In the Scrum Framework, there are three main roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and the “Team.” The Scrum Master acts in a project management role organizing the work to be done and removing obstacles. The Product Owner represents the voice of the customer in prioritizing software feature requests and defining the product vision. And the Team works to develop, test, and deliver software as features are selected for implementation from the product backlog, usually in two-week chunks called sprints. Daily meetings (called standup meetings) serve as the main communication hub for the combined group.
One of the fundamental premises of Scrum is that it is better to deliver incremental value frequently to the end user instead of releasing software updates all at once. Additionally, scrum teams seek to understand what constitutes a Minimally Viable Product or MVP; i.e. what is the minimum amount of features that an end user would be satisfied with in order to purchase and consume a given product.
Could this same framework be applied to building processes? I know what you’re thinking. Products and processes both start with the same three letters, but that’s where most of the similarities end.
But stay with me for a second. Is building a process that much different from creating a product? Is delivering incremental value via a process framework similarly valuable to delivering incremental value by way of software features? Could waiting to deploy a process until you feel it’s 100% vetted cause you to miss out on opportunities to deliver value to your customers?
In my opinion, the answers to the above questions are “No,” “Yes,” and “Yes” respectively.
So, how could Scrum be applied to process creation?
I give you the <drumroll> Scrum Process Framework. Within this setup, there are still three key roles: the Scrum Master, the Team, and the Process Owner (not Product Owner).
The Process Owner is responsible for the vision of a given process and represents the voice of the customer. The Process Owner helps prioritize process gaps (similar to feature requests) from a gap backlog. Gaps are culled from the Team and from the customer. Process Owners works with Scrum Masters and the Team (cross-functional representatives across a given value stream) to drive the continuous improvement and overall implementation of their assigned process. Together, these different roles strive to implement the Minimally Viable Process; i.e. the process that will deliver the minimum amount of incremental value to customers (not the maximum).
This format is particularly useful when you’re dealing with a new process which has many dependencies on multiple teams and technology stacks. In that scenario, it is easy for decision-making to move at a snail’s pace, with each member of the value stream pulling the proverbial process cart in different directions simultaneously.
Establishing a clear Process Owner who has the final word on which process gaps are the most important to your customers is one way to help avoid analysis paralysis. And operating on a sprint schedule will relieve the burden of solving every process gap all at once. Your team doesn’t need to solve world hunger; it just needs to figure out how to feed your customers for the next two weeks.
Beyond the Process Owner role, the other roles function in very much the same way as the original Scrum Framework. The Scrum Master can escalate complicated gaps to the right levels of senior leadership and helps organize gaps by levels of effort and priority. The Team keeps the Process Owner and Scrum Master informed of their progress via daily standup meetings in what are essentially mini-Kaizen events. (Side note: Have you ever tried to solve a complicated process gap via email? <Barf>). And the process itself is refined incrementally, over time, with value being delivered to customers in an ever-increasing flow.
So there you have it. Go forth and build your Minimally Viable Process, and revel in all of its Scrummy glory. Remember, you read it here first.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Justin Scoville's unique adventures in project management have spanned international volunteer opportunities in Mexico and Israel, complex government grant programs, and more recently education technology implementations in the private sector. Proudly bearing the battle scars of initiatives both small and large, Justin enjoys exploring the frontiers of project management, particularly its intersection with process improvement methodologies, strategic planning, and product management.
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