Book Club: Scrum, by Jeff Sutherland

Every Thursday, I’ll be briefly reviewing a book that I find to be interesting, engaging, and valuable for Agile Faculty. Because the Agile Faculty mindset values exploration, curiosity, and multidisciplinarity, these resources will come from a variety of different areas that speak to a wide range of interests, including higher education, faculty development, Agile and Scrum, design thinking and creativity studies, and social innovation. And I’ll throw in a little bonus review of a piece of fiction or non-fiction I’m reading just for fun.

The first book in this Agile Faculty Book Club is Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, written by Dr. Jeff Sutherland (Crown, 2014). Sutherland is one of the co-creators of Scrum, along with Ken Schwaber. He is also an original signatory on the Agile Manifesto, CEO of Scrum Inc., and chair of the Scrum Foundation. Sutherland has had a varied career ranging from fighter pilot to cancer researcher to chief technical officer in 11 software companies – all of which, along with a fascination with empirical control theory, allow him to bring a multi-layered  approach to not only getting more done with Scrum but also finding joy in that pursuit.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time is genre-bending; it’s part autobiography, part philosophical manifesto, part social science storytelling, part nuts-and-bolts guide to Scrum practices, and part call to action. Sutherland truly believes Scrum can radically transform the way people work in any environment, not just software. And he also firmly believes that “no one should spend their lives on meaningless work, not only is it not good business, it kills the soul” (p. 11).

This book is very accessible to non-technical readers and a good place to start if you are looking for a general text that helps you understand more about Scrum as a way of thinking and approaching work. Sutherland mixes stories from his time in the military, experiences coaching and consulting with teams in industries from tech to banking to healthcare to non-profits, and a little Asian philosophy all to argue that the time, energy, and spirit we put into our work should be meaningful and add value not only to our lives but to those around us. You’ll find one of my favorite quotes from this book early in Agile Faculty: “Work doesn’t have to suck. It can flow; it can be an expression of joy, an alignment to a higher purpose. We can be better. We can be great! We just have to practice (p. 39).

While that might sound a bit too much like a self-help book quote, Sutherland does offer good practical advice and examples of Scrum being used in many different environments to positive results. I have many notes in the margins of my copy highlighting where I saw direct connections to higher education and faculty work. It’s no secret that traditional higher education is on the edge of a massive culture shift, or, if I’m being dramatic, a change-or-die situation. The Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation immersive semester program my colleagues at Elon and I are piloting was a direct reaction to our frustration with the traditional constraints of required seat time for credit hours, grades, semester course loads of anywhere from 3-5 unconnected courses, and the one faculty member to one course ratio.

Breaking out of those entrenched constraints is painful (if even possible), and Sutherland argues that, “we’re all creature of the system we find ourselves embedded in. What Scrum does is accept this reality, and, instead of trying to find someone to blame, it tries to examine the system that produced the failure and fix it” (p.67). I like the idea of starting from a place of acceptance and making small, collaborative, incremental changes consistently over time to eventually transform the way we practice higher ed today as a system and in our own faculty careers. When I wrote Agile Faculty, especially in Chapter 1 about faculty vitality and the thought experiment in the Afterward, my goals were to explore how faculty might achieve the levels of personal vitality Sutherland argues we deserve, while at the same time (re)assessing the underlying systems of higher education that might benefit from some Scrum-driven innovations.

If you are looking for a light but extended view on Scrum after reading Agile Faculty, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time is worth your time.

Completely Unrelated Bonus Review
I recently finished Naomi Alderman’s The Power (Little, Brown, and Co., 2017), and I highly recommend this novel, especially it you are a fan of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian visions – in fact, Atwood chose to mentor Alderman as she was writing The Power as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Without giving too much away, the premise of the novel is that human women evolve over time until all females have an organ that creates electrostatic energy that can be wielded for both healing and destruction. The novel looks at the critical moment in history when the power manifested in the majority of the population through the eyes of several women of different ages and how this change in power impacted relationships, families, governments, and ultimately society as a whole. It’s a fast read that asks deep questions about the nature of gender, social power, and evolution.

According to the Scrum Guide, Scrum teams have just three roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team.

