Notes on Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

scrumScrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
by Jeff Sutherland & JJ Sutherland
ISBN: 038534645X
READ: Jan 4, 2016

RATING: 9/10

This is one of the best books I’ve read on Productivity. Together with Personal Kanban, the Scrum methodology is helping reshape the way I do my work and manage my projects.

I’m publishing my notes on this book, and hopefully sometime in the near future, I will be able to describe in full what my productivity system looks like now.

* * * * *

Chapter 1: The Way the World Works is Broken

The Takeaway

Planning is Useful. Blindly following plans is stupid. It’s just so tempting to draw up endless charts. All the work needed to be done on a massive project laid out for everyone to see–but when detailed plans meet reality, they fall apart. Build into your working method the assumption of change, discovery, and new ideas.

Inspect and Adapt. Every little while, stop doing what you’re doing, review what you’ve done, and see if it’s still what you should be doing and if you can do it better.

Change or Die. Clinging o the old way of doing things, of command and control and rigid predictability, will bring only failure. In the meantime, the competition that is willing to change will leave you in the dust.

Fail Fast so you Can Fix Early. Corporate culture often puts more weight on forms, procedures, and meetings than on visible value creation that can be inspected at short intervals by users. Work that does not produce real value is madness. Working product in short cycles allows early user feedback and you can immediately eliminate what is obviously wasteful effort.

image credit: Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph via Flickr

Chapter 2: The Origins of Scrum

OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – expounded further in Chapter 8

Jeff Sutherland helped deploy ATMs throughout the USA.

The old method of doing software development, the waterfall and supported by lots and lots of Gantt Chart is useless.

Scrum was inspired by the Japanese thru the HBR paper published in 1986: “The New New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka, which highlighted the importance of cross-functional teams and faster, flexible way of working.

“Measure what exactly is being done, and how well, and to strive for ‘continuous improvement.” p34

W. Edwards Deming came up with a version of the OODA: “Plan, Do, Check, Act”

The following except could be a good team building exercise:

“When I train people how to do Scrum, that’s what I use: paper airplanes. I divide people up into teams and tell them that the goal is to build as many airplanes as they can that will fly across the room. There are going to be three roles on the team. One person will check how many planes are built that can actually fly. Another will work as part of the assembly process but will also pay attention to the process itself and look for ways that the team can make better planes and speed up their production. Everyone else will concentrate on building as many planes that can actually fly the distance in the assembly time allowed.

“I say we’re going to do three six-minute cycles of paper-airplane building. The teams have one minute each cycle to Plan how they’re going to build the airplane, three minutes to Do–to build and test as many airplanes as they can that can actually fly. And finally they’ll have two minutes to Check. In this phase, the team looks for how they could improve their paper airplane–building process. What went right? What went wrong? Should the design be changed? How can the construction process be improved? And then they will Act. In Deming’s world “to act” means to change your way of working based on real results and real environmental input….”


Hesitation is Death. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Know where you are, assess your options, make a decision, and act!

Look Outward for Answers. Complex adaptive systems follow a few simple rules, which they learn from their environment.
Great Teams Are. They are cross-functional, autonomous, and empowered, with a transcendent purpose.

Don’t Guess. Plan, Do, Check, Act. Plan what you’re going to do. Do it. Check whether it did what you wanted. Act on that and change how you’re doing things. Repeat in regular cycles, and by doing so, achieve continuous improvement.

Shu Ha Ri. First, learn the rules and the forms, and once you’ve mastered them, make innovations. Finally, in a heightened state of mastery, discard the forms and just be–with all the learning internalized and decisions made almost unconsciously.

Chapter 3: Teams

Scrum is based on teams.

Questions to ask during a Sprint cycle:

1. What did you since the last time we talked?
2. What are you going to do before we talk again?
3. And what is getting in your way?

Nicola Dourambes –

Team size: 7 persons ideal, 3 persons minimum. Anything greater than 9 will slow down the team’s velocity.

“More resources make the team go slower.”

Fred Brooks: “Brooks’ Law” – adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.

Nelson Cowan research – maximum items in short-term memory: 4 distinct items, NOT 7.


Pull the Right Lever. Change Team performance. That has much more impact–by several orders of magnitude–than individual performance.

Transcendence. Great temas have a purpose that is greater than the individual; e.g. burying General McArthur, winning the NBA championship.

Autonomy. Give teams the freedom to make decisions on how to take action–to be respected as masters of their craft. The ability to improvise will make all the difference, whether the unit is reporting on a revolution in the Middle East or making a sale.

Cross-functional. The team must have every skill needed to complete a project, whether the mission is to deliver software or capture terrorists in Iraq.

Small wins. Small teams get work done faster than big teams. The rule of thumb is seven team members–plus or minus two.

Err on the small side.

Blame is Stupid. Don’t look for bad people; look for bad systems–ones that incentivize bad behavior and reward poor performance.

