Scrum Ace: Lessons from Flying, and the Power of Kanban + Scrum

Aviation Ace and His Family

“The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul.” ~ Walter Raleigh
“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter.” ― Miyamoto Musashi

Agile Pilots: Kanban and Scrum

Few people know more about flying an airplane than professional pilots, especially those who fly people all over the world every day. As the son of a pilot, I was in a cockpit with my father as young as four or five years old. Honestly I can’t even recall, but the black and white pictures I cherish inside a cockpit are there to remind me I was happy! Why am I telling you this? Because flying an airplane, and using an Agile method like Kanban or Scrum have a lot in common, and we can learn from this comparison.

The education of a pilot begins with the theory of flight, math, physics, airplane mechanics, physical training and practice. There are parallels with learning Agile methods, but the key difference is that after graduation pilots get used to flying a variety of airplanes, from a small single engine Cessna to a huge Boeing 777. The basics don’t change, but the actual practice of flying is greatly influenced by the pilot’s experience flying different aircrafts, for different purposes in a variety of circumstances. The best pilots never cease learning, they recognize that as valuable as theory is, learning by experience acquired while flying is invaluable.Airplane and Crew in Icy Cold Conditions

Being truly Agile is actually very much like being a pilot. Once you get your basic training, and fly a simple aircraft the rest of your growth depends a lot on your experience working on different projects, with different teams, building different solutions or products.

Can you notice the parallel between learning to fly and being Agile? It is very much about having the basics down, and being able to perform them. We could say that in a way the different Agile methods are simply different airplanes, different ways to cruise the skies with an Agile mindset. Instead of criticizing each aircraft, why not focus on mastering them and becoming a great Agile pilot? The same way no single plane can be the answer to all flying needs, no Agile method can be the answer to everything.

When does a pilot know that an airplane is the wrong tool for the job? When the aircraft cannot perform given the constraints of the geography, business, weather and distances. In that case pilots, airlines, and businesses know is time to use a different plane. That is why we have long range inter-continental planes like the Boeing 777, amphibious planes that can land on water like the De Havilland Otter, fire fighting air tanker planes like the Beriev Be–200; and many, many more in the defense industry.Pilots now they need the right tool for the job, here a Airplane float

So where does Scrum fit as an Agile airplane? First it is good to remember that is one of many Agile methods or frameworks. However Scrum is also a temperamental aircraft, to fly it the Scrum framework demands that all its components or rules of the game be followed to the letter. But in return it does offer a fairly effective Agile method that addresses the needs of software development, and product creation quite well. Is it the answer to everything? No, but it does help a lot of people on their journey to be Agile. It is a good airplane for the pilots that fly it.

On occasion however Scrum’s aircraft does not fit the problem, the market demands or the culture of the company that wants to fly it. What to do in this situation? We suggest that instead of fighting with it, and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole Scrum professionals should be bold enough to learn how to fly another plane: Kanban!

Chuck Yeager - A true AceNow, it’s good that you know that Kanban has a few aircraft models in the marketplace already, one of them: the Kanban Ace method actually welcomes Scrum. The Kanban Ace method is Agile and Lean like Scrum, but it is much lighter, yet remains powerful. The lightness comes from the fact that it demands no new roles in the organization, it can start with the team as is. In addition it does not mandate meetings, you meet when it makes sense, and the meeting add value. Moreover iterations or sprints are optional, why? Because it lets you decide your own delivery frequency, and even offers the option of continuous delivery of value. There are many more advantages to Kanban Ace, but the interesting part is that we are adding a new toolkit to it: Scrum Ace.

Scrumban & Scrum Ace

Scrumban book coverBefore continuing, we would like to say that we are not the first to come up with this idea. Corey Ladas wrote about it in his remarkable 2009 book: Scrumban. He envisioned Scrumban like we have, as a way to take Scrum professionals to Kanban. Like Scrumban, the Scrum Ace technique is not a hybrid Agile method, it is a transitioning toolkit for Scrum professionals to master the Kanban Ace method faster, and to adapt it to their business, or software development efforts.

So why are we reinventing the wheel? We are not. Corey’s book was also the first about Kanban for software development, so a big part of his material refers to laying the foundation for Kanban itself as a method, especially for software development.

On the other hand Scrum Ace is a toolkit for Scrum pilots, it basically takes off where Scrumban ends; now that you know you want to move to Kanban: How do you accomplish that exactly? Just to name a few topics covered: what happens with the roles, the team, the Sprints, the metrics, and backlog grooming? Scrum Ace focuses in these practical issues of moving from Scrum to Kanban.

Before explaining the details of Scrum Ace, it is important to explain its foundation: Open Kanban and the Kanban Ace method.

Open Kanban in Brief

Open Kanban is an Agile and Lean method, that is open source and ultra light. It recognizes and embraces five key values: Respect people. Act with courage. Focus on Value. Communicate and Collaborate and Realize that change requires a holistic approach.

Open Kanban DiagramIn addition Open Kanban has four practices to lead in your Agile journey: Lead Using a Team Approach, Visualize the Workflow, Reduce BASE (a way to focus your efforts) and Learn and Improve Continuously.

In a few minutes you could read the official Open Kanban document, or a quick guide on how to implement it. This would be the first step into knowing this Agile aircraft. However you will also notice that its scope is perhaps too narrow, too light for your needs. That is where the Kanban Ace method, and Scrum Ace toolkit come into play.

Kanban Ace in Brief

When we created Open Kanban we wanted a method that you could easily extend, modify and adapt to your reality. It was designed to be ultra light, so it could be extended by other Methods that focus on a particular area. The Kanban Ace method is precisely one of those extended methods.

An Ace going to his F-15 airplaneThe Kanban Ace method takes all of the Open Kanban method and adds several techniques and practices to deliver value, and agility for software development, IT and business. Some techniques are used for Agile planning (Kanban Ace MAP), others are for “backlog grooming” (Reducing BASE techniques), or to enhance collective learning in a meeting (H-Kanban Meetings), one refers to the creation of custom work flows to deliver significantly more value on each iteration (Kanban Gears) and many more.

What was missing was a transitioning toolkit to help Scrum professionals leverage their Agile knowledge, to learn the Kanban Ace method faster, and still keep the most useful ideas of Scrum; well that is precisely what Scrum Ace is all about.

On the second part of this article we will introduce the Scrum Ace toolkit, and we will detail how to leverage many Scrum concepts such as the Sprint, and Scrum roles in the context of Kanban. We will also show the advantages of the Kanban approach for those willing to embrace it, and learn to fly another Agile - Lean aircraft.