The Scrum Master is in charge of the Scrum process, making sure the Product Owner and Development Team use the Scrum meetings effectively and protecting the Team from outside influences during sprints so they can complete their commitments. Agile Faculty can serve as Scrum Masters for their students in class and research settings, helping them to use the process to collaborate successfully and learn as the project continues.

The product owner is a link between the business and the Development Team. The Product owner is in charge of keeping the product backlog current and appropriately prioritized and helping the Development Team understand what users want to be able to do with the functionality they create. Agile Faculty can serve as product owners on committees, in lab or other collaborative research settings, and in client-based student projects.

The development team is composed of three to nine people who have the skills and knowledge to complete all the work committed to during a sprint. On a software team, this would include developers, user experience engineers, quality assurance testers, etc. In an academic setting, the team might be the members of a committee or task force, students completing a client- or community-based project, and researchers working together on a larger project. 

While Agile Faculty is the only book that directly adapts Agile and Scrum Practices for higher education contexts, many available books can serve as excellent resources if you are interested in learning more about the Agile philosophy and Scrum practices. Here are a few I recommend checking out.

Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction, is the perfect overview of the Scrum process as understood in software development, written by people interested in seeing Scrum expand into other industries.



Ken Rubin provides a detailed overview of the entire Scrum process in Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process. While the book is definitely targeted at people with int he tech industry, I found his visuals about the process to be very informative.



Lyssa Adkins is the Agile coaching guru. Coaching Agile Teams is part Scrum, part executive coach training, and part spirit guide for Scrum coaches. As an educator, the guide resonated for me on several levels, and I’ve integrated Adkins’ advice into my approach to all my faculty work.


In Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Scrum co-creator Jeff Sutherland shares his philosophy and showcases how Scrum is being used in software and beyond.



Introduction to Agile Methods, by Sondra Ashmore and Kristin Runyon, is a textbook primarily for computing science and engineering students, but it’s a good overview of Agile more broadly and a good introduction to the entire software development process.

While there are thousands of people and organizations tweeting about Agile and Scrum, here are some of the accounts of thought leaders, organizations, and news sources that I follow for news and inspiration.

Tech Industry Thought Leaders

Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, CEO of Scrum Inc. Interesting mix of articles, work with clients, travel, and international tech news.

Ken Schwaber, co-creator of Scrum, founder of Scwaber doesn’t post often, but when he does, it’s worth reading.

Mike Cohn, Agile/Scrum trainer, author, and principal at Mountain Goat Software. Great tips and links to his prolific blog about all things practical when implementing and maintaining Agile and Scrum.

Ken Rubin, Scrum consultant and author of The Essential Scrum. Regularly posts about Scrum events, terms, and practicis.

Jim Highsmith, Agile Manifesto signatory and executive consultant. Highsmith curates an interesting collection of Agile and tech news as well as his content and blog posts on his ThoughtWorks company website.

Geoff Watts, author of several Scrum leadership texts and coaching guides, based in the UK. Insightful Twitterer.

Ilan Goldstein, Scrum trainer and author based in Australia. I appreciated his book, Scrum Shortcuts, while writing Agile Faculty.

Agile News and Organizations

Scrum Expert is an account that aggregates news and stories about Agile and Scrum. is Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber’s professional organization for Scrum training and certifications.

Scrum Alliance is Scrum co-creator Jeff Sutherland’s professional training and certification organization.

Agile in Schools Accounts

Agile Schools is the brainchild of Scrum trainer and coach John Miller and showcases his work bringing Scrum to K-12 education in the Western US.

Marion Willeke runs two consulting firms, Rabbit Hole Learning and Hedgehog Learning, using teaching and coaching to help teachers and students enhance creativity, partially through Agile mindsets and practices.

EDUScrum is a very active organization based in The Netherlands working to integrate Agile and Scrum practices into education throughout Europe.

My Top Hat Talk is coming up soon! If you haven’t registered, you can do so here and join us on Thursday, November 27th, at 12 noon ET. Last week I talked to Amita at Top Hat about my inspiration for Agile Faculty and how I apply the strategies I write about in my own faculty work. Check it out!

