Everything You Need To Know About Scrum Empirical Process

Scrum consists of a number of critical conceptual elements. Scrum Artifacts provide transparency for effective process management, Scrum Roles offer responsibilities and accountabilities for each practitioner, and Scrum Events serve as checkpoints throughout each Sprint closing crucial feedback loops. Each of these components is essential for implementing the underlying concept of what makes Scrum work — empirical process control.

Unlike defined process control systems which rely on a high-degree of predictable outcomes and clear cause-and-effect relationships, empirical process control thrives in complex environments where predictability and cause-effect relationships are few and far between, encouraging practitioners to always expect the unexpected and giving the tools to manage it. 

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For this very reason, teams should embrace the flexibility of empirical process control methods— particularly those embedded within the Scrum framework. In order to effectively implement empiricism, however, there are a number of key principles to understand.

Empirical Process Defined

At its core, empiricism is focused on leveraging knowledge that is gathered through our senses and experiences. In Scrum, this manifests in the framework’s emphasis on observation and experimentation as opposed to detailed, upfront planning and precise definitions. This makes empirical process control one of the best approaches to utilize in complex environments where changes are frequent and unexpected.

Even in our own daily lives, there are dozens of instances of empirical process control. Thermostats, for example, use an empirical process to regulate temperature. 

The environment around your thermostat is constantly changing—  home appliances might introduce additional heat, or an open window could coax in a cool breeze. In response, the thermostat reacts to these changes dynamically, kicking on and shutting off only when its surroundings require an adjustment. All the thermostat knows is that your temperature is not what you asked it to be. A thermostat cares not of all the things that could influence the temperature, it simply inspects the current temperature and adapts the heating and cooling system to get the surroundings to be what you requested. Cruise control works the same way, adaptively modifying the power delivered by the car’s engine in response to a signal from the speedometer. Cruise control doesn’t care how many hills you will cross in your path to work, it simply inspects and adapts your current speed to maintain what you requested.

These examples go to show that, while having a structured set of processes is necessary, it’s also critical to remain flexible in execution when unpredictability is present. In any complex system, the external environment is always changing, so be ready to adjust your sails and pivot.

The Three Pillars of Empiricism

In empirical process control a team frequently shifts their priorities, equipped with the tools they need to reevaluate their goals and strategies as they gain more experience. But how is empiricism actually implemented in practice? 

At a fundamental level, three distinct pillars uphold every implementation of empirical process control: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Transparency 

Transparency enables everyone involved to have a clear understanding of their reality. Without such an understanding, mistakes are made, strategies are poorly executed, and customers end up unhappy. Transparency for a Development team allows everyone doing the work to accurately monitor the progress of their work, recognize impediments quickly, and continuously advance in their progress towards the Sprint Goal. 

For individual team members, increased transparency helps individuals make rapid on-the-fly decisions that align with the product vision. To increase the agility of a product development team, individuals and the team as a while must have the ability to make rapid decisions in support of the goal as the landscape changes before them. Inspection

While transparency is key for sharing information about a team’s progress, it won’t mean much without frequent inspection by qualified inspectors. By regularly examining and reflecting on their work, a Scrum team will be better equipped to detect undesirable variances coming from  quality issues, missed requirements, unsolved problems, and many more.

However, it’s important to note that inspections shouldn’t be more frequent than necessary, as this can create excessive overhead and wasted time.

Adaptation

Once inspection is used to highlight areas where an empirical process is deviating undesirably and it’s established that this deviation could potentially lead to an unacceptable outcome. A Scrum team can use adaptation to correct the course. 

By treating every endeavor with uncertainty as its own miniature experiment, an organization can embrace patterns of continuous growth and change, tweaking and improving their systems and processes with feedback.

Three Pillars Embedded in Scrum

Although team members should consider the three pillars of empiricism in every complex thing they do, this effort is simplified due to the built-in adherence of Scrum events and artifacts to the principles of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The pillars are deeply embedded into every element of the Scrum framework, from planning to execution.

Transparency in Scrum

Several things you make in Scrum, known as “artifacts” ensure the Scrum team is on the same page. One of the most visible to everyone from the Scrum team to stakeholders is the Product Backlog. It serves as a shared, dynamic collection of potential problems to be solved and features to deliver. 

While the Product Owner is responsible for ordering product backlog items, the list itself is visible to all, giving everyone a clear understanding of priority (and what is not). The Sprint Backlog provides an equivalent space for monitoring the progress of work that is currently in motion and ensuring the Sprint Goal is met.

Inspection in Scrum

In the context of Scrum, inspection isn’t just performed by a specialized “inspector” or “auditor.” Every member of the team is expected to carefully monitor the state of their product, processes, and practices, as undesirable deviations can occur anytime, anywhere. 

One of the best opportunities to formalize this Scrum Team based inspection occurs during the Sprint Retrospective, in which the Scrum team reflects internally about issues that have occurred and determines something that can be improved for the next Sprint. 

The Sprint Review is another such moment for inspection, involving external stakeholders to facilitate inspection from outside of the Scrum team as well to ensure the Scrum team is on the right track in their development and offering critical feedback to adjust course rapidly..

Adaptation in Scrum 

Nearly every formal event in Scrum is an opportunity to adapt. From Sprint Planning to the Daily Scrum, contributors are constantly making changes in effort to stay on course accomplishing goals. 

Ultimately, each adaptation should push the team further towards the goals that brought them to embrace agile delivery methods like Scrum; increased return on investment, faster time to market, or improved customer satisfaction— allowing the organization to continue generating greater value and responding quickly to change.

Utilizing Scrum’s Benefits

Scrum can truly transform both your development capabilities and an organization, yielding many benefits. With that said, it’s not a one size fits all framework and must be deployed correctly and carefully. 

The process of integrating Scrum takes some fine-tuning, and every organization’s implementation will likely look slightly different. A transformation of this scale takes time, and leaders must recognize that they’ll need to play a proactive role in keeping their team aligned and motivated through the process.

Even with the most capable leadership, however, realizing all of Scrum’s benefits requires understanding how each element works, and how to best approach integrating them into your organization. This is exactly why you need a team of experts— experienced Scrum professionals who have done this before, to help lead the way. 

Responsive Advisors is the perfect partner to play this role. With a track record of proven successes in a diversity of organizations and a rich catalog of remote and in-person training offerings, Responsive Advisors is ready to help your team embrace these powerful new ways of working.

Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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