Scrum — Self-organisation isn’t a fluffy thing

Self-Organisation is about creativity and productivity

Willem-Jan Ageling
Serious Scrum


All the talk about self organisation is not because we wish to be all shiny happy people.

Shiny happy people — REM

Happiness is an added benefit. But what IS the reason for self-organisation then?

Interestingly the Scrum Guide doesn’t say WHY self-organisation is a good idea. It’s almost as if the creators of Scrum don’t feel the need to inform you why self-organisation is important. It’s assumed to be clear to everyone why it’s the way to go. In my humble opinion this doesn’t help to make a case that it is very important.

What’s so awesome is that the article that started Scrum — “The New New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka (1986)— does have a better explanation. It provides some clear examples where self-organisation proves to be more effective, leading to higher quality products faster:

  • The team at IBM that was asked to design a personal computer in the early 80's.
  • The team at Honda that was assigned to develop “the kind of car that the youth segment would like to drive” which resulted in the Honda City/Jazz.

The first Scrum paper of 1995 didn’t mention self-organisation. It appears that the notion of self-organisation wasn’t picked up in early nineties Scrum. This while Extreme Programming (XP) did see it as a vital factor for success:

“The most brilliant programmers alive working competitively in an ego-rich environment can’t get as much done as ordinary programmers working cooperatively as a self disciplined and self-organizing team. You need a process where team empowerment and collaboration thrive to reach your full potential.” —

There used to be a strong cross-pollination between XP and Scrum in those days, one inspiring the other. And what’s more: the people that created and popularised Scrum and XP met with other bright minds in 2001 when they created the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Self-organisation is mentioned as one of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto:

“The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” — Principle of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development (2001)

In 2001, as mentioned in the book “Agile Software Development with Scrum” by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle (2001), it is clear that it has become part of Scrum:

“A team often goes through a short period during which it doesn’t understand that it has full authority. […] This surprise quickly disappears and the productivity of self-organization takes hold” — Agile Software Development with Scrum 2001

Self-organisation is part of the framework ever since. Without context, assuming that this knowledge does not add to the description of the Scrum framework.

Scrum and other Agile practices embrace self-organisation because these teams are more creative and productive. Not because of a fluffy notion to make the world a better place.

Self-organisation is a prerequisite for productive, creative teams.

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Willem-Jan Ageling
Serious Scrum Writer, editor, founder of Serious Scrum. I love writing about maximizing value.