Scrum: Easy to learn, hard to master – training for an Agile mindset

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According to research conducted by Deloitte[1], more than three-quarters of business leaders stated that their organisations’ digital capabilities have significantly helped them cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, while nearly two-thirds believe that companies that fail to digitize in the next five years will fail to remain competitive. 

However, as a study by Studio Graphene[2] points out, digitalization is not easy and in around a third of cases, companies have scrapped digitally engaged projects citing a lack of relevant skills as a major contributing factor. It is critical to find people who not only understand technology, but who can also harness its value. But so too is having a project team that is agile and can work together to develop and deliver complex transformative software even in times of acute flux. 

That’s why many organisations are adopting Scrum in a bid to convert strategy into reality. By using an agile framework, teams are better equipped to navigate the complexities that software development incurs and be more productive and successful as a result. They are also more capable of adopting a mindset of continuous improvement underpinned by a drive to self-organise and learn from experience.  

Transforming to embrace Agility and remain relevant in the Digital Era

Today, responding to digital developments together with new markets trends and changing conditions has become an integral part of the strategic planning of most organisations. As the landscape evolves, the question organisations should be asking themselves is not so much about whether they should transform their operating model to embrace Agility, but rather when, how and to which extent should this transformation take place.

In an era of constant development and disruption, organisations look to examples of successful transformations, such as that of Netflix, which moved from their traditional pay-per-rental model into a subscription rental model and from there to their well-known subscription online streaming service. They also take note of examples that resisted change and remained focused on the past, such as Kodak, missing out on the opportunity to remain a market leader in their sectors.

According to KPMG[3], truly embracing Agility can lead to a fundamental shift in how organisations function resulting in a protentional change to their entire operating model, ranging from structure and governance to capabilities & processes, technology, sourcing, people & culture, and performance management. The optimisation of the operating model enables organisations to benefit from Agility and gain in customer focus, speed, and flexibility while lowering their costs and increasing transparency, predictability, and control.

The Agile Expansion 

In recent years, many organisations have focused on the adoption of Agile methodologies through the implementation of Agile Pilots and the use of Agile at the core of their IT. Such initiatives fall under what we call Agile adoption, which is different to Agile transformation in five key areas: speed of change, timeframe, productivity gains, impact on the organisation structure and change in culture. When adopting Agile, the change and benefits are observed and realised locally, in specific processes or business units, while in Agile Transformation there is a widespread impact across the organisation.

According to KPMG[4], by 2022 we expect to see a 220% increase in Agile at the Enterprise level where Agile will quickly outgrow front-end IT development into business units and become an integrated approach to deliver business value across the entire value chain.

Drivers for Agility and Key Challenges in becoming Agile

Becoming Agile for most organisations translates to faster product delivery adjusted to changing customer needs, increased flexibility, removal of silos, and fast and continuous improvement of customer satisfaction.

According to the 15th State of Agile report, the most significant Agile adoption barriers have remained largely unchanged for the past several years and include inconsistencies in processes and practices (46%), cultural clashes (43%), general organisational resistance to change (42%), lack of skills and experience (42%), absence of leadership participation (41%), and inadequate management support and sponsorship (40%).

The Case for Scrum

We have seen an explosive increase in the adoption of Agile due to the changes that Covid-19 brought to everyday working practices, such as the need to work and collaborate remotely. Currently, 94% of professionals report that their companies are adopting Agile techniques[5]. We can argue that Agile has gone mainstream with Operations (29%), Marketing (17%), Human Resources (16%), and Sales (11%)5 having adopted Agile principles and practices in the past year. Because of its lightweight, lean and easy to understand design, Scrum is now the most used Agile framework with 66% of organisations5 reporting to have adopted Scrum and an additional 15% a Scrum hybrid.

Scrum principles have traditionally been viewed as synonymous with IT, however, its benefits are so evident that they are also being more readily applied to other business functions such as research, sales and marketing, and customer support. 

This is largely due to Scrum’s five guiding principles of openness, focus, respect, courage, and commitment, making it a very straightforward, lightweight, lean, easy-to-follow, and understandable approach. This also makes Scrum a practical and highly effective methodology that can be applied across a variety of business functions and sectors flexibly. Whether comprised of software engineers, product managers or business analysts, Scrum provides a framework that allows project teams to adapt to change and deliver more value quickly and more frequently. 

In using an evidence-based framework, teams can respond to new and changing requirements, such as a shift in customer needs, and adapt to new market conditions that might influence a new direction in strategy. In essence, the approach avoids using a restrictive sequential approach to project management that can often be bound by technicalities and a prescriptive way of doing things in favour of a more minimal set of working parameters that encourage more flexibility and ultimately more successful outcomes. 

