I just returned from co-teaching a Certified ScrumMaster course with Jeff Sutherland at a prominent Silicon Valley software company. Needless to say, I learned a lot from Jeff in the process. One of the most fascinating things Jeff talks about is the way by which Scrum brings to software the successful practices and principles of Japanese auto manufacturers like Toyota.
Toyota takes an entirely novel approach to new product development. As with all companies, they run up against particularly difficult challenges, paradoxes, with no easy resolutions. What’s unique is that Toyota sees paradox as an opportunity for growth and creativity. Project groups are given high levels of autonomy to work and are given audacious goals to meet. They practice holistic product development, where cross-functional product teams build prototypes and fail, only to spawn new prototypes that fail again. With each attempt lessons are learned, and more importantly, the team’s creative energy increases. This creative energy is called “ba” in Japan. Think of it like the “zone” sports teams try to achieve.
Success for teams with “ba” occurs when their paradox is transcended (not simply resolved) by a solution in the form of a breakthrough product. The Toyota Prius Hybrid vehicle is such a breakthrough: a vehicle built in a fraction of the typical product development cycle that contains newly created hybrid technology.
A fantastic book on the Japanese approach to product teams and “ba” is Hitotsubashi on Knowledge Management. How do these concepts relate to Scrum and software? Next time…