Chaos, Crisis and Scrum

There is much written about Scrum and chaos, and how Scrum dances on the edge of chaos. This is quite well know and acknowledged in the community [1].

Crisis however is the point at which one system ends and another begins. It’s an inflection point. It is dramatic, disruptive and often very painful. There is a long history of Scrum in the time of crisis and some of the best case studies (especially, The David Exercise) revolves around this point. Many of the most successful adopters of Scrum are companies that were at, or near, a point of crisis.

Crisis is not the same a chaos.

What is Systemic Change?

Systemic Change is change that impacts multiple aspects of how a company or organization works all at the same time. Systemic change may only have a very local impact, such as changing how a small company delivers their products to their customers … or, it may impact an entire nation. Some examples that are happening at the moment are the Jasmine Revolutions in the Arab world and, the turbulence in the politico-financial system especially in Europe but potentially in North America in the near future.

In the Arab world, political and economic systems made ineffective by corruption and nepotism reached a crisis point. When the system of government is on longer able to meet the needs of the people who rely upon it, then the only option left is to change the system. At first the protesters are peaceful, but when their demands are not met and the reactionary crackdown becomes heavy-handed then the violence escalates and can quick reach civil war.

Similar but far less dramatic themes play out in organizations. When the system for producing a product become over burdened by vested interests and unnecessary rules, often the only way forward is the corporate equivalent of a revolution. It’s phrased in neutral language such as ‘organizational transformation‘, ‘transition management‘ or ‘business process improvement‘. The outcomes, however, are much the same in that there are often casualties in the administrators of the old system, and rapid promotions of supporters of the new.

Systemic Change and Crisis.

I’ve observed that Scrum is often best introduced into companies that are experiencing significant difficulties. Some years ago, as an Agile consultant, I would frequently look for failed projects and deliberate introduce them to Scrum. Failed projects often embrace Scrum much like a drowning man embraces a life-preserver. So, I’ve long associated Scrum with rapidly changing environments, and I’ve previously thought systemic change and crisis were natural counterparts.

I now know that I was mistaken. It’s not that systemic change and crisis are contemporaneous ideas, but rather that systemic change arises from crisis. Crisis happens first, and then systemic change follows.


[1] Here are some interesting articles on Scrum and Chaos that I found with a quick Google search. They appear interesting:

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3 Responses to Chaos, Crisis and Scrum

  1. Chaos, Crisis and Scrum » Scrumology #scrum #agile #pm

  2. Boost Agile (@boostagile) (@boostagile) January 1, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Chaos, Crisis and Scrum » Scrumology #scrum #agile #pm

  3. Florian Labadens (@flabadens) December 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    Our view is that #Scrum is a catalyst for positive change not an option of last resort. Thoughts? via @emergn

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