The Three Pillars of Empiricism (Scrum)

Empiricism means working in a fact-based, experience-based, and evidence-based manner. Scrum implements an empirical process where progress is based on observations of reality, not fictitious plans. Scrum also places great emphasis on mind-set and cultural shift to achieve business and organizational Agility.

The three pillars of empiricism are as follows:

Three Pillars of Empiricism

Three Pillars of Empiricism

  • Transparency: This means presenting the facts as is. All people involved—the customer, the CEO, individual contributors—are transparent in their day-to-day dealings with others. They all trust each other, and they have the courage to keep each other abreast of good news as well as bad news. Everyone strives and collectively collaborates for the common organizational objective, and no one has any hidden agenda.
  • Inspection: Inspection in this context is not an inspection by an inspector or an auditor but an inspection by every- one on the Scrum Team. The inspection can be done for the product, processes, people aspects, practices, and continuous improvements. For example, the team openly and transparently shows the product at the end of each Sprint to the customer in order to gather valuable feedback. If the customer changes the requirements during inspection, the team does not complain but rather adapts by using this as an opportunity to collaborate with the customer to clarify the requirements and test out the new hypothesis.
  • Adaptation: Adaptation in this context is about continuous improvement, the ability to adapt based on the results of the inspection. Everyone in the organization must ask this question regularly: Are we better off than yesterday? For profit-based organizations, the value is represented in terms of profit. The adaptation should eventually relay back to one of the reasons for adapting Agile—for example, faster time to market, increased return on investment through value- based delivery, reduced total cost of ownership through enhanced software quality, and improved customer and employee satisfaction.

Scrum works not because it has three roles, five events, and three artifacts but because it adheres to the underlying Agile principles of iterative, value-based incremental delivery by frequently gathering customer feedback and embracing change. This results in faster time to market, better delivery predictability, increased customer responsiveness, ability to change direction by managing changing priorities, enhanced software quality, and improved risk management.

This is one of the topics I covered in my book – Scrum Insights For Practitioners: The Scrum Guide Companion“. Happy reading!

Culture Change – An important ingredient for organizational Agility

To imbibe Agility in an organization which is a state of high responsiveness, speed, and adaptiveness organizations should promote a new organizational culture of openness, transparency, respect for people, constant learning, improving, and constant adaptation. Even with so much of awareness, cultural change seems to be one of the major hurdles impeding organization’s success.

Culture is more about “The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.” When an individual behaves in a particular way, we associate that to be his nature, but when a team or an organization responds, we relate to its culture. As this is associated with people and their entrenched culture it is very difficult to change!! While it is also a very common observation that the culture within the same organization varies across various geographies. It’s not uncommon to hear statements like that’s the UK Culture, or the US Culture, or the Indian Culture, etc.

When a team/group of cross-functional individuals work together (co-exist and collaborate) for a long period of time in the same organization by respecting and following certain organizational values; they display a unique identity of that group forming their culture. And when we address the culture exhibited by all the teams in an organization it is referred to as the organization culture. If you observe carefully, culture is not the characteristic of one individual but of the team/organization as a whole.

I recollect one of my consulting experiences where I was hired as a coach in one of the organizations that had been practicing Agile for a while, but their adoption was stalled. Although from the outset they seemed to follow all the Agile best practices, they were still struggling with the deliveries and their team motivation was at a all time low. One of the first things I did was to probe the teams by facilitating Anonymous Retrospectives to generate insights. It was quite revealing to find that the organization had a “Culture of Fear”; fear of getting penalized for a decision going wrong, fear failure to meet the commitments, fear of poor quality deliverable, fear to be completely honest and transparent, fear to challenge the status-quo, fear of lack of trust and respect among people, etc. This culture of fear in the organization did not allow Agile to penetrate beyond the surface. Once these insights were shared with the organization, they embraced and acknowledged the shortcomings and worked towards corrective practices to remove the fear thereby imbibing the “Culture of Agility” in the organization.

Organization culture contributes significantly towards successful Agile adoption and therefore understanding it is the key. Management, executives, and team members should support and embrace this change. Invest in a few prominent agility attributes like the healthy team dynamics of self-organization teams, continuous improvement, frequent delivery, effective communication, adapting to the changing environment, etc. that benefits an organization and its customers. To bring culture shift, organizations must examine its existing practices with a critical eye, try new way of doing things, create new opportunities, coupled with commitment and nurturing at all levels within an organization.

Organizations which have traversed through the Agile adoption culture change journey exhibit some of these characters:

  • Team members demonstrate values like Trust, Respect, Courage, Openness, Confidence, Synergy, Unity, Affiliation,and Commitment.
  • Creativity, Collaboration, Emergence, Rhythm, Empiricism, and Discovery are encouraged organization-wide.
  • Embracing Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation as part of everyday routine.

Embedding cultural shift involves a lot of patience, a full top-down support, constant learning, and a bottom-up intelligence. While an organization may follow all the bookish guidelines and yet fail in this journey if they cannot identify this subtle/invisible ingredient of “culture” which plays a substantial role. Focusing on the correct culture, eventually leads an organization towards success in this transformation path!!

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