Building a Culture of Innovation with Scrum

By Mark C. Layton, David Morrow

Many companies practicing scrum, from the newest to the oldest, say that they want to be innovative. They likely see the market advantages of creative approaches. Yet the command-and-control structures that they use to manage products and processes impede the innovations they seek. Organizations’ fundamental beliefs about purpose determines whether their teams work in a culture of innovation.

The scrum framework functions best in a culture of self-organization, purpose, and innovation. Product and process innovations are encouraged via the inspect-and-adapt model, and the idea of innovation is at the heart of working as a team. Using the feedback loop is a great way to encourage innovation.

Following are some ways that you can create an innovative culture:

  • Empower teams to challenge conventions or constraints.
  • Remove organizational barriers to creativity.
  • Rethink how you motivate.
  • Seek out creative lateral-thinking people.

Psychologist and philosopher Edward de Bono is credited with coining the term lateral thinking, which he defined as a mindset of challenging conventions and constraints. A lateral thinker can overcome his previous beliefs about limitations and conventions. A person who engages in lateral thinking doesn’t ignore the existence of constraints; instead, he searches for ideas and solutions that aren’t immediately obvious.

A popular modern narrative seems to be that engineers and developers are robotic, logic-based or linear thinkers. In our experience, that isn’t the case for most highly effective knowledge workers. They’re creators with well-honed cognitive skills who can’t be replaced by the complex algorithms that they create, and they thrive in a culture of innovation. As we trend toward replacing business functions with automation, we need to make space for lateral thinkers who can go beyond perceived constraints. Without creativity, we get stuck making the same mistakes.