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Yes we can! A story of Scrum in HR


Recently I got to spend time with a passionate and diverse group of professionals from around the world - all learning from each other (and from Dr. Jeff Sutherland, who among many accomplishments, is the co-creator of Scrum) and thinking together how to scale Scrum in healthy and value creating ways. Quick reminder: please do not scale bad Scrum.


Because I am who I am, I could not resist the many opportunities to talk about how important the connection between people operations, culture, and leadership to the work of scaling Scrum is in any organization. And, because I am who I am, I further shared - with a few people being REALLY surprised - that we can actually use Scrum in HR for all kinds of complex work!


Because it was surprising to some - and really exciting to others - I thought I would share a story of how I have used Scrum to deliver value and also to share lessons learned for others who want to create their own story. Let's face it, everyone is talking about HR becoming more Agile so I feel a sense of duty to share one example to perhaps spark others to action.

(And if you read the Scrum@Scale guide you will see a mention of people operations towards the end - perhaps consider this story as an example of people operations using Scrum.)


So, once upon a time…ok, just kidding, this isn't actually a fairy-tale at all - this story is, wait for it, based in reality….I cannot resist an opportunity to share my love for the Agile mindset and principles!


When I first started learning about Scrum I felt an immediate draw to it - the structure, the values, the intention of creating value frequently with cross-functional teams…well to me, it was logical and exactly how I love to work. I had the opportunity to start my career in People Development (back in 1999) and learned then the value of collaborating with people across the business to create the best practices, policies, and shared ownership of company culture. It felt a lot like Scrum…perhaps not in name, though certainly in some practices. Our CEO did not want us to be too "HR" - not a Dilbert cartoon - and certainly no Catbert, the evil HR Director…but I digress.


Fast forward to now - the complexity of delivery in HR continues to be huge. Whether in a large company with multiple departments within the larger HR function to small companies with one person responsible for all things HR - the scope is big - and the product is the employment experience. Everything in service to that - from recruiting, to onboarding, learning & development, pay, benefits, culture, compliance (which in and of itself is complex - state laws, federal laws - and if you operate globally - well then…), and of course the continued desire to automate as much as possible to spend time coaching and equipping others to succeed. And so much more - whew!


I believe strongly that everyone in a company plays a role in being responsible for HR - so how better to include people in creating practices, processes, and policies that everyone can be responsible for - then to use Scrum in HR!


In a recent leadership role, I put this belief to the test. With a small core People Development team - what if we created a team of teams in the company to evolve the people practices and culture to suit the newly combined company post merger - and get a lot of people's fingerprints on the work? So we did and here is what I learned:


Shared ownership leads to higher engagement - it can be classically easy for HR to foist new policies or processes on to a company - with all the best intentions. In my experience, when a team of cross functional tam members create the new process or policy, the acceptance and adoption rate increases exponentially. Why you may ask - because the change was created by people who understand what the day to day employment experience is - not that we in HR do not, rather, those included in the creation process can represent a broader picture of reality.


Focus is everyone's friend - if you can order your product backlog to focus the work on what matters most, it brings the benefits of having focus. Absent focus, it is very easy to succumb to a culture of busy. When the are s lot of things that could be better, creating a visible backlog and focusing on the most valuable work first is extremely empowering. Also, if there are a few really important things on the backlog, it is a compelling business case if for growing the core HR team, or for creating additional Scrum teams to deliver more value more frequently.


Our product is the employment experience - shifting perspective on our work's purpose changed everything. Instead of seeing processes as distinct and independent we shifted towards value stream HR. And, with this shift in seeing our work as part of a product we create with and for our customers (our people) we were able to make decisions about what to work on next in perhaps the most informed way I ever have professionally.


Scrum makes it easier to do change with people instead of to people - making our work visible and transparent allowed us to create alignment across the company around why we were working on certain things over other - and invited healthy debate about what needed to be consistent across the company v. what could be unique for each operating team. Then when changes were implemented, it came as no surprise because of the transparency and high-involvement we had from many in creating our people practices. Shared ownership in action!


So what is the point of this story…this is STRATEGIC HR in action! For years (and perhaps decades) we hear how HR can be more strategic - guess what a lot of us are strategic and this next decade and beyond will continue to demand the elevation of our work and profession in service to doing good with and for many. So HR, when you hear Scrum…I hope your response is now going to be "Yes we can!"



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