“We are going to lose our jobs!” a Development Dept Manager joked about it at our monthly management meeting. While I was scratching my head trying to make a sense out of it, he continued, “yea, and our QA Engineers and Software Testers too, if they don’t learn programming!”
Okay, that was the first time I heard about the term “Scrum” and was given a brief overview of Scrum when our company adopted it as an Agile development in July last year. Since then, our lean and agile transformation journey began.
I will not be talking much about technical aspect of what Scrum framework is as you can find tons of good books or information online. Rather, I will share some of my experiences and learning from HR perspective, on the impact, challenges and improvements that Scrum has produced in an overall company culture, employee engagement & commitment over the past 12 months.
To facilitate the effective adoption of Scrum, we first engaged a professional Scrum Coach from Odd-e to guide our pilot Scrum team for 3 months. Based on the feedback collected from Scrum team members and other stakeholders including Product Owner and Dept Managers, we would then decide whether to adopt across all development teams.
The Development Manager posed a request about removing existing fixed working hours as well as our quarterly performance appraisal from the pilot team. “Huh?!” As expected, there were a lot of WHYs and doubts growing in my head, because it challenged what I have believed and known about HR policies and practices. In order to speak the same “language” as other Managers and have a better understanding of this whole new “thing”, I sat through a 3-day Certified ScrumMaster Course. The course renewed my perspectives and enlightened me in many ways that relate to People.
The first challenge in Scrum adoption was the shift in organization structure. As Scrum team is a self-managing cross- functional team, it resulted redundancy of some roles such as Team Lead, Project Manager, Software Tester/QA Engineer and even Managers. Traditional HR policy and practices could be a major obstacle in large organizations if there is insufficient engagement of HR or other stakeholders to get their buy-in.
Fortunately, it was not too difficult for our company to make the change because of our size, and more importantly because of the buy-in from all stakeholders including HR. The buy-in did not happen overnight. It took much effort and time to materialise through constant communication, information sharing (a great amount from our Scrum Coach), training, book readings and inculcation of the Agile mindset among everyone.
In the midst of adoption, we did face various challenges for example, how to better help transit Software Tester and QA Engineers to Product Developers in a Scrum team, considering the difference in core skills that they possess? But, let’s discuss about that in a different post.
Based on a number of surveys and studies, effective engagement and retention of employees no longer relies on attractiveness of Comp&Ben but through strengthening of company culture and providing ongoing challenges on the job just like how google and facebook do.
The concept of self-managing teams is very important in Scrum and Agile development philosophies. In a Scrum team, everyone in the team is expected to be self-sufficient, self-driven, committed and responsible for achieving Sprint goals and performing their tasks. They are given a lot of autonomy at work. Scrum works from a bottom-up approach, and this idea also applies to HR practices such as Training and Promotion (read about self-promotion on Are you ready for self-management?).
In the past, an individual staff’s training needs depend on the Department Managers’ decision, although staff can still submit request if they wish to attend an external course (this is why you often hear some training participants say they are at training because they are sent by their boss!). After the adoption of Scrum, the manager no longer decides for the staff because all training needs and requests are now initiated by the staff instead. Hence, some trainings that used to be compulsory are now optional (except PUTEH) as we want our employees to understand that they are responsible for their own learning needs and career growth. This change has saved significant time and efforts on HR administrative work in facilitating training, chasing staff on the attendance and post-training evaluation, etc.
As mentioned earlier, the Scrum team has great deal of autonomy on how the team members get things done, including when they want to come to work. In responding to the new working model, we introduced Flexible Working hours to all staff with effect from this year. This flexibility used to apply only to certain job grades, but it is now applicable to everyone. In Titansoft, we believe that work-life balance is about creating sustainable work pace that will prevent long-term burn out, and putting much more emphasis and value on the outputs rather than the number of hours one spends in the office. What a great benefit, eh?!
Open & Safe Environment
As Scrum team is responsible for its Sprint goals, it is required to actively experiment with approaches and methods, learn from failures and continuously improve with available resources (Inspect and Adopt). Hence, it is critical to create a culture and conducive environment where all members of the team feel comfortable to speak openly. As people will only speak when they feel safe to give honest feedback, we committed to embrace a culture in which employees feel safe to fail because failure is the best opportunity to learn and improve. Gradually over this period, we have observed an improvement in our product quality, employee motivation, engagement and trust between PO and the team through our survey and interviews (read Stand up and Speak Out for T.Exchange).
Another big change that we made was to make our Product Developer’s salary transparent at the beginning of this year. Since openness is valued in the Scrum team with standardisation of job title and sharing of information, why not include salary information as well? As we went around collecting feedback, we were glad to have received positive feedback with happy faces! (Inspect & Adopt again!)
In my next post, I will talk about our practice on removing Performance Appraisal like what Accenture did few months ago. (Read Accenture removing annual performance review and rankings.)
I realized that Agile mindset is not limited to lean and agile software development, but applies to all areas of our organisation. It is a continuous learning and improvement journey. Stay open, humble and agile to new changes that come along the way, bearing in mind the inspect-and-adopt concept in both your personal and professional life. This should help you develop more effective HR strategies and policies that can better engage your employee, unleash their potentials in a happier and safe work environment.