SCRUM | Book Review

Jeff Sutherland retells his multi-decade story of radical developmental change and improvement in the tech industry, yet largely unknown in business.

Recommended Start

Strongly consider starting with the Appendix, Implementing Scrum – How To Begin (p. 234), followed by Chapter Five: Waste is a Crime, especially if you are prone to multi-tasking. Demonstrable findings on page 91, Loss to Context Switching, are breathtaking; for example, working on five projects at once usually leads to 75% wasted time. Working Too Hard Makes More Work (pages 101-106) shows a wonderful productivity curve

Illustrating we often make many mistakes when working long hours, only fooling ourselves. We should monitor our energy, not time, consistent with an homage to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow.

Just as General Stanley McChrystal challenged numerous management practices originating with Frederick Taylor, the author sought understanding of how we work:

Thinking About Work

“It was because of the way people were working. The way most people work. The way we all think work has to be done, because that’s the way we were taught to do it.” (pages 4-5)

Sutherland is a thinker, and wondered about Gantt charts:

“Why a World War 1 artifact has become the de facto tool used in twenty-first-century project management has never been quite clear to me.” (p. 6)

and from rugby coined “Scrum;” (p. 8) careful alignment, unity of purpose and clarity of goal coming together. Challenging the way we see things reminds one of Edward Tufte’s  Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.


The first two chapters - The Way the World Works is Broken & The Origins of Scrum – answer the question “Why Scrum?” Sutherland advises - similar to our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop – (p. 12) making people prioritize by value forces them to produce that 20 percent, or 80 percent of project value, first.

Much of Scrum’s ideas are attributed to Toyota’s (Taiichi Ohno) Production System (p. 13) leading to “Sprints” based on doing things, and lessons learned afterward focused on how things were done, not what one [they] did.

A former fighter pilot & student, Sutherland mentions the OODA Loop (Observe Orient, Decide, and Act), introduced on p. 24 (for more see Boyd), as means for improved decision making. Similar to findings in Triggers, the author spent about a decade studying how to make complex state changes positive rather than negative. As with conflict avoidance, organizations and people frequently fear the unknown.

How can we figure out some simple rules that will guide teams to settle into a more productive, happier, supportive, fun, and ecstatic state? (p. 26)

Sutherland draws from Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka (Harvard Business Review “The New New Product Development Game”) and W. Edwards Deming’s continuous improvement concepts (Plan, Do, Check, Act, pages 32–36), further developing his novel concept.

Scrum is for real.


Introduced team characteristics (p. 44), Transcendent, Autonomous & Cross-Functional (again from Takeuchi & Nonaka), beg the question: “How many of these traits do we encourage or sponsor in our Personal Leadership Philosophy?” – similar to Dan Pink’s findings in Drive. A series of three great coaching questions follow on page 50:

What did you do since the last time we talked?

What are you going to do before we talk again?

What is getting in your way?

NASA’s horror story (pages 52-53) and after action dissection by Dr. Richard Feynman prosecute the folly of linear stage-gate processes. In Scrum at War (pages 54–58), Sutherland describes that Special Operations Forces are

unlike much of the “regular” military, they don’t separate intelligence gathering and operations planning. There are no handoffs from one team to another, where mistakes might be made.

and recounts stories from McChrystal’s Team of Teams.

Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game, serves as a wonderful E2L reminder to view from another’s point rather than commit a Fundamental Attribution Error (Induction: Processes of Inference, Learning and Discovery  - Holland). Chapter six details planning guidelines taking into account human perceptions of relative sizing, flaws in judgment (bandwagon effect), and effective use of storytelling. Planning Poker (pages 129–132), describes a clever and useful estimating exercise anyone can use.

Be Happy

“Happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity, and, in particular, our jobs, careers and business.” (p. 148)

Sutherland reminds us even small gestures (p. 153) can have great impact, similar to (Caroline Arnold) Small Move, Big Change, and that Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (think Dan Pink) lead to great teams. A retelling (pages 157–160) of Delivering Happiness, Tony Hseih’s story at Zappos & HBR Jan-Feb 2012 Issue zero in on happiness, or more descriptively, “thriving.” Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath (p. 161) found thriving people

Performed 16 percent better than their peers, had 125 percent less burnout, were 32 percent more committed, and 46 percent more satisfied with their jobs. They took fewer sick days, had fewer doctor’s appointments, and were more likely to get promoted.

Closing Thoughts

Sutherland closes with Scrum, or radical productivity improvements, taking on worldwide challenges such as poverty. Very energizing. This fine work leaves me thinking about Shuhari (p. 38) & three levels of mastery – and my continuing journey.

JE | September 2015