Scrum and innovation

Scrum is perceived in general as against innovation by many in community after it has been tried out over a period of time. Innovation is the heart and soul of a market leader and the success depends on how much of innovative game changing ideas come up and how successful we are in productizing and marketing the product. One aspect which is less spoken about is how involved the members are in the innovation process and this often has an impact.

Innovations could be categorized as 2 main types: incremental and disruptive. Incremental innovations are the ones where changes are made based on small incremental changes. Disruptive innovations are often the game changers and could be new products / technology etc. In general the observation & the feedback is that communities are more open to incremental innovation as compared to disruptive ones and I couldn’t stop wondering about the reasons why this could be the reality:
1.    Incremental innovation goes inline with the spirit of agile and gets addressed by the systematic and well integrated practice of kaizen / continuous improvement.
2.    The teams participation is more in incremental as they are generally the ones drive it and the ones accountable for it.
3.    The efforts / the cost is often not a constraint for most ideas coming in incremental direction and are often self governed by the teams.
4.    Psychological factors. People resent big changes and get insecure. This insecurity fuels the resentment further and its cyclical. A leader recognizes this and takes appropriate action.

However, there is a catch. Initially when the individuals have a lot of ideas, the no. of ideas coming on to bench are more. However, it eventually reaches a plateau after a few months where in the typical symptom is that not many ideas are coming though to table for a variety of reasons. This is where the leaders have to be more vigilant and have to motivate the teams to more outgoing and not contribute to situation where in the disease gets aggravated. Its pathetic sometimes that leaders eventually become the bottleneck in the innovation process as the ideas often get shotdown in not so nice ways and this impacts the team morale and their hunger for innovation. Also, the performance and reward system brings in its own bottlenecks and sometimes even end up encouraging & incentivizing the non-innovative behaviors.  One more most common reason is that most teams / leaders address the muda type of variation but not address the mura and muri and this is a crime. Give more to the teams and they will contribute more.

Now disruptive innovations. It’s a sin that its mostly considered a domain of eminent ones – visionaries, gamblers, ready to be killed maniacs etc. Retrospect further and you will see patterns – often “scrum” teams are not involved adequately in disruptive process. This is normally parent company’s initiative through tools like hackathon, 20-30% personal pet projects etc. Ask yourself is it coming into ambit of your scrum teams sufficiently? Answer will be no and you as a leader will have to take ownership for this. Second, how much leverage they have on effort and cost needed for this type of innovation? Make it easy, make it so basic a part of their success and integrate it into teams and people’ rewards and performance system without threatening them. The participation and accountability in innovation will improve.