No more than any other culture. The sticking point for how well a culture can take advantage of Scrum is the belief in predictability.
People who are culturally attuned to predictability want to believe that they can predict the future. Their job is then to cause the future to come true by forcing the people and resources to make it happen.
People who use Scrum have learned that predictability is impossible when complex, creative work like software development is done. The results are terrible: bad software, missed schedules, wasted money, and demoralized workers. They have learned that it is best to forecast what is wanted, help workers understand it, and then do everything possible to help the people achieve it.
Scrum employs the art of the possible, taking advantage of opportunities and avoiding roadblocks, being agile. A culture that embraces these ideas succeeds with Scrum and in many other ways.
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Ken, you make a very important and concise point here that a culture’s degree of belief in predictability is key to it’s ability to adopt Scrum. It’s a nice cultural indicator to be aware of. I would expect that may be true of any approach to agility. Perhaps you will correct me on that, and feel free . .
I also wonder if a culture’s alignment with the need for and desirability of hierarchy and formal authority might be an equally strong indicator, and I’d appreciate your thoughts on that.
I don’t know if a desire for hierarchy is worse than rampant corruption and working of the system. I think all cultures I’ve worked in are equally desirable and undesirable, except at the level of the team (where it is uniformly great).
Thanks for getting such an important thread going Ken. I think sometimes we feel uncomfortable talking about different cultures but it is a very important subject to discuss.
In the teams I work with I notice that attendees of Asian descent, particularly females, tend to hold back at first. This is fine – it is what it is and the Team needs to work through this. What I try to do is create a safe, comfortable and trusting environment (the team container) where we can all be open and honest. I then tend to turn to questions such as “what would make this team really powerful?” or “what sort of things can we count on from one another?” We might even capture this on a flip chart. One skill I learned from Michael Spayd which I’ve found to be very powerful if the group are very reserved is to just be incredibly honest and accessible and simply say something like “wow – this group feels really quiet and reserved. How does it feel for you guys?”
My role as a coach/trainer/mentor is one of servant leader, and for me one of the most important things I can do is live the Scrum values as behaviours; after all, behaviours are values in action. When I can establish this type of environment, the culture we then collectively create can feel quite different to what many of us have grown up with. As a positive disrupter my job is to help them team feel confident in shaking up the “inherited” or “assumed” culture and create a sub-culture that creates trust and stretches/challenges the parent culture of the organisation. When we together create this type of environment, based on the real heart-felt beliefs of the people, cultural barriers to becoming successful team tend to start to melt away, regardless of background and nationality. I think humans beings are all very similar. Culture merely programmes us with a set of beliefs, some supportive of Scrum, others not. The length of time it takes for a Scrum team to become powerful tends to be proportional to how deeply ingrained these beliefs are.
I agree. It is the same in every culture. In China, I have established Scrum teams for the last 3 years. And if there are some points that make it harder there then in Brazil (my home country), others are easier. It is in the hands of the however is managing the teams the tools to see how to overcome the issues and promote the advantages of each culture.
The main barrier is not between the developers culture and the process, but between their culture and yours (assuming you are laowai :).
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I found one case study for my book In Bhopal, India, where an agricultural advice system was being developed to provide information to the managers of over 500 farms. Using Scrum, at an early stage it became obvious that having a government official as a product owner, based in the research center, when the researcher was based in the farming community would be problematic. Therefore, a local farmer was appointed as product owner. Things then went well.
Source: “Agile Project Management for Government”, page 163
Experience will always trump culture, and Scrum emphasises an experiential approach over strict methodogical orthodoxy, so China will adopt (in time!).
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Wow. You guys are just not even caring about cultural history. I’ve talked to any number of people on the ground about how this stuff is going to work out, internationally, and without some knowledge of the people actually doing the work you are discussing, you are throwing grains of rice in the wind. Where is your reality? What do you do? I’m actually very interested in WHAT, exactly, you guys do. Scrum in China? Well, yeah: you are going to face tremendous barriers. Change, in China, is BAD. A good day, in China, is a day where nothing changes. Have you never heard the proverb, “May you live in interesting times”? Read some literature: READ A BOOK. I’ve been reading your blog since I quit my blue-collar job at Box, and honestly, you guys need a reality check.
Neal, can you say something about your experience with Chinese culture or Scrum?
Neil, what does make you believe that you are right and others are wrong? What is your track record as a change agent?
Great point, Ken. I translated your post in Russian, you can find it here http://www.smartagilee.com/2014/01/blog-post.html
A ‘Change Agent’? Wow. Okay. I work for an hourly wage at a multi-national in the Central US. I am a blue-collar Hard Hat. I perform what what you guys dictate. I am a blue-collar worker. I am the ‘guy on the ground’ who actually is forced to perform your concepts. I will tell you whether it works or not. I will tell you when we get Mexicans fleeing drug violence into the US workplace and their value system(s). I do, in fact, work with two Chinese people who have worked in US-factored production facilities and have a lot to say. You, as ‘change agents’, will be lied to, by everyone. Also, you mis-spelled my name. It’s NEAL, not ‘Neil’.
Get it right.
My track record as a ‘change agent’? Honestly. I’m bringing reality to your check. Do you want to know what I have to say, or do you choose to stay isolated in your little boxes? I quit a job because of the incredible craziness ‘Lean’ brought to it. My blog is a real-time narrative of what you people are visiting on others. You will not get honest feedback anywhere else. Trust me on this.
I do actually apologize. I was thinking about this, and I realize that the gap between concept and implementation is immense; and it’s obvious you guys ‘talk a talk’ that I don’t really speak and have no interest in speaking. My strength, in the Blue-Collar Land, is bringing these two isolated groups together for success. I DO work an hourly job at a multi-national; the reason is that I have severe combat PTSD and don’t much care for interaction with people, at this point in my life. I have a BA in Biology and Chemistry, and could likely do much better than what I’m doing now, but, honestly, I don’t consider material wealth and comfort to be a measure of anything.
And that’s what separates me from the people I work with/for, who are convinced that success in the temporal realm is the sign of God’s Grace. I am what I am; but you guys really should listen to me. I don’t say that lightly.
Neal, I really don’t what I should to say to you after I read your comments!
Well, you could read my post about (attempted) mandated Christian Prayer at a multi-national US-based corporation. Here it is:
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