Chapter 4 Time

“We’re lousy focusers”

The Sprint: sprints — building working features one by one

Backlog –> To Do –> Doing –> DONE

Put as many tasks from Backlog to Doing that could be done in a week (or within the Sprint cycle)

Daily Stand Up: 15 minutes maximum

1. What did you do yesterday to help the team finish the sprint?
2. What will you do today to help the team finish the sprint?
3. What obstacles are getting in the team’s way?

p.78: Mapping Information/Communications flow can help spot bottlenecks and where information bogs down.

“The greater the communication situation, the more everyone knows everything–the faster the team.”

Meeting rules:
Everyone is present. Same time everyday (or every week).
15 minutes maximum. Get most actionable and valuable information in the least time possible.
Everyone actively participates.

“A team has to demand greatness from itself.”

Time is Finite. Treat It That Way. Break down your work into what can be accomplished in a regular, set, short period–optimally one to four weeks. And if you’ve caught the Scrum fever, call it a Sprint.

Demo or Die. At the end of each Sprint, have something that’s done–something that can be used (to fly, drive, whatever).

Throw Away Your Business Cards. Titles are specialized status markers. Be known for what you do, not how you’re referred to.

Everyone knows Everything. Communication saturation accelerates work.

One Meeting a Day. When it comes to team check-ins, once a day is enough. Get together for fifteen minutes at the Daily Stand-up, see what can be done to increase speed, and do it.

Chapter 5: Waste is a Crime

p.87 Types of Waste

  • Muri – waste through unreasonableness
  • Mura – waste through inconsistency
  • Muda – waste through outcomes
  • Do one thing at a time

“People who are most likely to multitask… are those with the most inflated view of their abilities…” -“Who Multitasks and Why?” by Sonbonmatsu, Strayer, Medeiros-Ward, & Watson

Do one thing exclusively before moving on to another project…

“Doing half of something is essentially doing nothing at all.”

“Jobs that aren’t done and products that aren’t being used are two aspects of the same thing: invest effort with no positive outcome. Don’t do it.” p.97

Do things right the first time. Fix errors and bugs right away upon catching them.

Working too hard makes more work: “People who work too many hours start making mistakes” (This is related to willpower fatigue or the concept of “ego depletion)

Multitasking Makes You Stupid. Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don’t do it. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong–it does.

Half-done is Not Done. A half-built car simply ties up resources that could be used to create value or save money. Anything that’s “in process” costs money and energy without delivering anything.

Do It Right the First Time. When you make a mistake, fix it right away. Stop everything else and address it. Fixing it later can take you more than twenty times longer than if you fix it now. (This seems to run contrary to the principle of ‘batching’)

Working Too Hard Only Makes More Work. Working long hours doesn’t get more done; it gets less done. Working too much results in fatigue, which leads to errors, which leads to having to fix the thing you just finished. Rather than work late or on the weekends, work weekdays only at a sustainable pace. And take a vacation.

Don’t Be Unreasonable. Goals that are challenging are motivators; goals that are impossible are just depressing.

No Heroics. If you need a hero to get things done, you have a problem. Heroic effort should be viewed as a failure of planning.

Enough with Stupid Policies. Any policy that seems ridiculous likely is. Stupid forms, stupid meetings, stupid approvals stupid standards are just that–stupid. If your office seems like a Dilbert cartoon, fix it.

No assholes. Don’t be one, and don’t allow the behavior. Anyone who causes emotional chaos, inspires fear or dread, or demeans or diminishes people needs to be stopped coled.

Strive for Flow. Choose the smoothest, most trouble-free way to get things done. Scrum is about enabling the most flow possible.


Chapter 6: Plan Reality, Not Fantasy


The Map is Not the Terrain. Don’t fall in love with your plan. It’s almost certainly wrong.

Only Plan What You Need To. Don’t try to project everything out years in advance. Just plan enough to keep your team busy.

What Kind of Dog Is It? Don’t estimate in absolute terms like hours–it’s been proven that humans are terrible at that. Size things relatively, by what breed of dog the problem is, or T-shirt sizes (S, M, L, XL, XXL) or more commonly, the Fibonacci sequence.

Ask the Oracle. Use a blind technique, like the Delphi method, to avoid anchoring biases such as the halo effect or bandwagon effect, or just plain stupid groupthink.

Plan with Poker. use Planning Poker to quickly estimate work that needs to be done.

Work Is a Story. Think first about who’ll be getting value from something, then about what it is, and then why they need it.

Humans think in narratives, so give them one. As an X, I want Y, so that Z.

Know Your Velocity. Every team should know exactly how much work they can get done in each Sprint. And they should know how much they can improve that velocity by working smarter and removing barriers that are slowing them down.
Velocity X Time = Delivery. Once you know how fast you’re going, you’ll know how soon you’ll get there.

Set Audacious Goals. With Scrum it is not that hard to double production or cut delivery time in half. If you do it in the right way, your revenue and stock price should double as well.


