Jeff Sutherland

How To Scale Agile Practices To Be More Competitive In Today’s Business Environment

and Other Insights from Dr. Jeff Sutherland, Inventor and Co-Creator of Scrum


skrəm/: In rugby, an ordered formation of players, used to restart play, in which the forwards of a team form up with arms interlocked and heads down, and push forward against a similar group from the opposing side. The ball is thrown into the scrum and the players try to gain possession of it by kicking it backward toward their own side.

In addition to its rugby roots, Scrum also can attribute its beginnings to two Japanese thought leaders. Scrum was modeled after "The New New Product Development Game" by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1986. Nonaka was hired by the Japanese government after World War II to help analyze why they lost the war. Takeuchi is considered to be one of the top ten business school professors in the world.

According to Dr. Jeff Sutherland, “Together their formal model has led us down the path to an extraordinary implementation of their vision of Scrum project management. Both of these teachers are surprised and impressed with the wide-spread adoption of Scrum in software.”

Sutherland’s Scrum days go back to a significant innovation while at the National Institute of Health (NIH). There, he learned how to model biological systems, as well as how to model teams. His cancer research led him to write his doctoral thesis. The premise of his research was to mathematically simulate a cell to determine what causes cancer. The simulation showed that by making small changes in the environment, you could steer complex adaptive systems (such as cancer, or a team) into states. He had the team working together closely and making small changes to their process until they got better and better—an order of magnitude better.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created by seventeen thought leaders who were discussing Scrum (fondly referred to as the mother of Agile) and Extreme Programming (the father of Agile). This was the result of years of research in industrial applications. Most project leaders do not realize that many years ago, the scientific research and process engineering communities had come to the conclusion that the traditional ways we build software are only suitable for work that has few changes. However, 65% is the worldwide average percent of changes in software requirements. The unhappy result: a lot of projects over budget, over time, and out of control. Furthermore, according to a study by The Standish Group conducted between 2011 and 2015, traditional projects only have an 11% success rate.

So how did this slow, traditional waterfall process come about? In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the US Department of Defense (DoD) was funding most of the software development projects using the waterfall process, which was necessary in order to get funding. Today, that has been corrected by Congress and all DoD contracts must now be Agile.

So as to not confuse the two terms Scrum and Agile, Agile is NOT a methodology and NOT an implementation; it is a set of four values:

Another way of explaining this is that Scrum and XP are the languages of Agile, just like Java and C++ are programming languages.

Scrum is data driven and based on decades of scientific research. To get it to work, you must have a good, scalable implementation. Those attending IPM Day 2017 will be privileged to hear about Jeff Sutherland’s experiences—from banking to IT to rocket science!

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