“What?! You are a HR personnel in a Scrum Master Course?” Part 2

Unlike two years ago, when my HR colleague attended a Scrum Master course, the reactions from other participants wasn’t this great when I attended the Scrum Master course about two months ago. I guess simply because Agile practices are becoming more widespread and also, it was an internal training where we invited Daniel Teng (from Odd-E) to conduct this workshop.

Although Agile has been around for a pretty long time and has flipped the entire waterfall model on its head, it hasn’t really made headway in very traditional or highly regulated practices (such as HR, Financial services, Healthcare, etc).

While there are plenty of reasons why Agile adopters can fail, that doesn’t mean traditional services cannot become Agile. From what I have learned at the Scrum Master course, I am beginning to see a clearer picture of the ‘perfect world’ where Agile HR resides. As I am a HR practitioner, the perspective that I would like to share would (naturally) be limited to this context.

Agile HR
Agile HR Team! (Image credit to Flaticon – Freepik, MadebyOliver)

Let’s look at it from a Product angle

HR does many things for an organization, some administrative, others strategic. With the importance and ever-increasing popularity of HR business partners, we can actually consider the organization as our customers.

What if the HR service is a product? And it’s features (i.e. Recruitment, Payroll, etc) are there to resolve the needs of our customers? So for example, if it comes to the end of the month and payroll needs to be done, the entire team will do what it takes to accomplish it at the end of the sprint. If the customer requires a fix to an employee engagement problem, then the team will seek to understand the situation (again doing whatever it takes – research, interviews, etc) and come up with a MVP (minimum viable policy/procedure/process) to tackle it. From real users’ feedback, the team can then iterate and improve on it.

The Cross-Functional Team

In order to achieve the above, it takes a team that basically knows how to do everything (HR-related of course). A cross-functional team should be able to cover all aspects that is required of HR. That is of course easy to achieve, especially if you have individuals specializing in each role (i.e. Recruitment, Compensation and Benefits, Payroll, Engagement).

What if we suddenly lose the specialist (for whatever reason)? Sure, the other team members can pick up the slack, but can it be as efficient as before? What if any member who picks it up is as good as the former specialist? What if any member can do ALL of the roles? (That doesn’t mean firing the others though).

Wow! Sounds like a pipe dream…

While it sounds ludicrous, it actually is possible through cross-training. Cross-training is where different specialists teach or train other team members through ‘paired work’ (Paired Programming for software development).

So here’s how HR can apply cross-functionality:

  1. Pair a specialist and a trainee to co-work together.
  2. Have the trainee do hands-on work on the entire process. That is, complete an entire process end-to-end. The scope doesn’t have to be big, it can be as easy as: Complete the entire payroll process for 1 person.

Notice that two things have happened in the example above. First, the trainee experiences the hands-on work from end to end, which means they gain full knowledge of the process. Second, the work gets broken down into smaller chunks. Therefore, the trainee, who is able to complete the payroll process for 1 person, can apply this knowledge onto others (maybe 2 people or even the whole organization).

Completing the work once or twice is not sufficient, the trainee can now perform the payroll process for this 1 person regularly.

Apply this throughout the team and voila, everyone can do payroll. More importantly, the payroll process can be broken down into chunks and the entire team can work on the task quickly and move on to the next item in their backlog.

Iterative Development HR Work

Iterative development is the process of pushing out a minimum viable product for users. The product has to be functional albeit a cheap, stripped-down version. The same can be achieved with HR’s work too.

When designing policies and processes, we tend to consider a top-down perspective, what we assume is good for the organization and its people. And then it gets enforced, which comes as a shock or a disruption to everyday habits of its employees.

What’s more, it took HR weeks of deliberation to tediously plan and work up possible scenarios for this process and then tweak it to avoid potential problems.

Looks normal right?

How about take a risk and implement a bare bones policy stating the concern that is being addressed. If it doesn’t work, your employees will provide feedback to you about it with their concerns (legitimate ones of course) as well as suggestions to tackle the issue.

From there, HR and management receives feedback from the real users and will then be able to pivot the policies to hopefully address both sides of the coin. Yes, there is a level of risk involved with (what may seem like to employees) rolling out random policies. And that is a risk one has to take in order to better improve the organization environment. After all, the goal of HR is to make the organization better for its employees and the business.

It’s All in the Mind

The ideas are radical and looks impossible to achieve, especially without everyone having the same mindset. You cannot simply hand your boss a stripped down report consisting of the bare minimum when your superior does not have the same idea of iterative development (Somebody is gonna get hurt real bad).

It begins to boil down to the mindset of the people and their motivations for being in the organization. It is important for everyone to understand that they are on the same boat and working towards a progressive goal.


Traditional services can be Agile. Cross-functional teams and iterative work is simply two concepts (of many) from Agile.

The dream is to have a team (HR or not) that can pretty much do everything within the realm of its professional function. Iterative development (work) allows us to work on what is truly needed by the users.

How crazy do you think we are in our attempt to disrupt current industry practices? Let us know with a comment below!





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