Chapter 7: Happiness

I feel that this is the least useful chapter in the book.

“We are not rewarded for enjoying the journey itself but for the successful completion of a journey. Society rewards results, not processes; arrivals, not journeys.” – Ben Shahar, Happier

Happiness precedes outcomes

During Sprint Retrospective: look for what went right, what could have been done better, what can be made better next sprint

1. On a scale of 1-5, how do you feel about your role in the company?
2. On the same scale, how do you feel about the company as a whole?
3. Why do you feel that way?
4. What one thing would make you happier in the next Sprint?

Implement improvements right away – define success and check next Sprint Retrospective
Happiness for individuals and teams: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose – relate to Dan Pink’s “Drive”

Scrum Master – keep the team from pride and complacency


It’s the Journey, Not the Destination. True happiness is found in the process, not the result. Often we only reward results, but what we really want to reward is people striving toward greatness.

Happy is the New Black. It helps you make smarter decisions. Plus, when you’re happy, you’re more creative, less likely to leave your job, and more likely to accomplish far more than you ever anticipated.

Quantify Happiness. It’s not enough just to feel good; you need to measure that feeling and compare it to actual performance. Other metrics look backward. Happiness is a future-looking metric.

Get Better Every Day–and Measure It. At the end of each Sprint, the team should pick one small improvement, or kaizen, that will make them happier. And that should become the most important thing they’ll accomplish in the next Sprint.

Secrecy is Poison. Nothing should be secret. Everyone should know everything, and that includes salaries and financials. Obfuscation only serves people who serve themselves.

Make Work Visible. Have a board that shows all the work that needs to be done, what is being worked on, and what is actually done. Everyone should see it, and everyone should update it every day.

Happiness is Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Everyone wants to control their own destiny, get better at what they do, and serve a purpose greater than themselves.

Pop the Happy Bubble. Don’t get so happy that you start believing your own bullshit. Make sure happiness is measured against performance, and if there is a disconnect, be prepared to act. Complacency is the enemy of success.

Chapter 8: Priorities

Product Vision is the intersection of “What you can implement”, “what you can be passionate about” and “What you can sell”

The Backlog should have everything that could possibly be included in the product: p. 174

The key is what you decide to do first:

  • Big impact?
  • Important to customer?
  • Make money?
  • Easiest to implement?

Aim for REVENUE first, figure out the 20% of input that yields 80% of the output.

Answer the key question fast: “Will we make money doing this?”

Build the Minimum Viable Product

“Figure out where the most value can be delivered for the least effort, and do that one right away. Then identify the next increment after that, and the next.” p.175

Three Scrum Roles

Product Owner: What the work should be. Translate productivity to value.
Scrum Master: How the work should be done
Team member: does the work

Building the Minimum Viable Product means Rapid Prototyping (example in the book: Toyota Prius)

In a non-tech setting, how can we do rapid prototyping?

Principles of MVP, Lean startup: TEST, TEST, TEST: put it to end-users as quickly as possible, get feedback, then iterate.


Make a List. Check It Twice. Create a list of everything that could possibly be done on a project. Then prioritize it. Put the items with the highest value and lowest risk at the top of that Backlog, then the next, and then the next.

The Product Owner. She translates the vision into Backlog. She needs to understand the business case, the market, and the customer.

A Leader Isn’t a Boss. A Product Owner sets out what needs to be done and why. How the team accomplishes it and who accomplishes it is up to the team.

The Product Owner. Has knowledge of the domain and the power to make final decisions. He or she is available to answer questions and is accountable for delivering value.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA). See the whole strategic picture, but act tactically, and quickly.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. It’s better to give than to receive. Get inside your competition’s OODA loop and wrap them in their own confusion.

Get Your Money for Nothing, and Your Change for Free. Create new things only as long as those new things deliver value. Be willing to swap them out for things that require equal effort. What in the beginning you thought you needed is never what is actually needed.

Chapter 9: Change the World

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” T.E. Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom


Scrum Accelerates All Human Endeavors. The type of project or problem doesn’t matter—Scrum can be used in any endeavor to improve performance and results.

Scrum for Schools. In the Netherlands, a growing number of teachers are using Scrum to teach high school. They see an almost immediate improvement in test scores of more than 10 percent. And they’re engaging all sorts of students, from vocational to gifted.

Scrum for Poverty. In Uganda, the Grameen Foundation is using Scrum to deliver agricultural and market data to poor rural farmers. The result: double the yield and double the revenue for some of the poorest people on the planet.

Rip Up Your Business Cards. Get rid of all titles, all managers, all structures. (I don’t agree). Give people the freedom to do what they think best and the responsibility to be accountable for it. You’ll be surprised at the results.


  1. Great summary! I’m on my second pass through of this book and this summary has been a great tool for helping me commit this information to memory. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the summary! I read this before, but your summary was the best one I found for bringing it back. Looking forward to reading more of your summaries.

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