Sovkhoz Syndrom

Due to recent participation in Scrum teams at Enterprise-sized companies, I’ve noticed some interesting parallels with the socialist past of certain countries…

Farming in the USSR

Many moons ago, several countries were organized into a big enterprise called ‘The Soviet Union’ or USSR.

In order to make every working class citizen appear to add value, everything was planned: the Five Year Plans.

Another consequence of the aim to get as many workers involved were the large scala Soviet Farms. These were completely state owned (unlike the Kolkhoz, which represented the Collective Farm, slightly less property of The State).

On these Sovkhoz everybody was working on a small part of the whole chain of activities necessary to implement farming. No one was actually responsible for the end-product. Productivity was low. People were unhappy. Why? Because they were not adding anything to the actual/practical end product. Proof? Everyone on such a Sovkhoz could also work on his/her own little stretch of land. These small patches were actually enormously productive! Apart from their own needs, the farmers were able to sell their over-produce on markets.

Agile, self-steering teams

In my experience the large, enterprise scala ‘agile’ teams I have been part of suffer the same problem: because of religious Scrum followers large teams are treated as one entity, a collective. Due to the limited possibilities for claiming tasks, the individual members of large teams are not working on the end-product, but only on small elements thereof. No responsibility for the actual product, no contact with actual customers/users and so no joy in the release of the product.

My Advice

According to Mary Poppendieck, teams should be small and passionate: I would like to add that each team member works on the end-product and has regular contact with clients/customers/users. This is not what I was told during my Scrum Master course: all communications with stake-holders should be through the Product Owner. That is just plain stupid. Marketing or Sales are often the main stake-holders and many times there are many stake-holders from different parts of these departments. In my experience a Product Owner cannot handle all communications with all stakeholders and certainly should not be bothered with technical details.

Also Jurgen Appelo agrees (or rather and to be fair: I agree with him), as can be read in his blogpost on this subject. Which makes me suspect I’m on the right track ;-)