No! Agile Faculty explores how to adapt the values, framework, and strategies of Scrum to all aspects of faculty work. Scrum is popping up all over the place, moving from software into a variety of industries ranging from publishing, marketing, research and development, and non-profits. This Tech Republic article provides quick case studies of how Agile is being used by non-technical teams, and this article on the OpenView company blog discusses how Scrum can help and be adapted by non-technical teams as well. And this McKinsey report looks specifically at how Scrum can be adapted by marketing organizations; how they suggest adapting the Scrum team structure is particularly interesting.

Scrum is also making its way into education spaces like those I discuss in Agile Faculty. Computing sciences and engineering programs have been teach Agile and Scrum for quite a while, but more recently, some of the biggest inroads for the framework are in K-12 education.

  • Agile coach and consultant John Miller founded Agile Classrooms to train teachers to use Scrum with their elementary and middle grades students, with pretty interesting results.
  • Scrum trainer and entrepreneur Michael Vizdos has also started a community project to bring Scrum into schools; his simple website provides some good case studies of this work.
  • The Agile Learning Centers program is setting up alternative schools around the US.
  • And perhaps the most well-established and compelling of these initiatives, eduScrum, was founded in the Netherlands and has spread over Europe and the United States.

All of these people and programs are dedicated to bringing the Agile growth mindset and focus on doing small things completely to complete large projects later to disrupt education today. Their results so far have been inspiring.

In industry, Scrum teams have four meetings, or rituals, per sprint: Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. The Planning meetings is self-explanatory, and the Review meeting is essentially a demo of the work completed in the sprint to internal and external stakeholders. Of course, Agile Faculty might choose to use all or none of the ritual meetings, but I find the Daily Scrum and Retrospective meetings most useful in my faculty work.

The Daily Scrum is a stand-up, 15-minute meeting in which each member of the team reports on three questions:

  • What have I done since we last met to work toward our team commitments?
  • What am I working on today to work toward our team commitments?
  • What might be keeping me from completing our commitment (or where could I use some help)?

Conversation is limited to only the answers to these three questions from each team member because Daily Scrum, or “stand-up,” is a commitment meeting rather than a status meeting. These questions remind the team that they are all working toward the same goal and they can help each other achieve it. Agile Faculty can use Daily Scrum meetings with students working on team projects, research collaborators, service project groups.

I have, on occasion, used the Daily Scrum questions on myself, just to reaffirm my goals and review my progress. If I’m stuck, I can articulate that to myself and determine who and how to ask for support.

I love Retrospective meetings because rather than focusing on product, these meetings review the success of current process. Teams meet to discuss how well they collaborated over the previous sprint, held each other accountable and supported each other, practiced trust and respect. Based on that discussion, they commit to one or two specific ways to improve their teamwork in the next sprint.

There are lots of different activities you can use for a lively and honest retrospective. One of my favorites is the starfish because it focuses on a spectrum of activities rather than just good and bad. The website Fun Retrospectives has a host of different activities as does the website of this Agile consultant.


Agile Faculty is all about adapting Scrum strategies for faculty work. But where did Agile and Scrum come from in the first place?

Agile as we know it originated in 2001. A group of software developers, all proponents of different development strategies, gathered to relax at a mountain retreat and ultimately discussed better ways to practice effective, values-driven, collaborative work. The resulting statement, The Agile Manifesto, signed by all 17 attendees, really focuses not just on changing workflow, but on changing organizational culture – valuing people, community, trust, and respect more than anything. The Agile Alliance, as the group came to call themselves, also developed a set of 12 Agile principles to further guide software development. Signatory Jim Highsmith provides an interesting history of the retreat that resulted in the Manifesto here.

What About Scrum? Who Created It?
The Agile framework Scrum was the creation of Dr. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, both signatories of The Agile Manifesto. (Follow Sutherland and Schwaber on Twitter.) Sutherland based his early version of Scrum on his work with empirical process control theory. Schwaber had been developing a similar system on his own, so the two combined their ideas and created Scrum. Below, Schwaber talks about the origins of Scrum from his perspective.

The term “Scrum,” in this case, is not an acronym but a direct reference to the rugby move. The reference was coined by authors Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in a 1986 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The New New Product Development Game,” in which they compare high-functioning cross-functional teams to a rugby squad executing a scrum move during a match. Sutherland and Schwaber borrowed the term for their Agile development process.

Jeff Sutherland has expanded Scrum beyond software development contexts, most recently in his 2014 book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. He also talks about Scrum in his 2014 TED Aix talk below.