If your team is creating a software product that is solving a problem no one else has solved, you’re already innovating every step of the process. But even in situations where you’re developing a product in a competitive space, it is innovative thinking that can set your product apart. Thinking out of the box is a crucial part of any software development business. You are using the data and insights about customers as your ingredients and then experimenting with recipes that might be up to their taste. This experimentation process is supercharged by innovation.
Innovation takes place every time you convert an idea into a solution that adds value for your users. Innovation is how you grow. It is how you become more efficient with your resources — financial and otherwise. Innovation is also how you stay relevant in a world where user needs keep changing at a breakneck pace.
What does innovation have to do with the Scrum methodology of project management? How can Scrum help you foster innovation? Is there space to experiment within this methodology? How adaptable is this project management strategy to novel ideas? In this blog, we will look at the relationship between Scrum and innovation and how Scrum makes innovation work in the enterprise.
What is Scrum? Why do businesses adopt this framework?
Scrum is a project management framework that helps teams work together in the development of products and product features. Scrum is an Agile methodology that adopts a very iterative approach to the development process. Work takes place in sprints, the team regularly checks in for progress updates, and customer feedback is captured and incorporated in real-time.
Only after the team has achieved the goal in one sprint do they start another. That too only after the Scrum Master and Product Owner or Manager have adapted in accordance with the latest market insights and customer feedback. The whole point of adopting the Scrum framework for working on product development is to be nimble.
The Scrum team is able to deliver and ship new features faster, so they get to know customer experience faster too. This, in turn, informs their next steps in the next sprint. They get to experiment with new ideas and features owing to the incremental approach of product development under Scrum.
Of course, speed and efficiency of working are the main benefits of adopting the Scrum model, but this also helps beat the competition at innovation by encouraging new ideas and experimentation. Let’s look at how Scrum and innovation can go hand-in-hand.
Driving passion for innovation
First and foremost, software companies and teams cannot survive without at least a morsel of innovation in their genes. The market is hypercompetitive and the passion for innovation is extremely critical for survival and for capturing the lion’s share of the market. It’s how Apple’s entire brand has managed to flourish — through a constant passion for innovation.
Innovation in product development usually revolves around new features and functionalities in the product that can significantly improve user experience. Innovation isn’t another “item” on the product backlog list, but rather active practice of approaching all the items on the list.
Planning Scrum & Innovation in advance
Planning is done in advance through meetings before every sprint. Plans are even revisited every day on the basis of any new information received in the daily standup. Innovation should be given a separate section in such meetings and planning exercises.
Product Owners can engage with the team members to find out what their capacity for innovation is and where they can apply such innovation. These areas could be product performance, user experience or a new module altogether. Innovation will not happen in silos; inputs and feedback received from different stakeholders and different channels will be incorporated into the process.
Encouraging innovation in the team
Irrespective of how encouraging you are about innovation in the team, unless the Scrum team itself is motivated to innovate, they won’t see the merit in pursuing it. Thus, the Scrum master — often called the Servant master — should focus on building the capacities of the team. This includes creative thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability, among other soft skills.
The team members should work together to find innovative solutions to the problems. Their motivation can be induced: if you use sprints, optimise the sprint time such that there is room to experiment and innovate. Their motivation can also be rooted in the tangible outcomes: if they see that innovating a certain way also reduces their work and saves their time or effort, they will be open to it.
Understanding the need for innovation
To emphasise what was mentioned before, innovation needs to be embraced by the Scrum team as a manner of work. The team members need to understand that it isn’t an optional backlog item, but rather a governing philosophy for all the work that is being done. How can the Scrum master ensure that the team understands this importance and goal of innovation? One way out is to reserve some time in each sprint for innovation stories only. Another way is to do this using entire sprint exercises dedicated to innovative solutions.
Have you heard of innovation sprints? These are short spells of time when the entire Scrum team is solely focused on bouncing off new ideas and creative solutions for the problems in the project or product. All participants in an innovation sprint are asked to get out of their comfort zone and think of new ideas.
Some tools that can help you add value to the Innovation sprint for better solutions include:
- Customer satisfaction surveys and other feedback touchpoints
- Development team's ideas
- Other stakeholders' feedback during the sprint reviews
How Scrum Can Become an Enterprise Innovation Process
Scrum methodology carries out work in an incremental manner, and each sprint is an opportunity to revisit the progress bar. Within each sprint, the team develops software as per the needs. Scrum Master ensures there are no roadblocks in the process, and the Product Owner oversees the vision of the project. Here’s how Scrum can become an Enterprise Innovation Process.
Product backlog in Innovation Scrum
The Product Owner creates the product backlog and pushes the stories in the backlog according to priority. In Innovation Scrum, everyone adds their ideas about innovations that could improve the business and product. All these ideas are also prioritised such that the top items are implemented during each sprint.
If innovation in Scrum involves new technology, then there needs to be a system for removing bottlenecks that can crop up in its adoption. The Scrum Master can take care of the changes in contracts, processes, and policies designed for enterprise software and pre-empt whatever is required for the smooth adoption of this new technology or integration.
For example, Remote, the global payroll, and HR solution, came up with its API to enable these departments and hiring companies to make use of its vertically integrated global employment infrastructure within their own platforms and tech stack. This integration was an innovation that depended on successful communication and marketing efforts too. In such a scenario, the liaison role of the Product Owner also becomes critical to the innovation efforts.
Innovation in Retrospective meetings
A retrospective meeting, as the name suggests, is conducted at the end of a project or sprint, so you can look back at, and reflect upon, the past scrum. This involves exploring best practices, identifying opportunities for process improvement, and creative problem-solving for future sprints. All these elements encompass some level of innovation in the way of work.
Retrospective meetings should, thus, cover a large number of innovative solutions and ideas, these should be discussed with fervour, and some of the ideas should be picked up and added to the product backlog. We can also document past successes to understand what works and what doesn’t. When you come out of the retrospective meeting, you should have a plan of action that everyone agreed on and this plan should consist of a fine balance of basic and innovative solutions.
In closing, the Scrum framework allows for innovation to thrive in any organisation, but people and processes need to be trained and optimised to make the most of these innovative ideas. We can experiment, learn, and revise our goals in the sprints in Scrum, helping us validate our assumptions and the product keeps getting better. We can also out-innovate competitors in the process.