice as many appointments or delivering twice as many proposals (see: more revenue). For customer service teams, it could mean managing service requests in half the time.

*For more on how to apply Agile to your marketing team, read Agile for Marketing Teams: A Roadmap here.*

Regardless of the application or the output, the overarching argument for Scrum is speed, efficiency, and improved productivity, Dr. Sutherland says. And while those benefits seem obvious, that doesn’t mean that convincing non-technical teams to buy into Scrum will be easy.

“The opportunities for improvement are there, but the question is often whether you can get people to embrace Scrum,” Dr. Sutherland says. “That’s the real challenge. It may take some work, but if you can get everyone to buy in, it won’t take those teams long to realize how Scrum can help them.”

5 Ways Scrum Can Help Any Team

At OpenView, we expand Scrum beyond software and use it as a framework to break large projects (like developing an eBook) into manageable pieces (called “Sprints”). Methods of tracking this work range from agile software like VersionOne, to good old-fashioned Post-its.

Regardless of how you manage it, however, there are five key ways that Scrum can help non-software-focused professionals improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

1. Understand how tasks fit into the bigger picture

Because Scrum allows you to break down complex projects into manageable tasks, it forces you to think about the specific actions needed to reach a goal, and it encourages reviewing and revising those actions with your team. The ultimate goal is always in mind, but the steps necessary to achieve it are the main focus.

2. Keep tabs on your team

Scrum encourages transparency, but not micromanagement. Your team needs to know what you’re doing and when they can expect it to be done, but it is up to you to complete your work how you want. There is no real “boss” on a Scrum team, although Product Owners are ultimately held accountable for a finished product. Scrum also encourages autonomy within a team structure.

3. Build in deliverables

This is another way of saying “hold yourself accountable to deadlines and specifics.” It’s not particularly helpful to say, “I will publish an eBook by August 15th.” That’s a good goal, but what specific tasks do you need to complete, and when do you need to complete them? During each Sprint, your items will read more like, “I will complete a draft of my eBook and review it with my manager by August 1st.” That way, your manager knows when to expect it, and you know when it needs to be done.

4. Stay organized

Effective project management requires organization, and that requires open communication and tracking. This is really at the heart of Scrum (and effective project management in general). You are laying out a logical roadmap for getting things done. Whether you use Scrum or any other framework, staying on top of tasks is the key to success.

5. Remain flexible but focused

Scrum sometimes seems like it has a lot of “rules,” but it’s important to remember this: it is an agile framework. It is designed to deliver better products faster. This means you have to leave room in your Sprints for the unexpected, and you also have to be able to prioritize your work to say “no” to low-impact requests that come up. Having a Scrum Master (or equivalent team member) looking out for impediments and figuring out how best to handle them is important to reach team goals.

How to Adapt Scrum to Work Beyond Software

Of course, while there’s nothing about Scrum that’s unique to software, that doesn’t mean that your sales, marketing, or management teams will be able to leverage it in exactly the same way that your software development team does.

To make sure that Scrum translates throughout your organization, Scrum Inc. COO Alex Brown says that it’s important to consider three key things:

1. Sprint length

Because of the iterative nature of technical companies and the type of products they create and sell, software development teams typically opt to use sprints that last between one and two weeks long. Depending on the goals and objectives of your non-technical teams, however, sprints may need to be shorter or longer. Just be careful not to incorporate so much time between sprints that your teams lose their sense of urgency.

2. The “product” to be worked on

With software development, this step is simple. With sales and marketing, it can be a bit more difficult to define what exactly the “product” is. More or less, your goal here is to define what exactly the team will be working on and what their activities will yield.

3. The team functions necessary to complete a sprint

In other words, who are the equivalent developers, testers, etc. on the non-technical team, and how do those functions translate to those organizational environments? Fair warning: It can be challenging to get all of the people necessary to accomplish a meaningful increment onto one team, but it is possible.

Examples of Successful Scrum Implementation in Non-Technical Environments

Need some real-world examples of how Scrum has helped non-technical teams? Here are two posts that should provide some color:

How is your business using Scrum in non-technical arenas?