Key Challenges in mastering Scrum  

When identifying the key challenges in mastering Scrum and successfully leading and seeing through Agile Transformation initiatives, we encounter several commonalities in stated pain points. Several studies and papers mention the lack of skills, training and knowledge, the issues in teamwork and collaboration, the wrong organisational structure, culture and mindset, and weak performance management at the top of their lists.

According to KPMG[6], an Agile culture requires complete transparency within an organisation, shared responsibilities and goals, freedom from the fear of failure, and the encouragement of experimentation and expertise sharing. Although fostering an Agile culture is key to successfully embracing Agility and maximising ROI, 75% of professionals do not feel that their organisation supports an Agile culture.

Looking at the bigger picture, being Agile requires professionals and organisations alike to rethink and reinvent their way of creating value and working with others. To benefit from Agility, organisations need to build the capabilities from the ground up, highlighting the urgency to invest in their people through continuous up-skilling and re-skilling programs that will develop and maintain the skills, behaviours, and mindset required.

KPMG findings indicate that less than 15% of organisations believe that their employees are ready for the Agile way of working. Such unreadiness remains on of the top 3 challenges organisations face in becoming Agile, with Scrum often acting as the vehicle to transform their way of working. 

Mastering Scrum

Despite the simplicity in approach and the increased likelihood of success, Scrum is hard to master without the right skills and mindset, helping any organisation become geared towards its use. For instance, if a company has a structure that doesn’t support cross-functional teams, has a complex and multi-layered management hierarchy, or tends to work in silos, it is likely to struggle to integrate the five principles of Scrum culture. 

Through training and certification, properly trained Scrum professionals can help overcome these organisational hurdles and instil an agile mindset, driving change and ensuring the correct and purposeful application of Scrum principles and successful implementation of skills. This requires (among other things) a comprehensive set of soft skills including leadership, facilitation, coaching, teaching & training, listening, and communication.

Such a varied skill set is more easily and effectively acquired through proper training. This shift will also enable the organisation to realise further key benefits including:

  • Increased ownership & collaboration between teams
  • 30%-40% faster delivery 
  • Improved risk mitigation 
  • Better/faster response to change/opportunities/threats

How else does a certified Scrum professional bring value to the organisation?

Firstly, a certified Scrum professional will be able to build a compelling case for applying the three pillars of scrum – inspection, adaptation, and transparency – to projects, combining proven Scrum techniques such as sprint planning, execution, Daily Scrum, review, and retrospective and product backlog grooming to ensure successful project planning, implementation, and delivery. 

Secondly, they can help companies understand why it’s important to have multilevel planning that responds to a changing environment. Such approaches ensure projects embrace flexibility and in turn avoid unnecessary and costly setbacks, and even failure.

And finally, they can galvanise teams to leave behind their ingrained approaches to project management and instead think flexibly and be agile in everything they do. 

Becoming an effective Scrum Master through training 

While on the job training has its merit, the most successful Scrum leaders seek continuous certification and training opportunities, refining their abilities to become Scrum Masters. The ability of a Scrum Master to take ownership and facilitate collaboration between teams, leading to an on average 30-40% faster delivery is directly associated with skills they gained through dedicated training and coaching.

But of course, speed isn’t everything if corners are cut and standards are compromised. The best Scrum Masters have learnt best in class approaches to manage business risk and threats and capitalise on opportunities that change presents. Through classroom learning they understand business dynamics and when to apply Scrum principles so that they can energise teams to make the right decisions quickly and drive projects to a successful conclusion. For any business adopting Scrum, this expertise is invaluable and can bring a true competitive edge.  

Learning through practice with the right partner

The case for training and certification is clear. But it’s vital to find the right kind of training to get a fast start, both in terms of career progression, and successful outcomes for the business. That’s why PeopleCert Scrum offers training that includes practical components and real-life scenarios that help professionals gain a firm understanding of the Scrum methodology and make the shift to an agile mindset.  

PeopleCert’s partner network of Accredited Training Organisations offers training services and in many cases consultancy to companies and organisations embarking on transformational projects. This makes them the perfect choice as a training partner for individual and team learning and development.  

You can find out more about the PeopleCert Scrum qualification scheme here


[1] https://www.businessleader.co.uk/why-digital-transformation-is-the-most-important-trend-in-business-today/122404/

[2] https://www.techdigest.tv/2021/06/three-in-ten-uk-businesses-abandoned-it-projects-during-pandemic.html

[3] https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/pe/pdf/Publicaciones/TL/agile-transformation.pdf

[4] https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/pe/pdf/Publicaciones/TL/agile-transformation.pdf

[5] 15th State of Agile Report by Digital.ai.

[6] https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/pe/pdf/Publicaciones/TL/agile-transformation.pdf

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