Book Review: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland

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As a mom and as a project manager, I'm always looking for ways to get work done more quickly. In "Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time," Jeff Sutherland breaks down how Scrum, the project management system that has transformed the technology industry, can be utilized by other industries to vastly increase productivity. I've seen Scrum methods work well in software development, which is where it has traditionally been used, but where I work, in medical devices, it never seemed quite as applicable. Needless to say, I was excited to learn how Sutherland would apply Scrum to other industries.

Sutherland is a co-creator of Scrum so I knew that this book would draw from his previous experiences and his authority on the topic. It begins with the FBI and what they went through to modernize their systems. Let's just say all of the projects fail miserably (we're talking decades and hundreds of millions of dollars) until Scrum is used. The book continues to offer examples on how to effectively use Scrum. Sutherland does a good job of providing takeaways following each chapter to really drive the key concepts home. Here are some of the takeaways that I found particularly impactful:

Planning Is Useful. Blindly Following Plans Is Stupid.
Great Teams Are. They are cross-functional, autonomous, and empowered, with a transcendent purpose.
Don't Guess. Plan, Do, Check, Act.
Blame Is Stupid. Don't look for bad people; look for bad systems-ones that incentivize bad behavior and reward poor performance.
Everyone Knows Everything. Communication saturation accelerates work.
Multitasking Makes You Stupid. Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks. Don't do it.
Only Plan What You Need To. Don't try to project everything out years in advance. Just plan enough to keep your teams busy.
What Kind of Dog Is It? Don't estimate in absolute terms like hours-it's been proven that humans are terrible at that. Size things relatively, by what breed of dog the problem is, or T-shirt size (S, M, L, XL, XXL), or, more commonly, the Fibonacci sequence.
It's the Journey, Not the Destination. True happiness is found in the process, not the result.
A Leader Isn't a Boss. A Product Owner sets out what needs to be done and why. How the team accomplishes it and who accomplishes it is up to the team.

In my favorite example, Sutherland describes how there are teachers in the Netherlands that are using Scrum to teach high school. The students use Scrum boards to plan out what lessons they are going to finish that day. They teach one another and cannot move on until everyone understands all of the concepts and even assign their own homework. The teacher is there to explain particularly tricky topics, but provides the students with the autonomy to complete the work in a way that they see fit. They find ways to study smarter and learn how to work together in teams. Using Scrum, test scores have improved by 10 percent!

Sutherland even offers an intro to Scrum in the appendix to help those new to Scrum get started. Overall, this book convinced me that Scrum or a Scrum-like system will accelerate projects and teams. I still have unique challenges in my job including an organization that is not familiar with Scrum, resources that are not fully allocated to my project, and teams that are not co-located.

My plan is to continue to spread Scrum concepts throughout my organization and develop solutions for the unique challenges that I'm facing. Let me know in in the comments if you'd like to hear more about how I've used Scrum at work.


To learn about the scale I use to rate books, check out this blog post!


Readability = 3 - I listened to this book so it was a little challenging for me to take notes on what I thought were the important concepts. Pro tip: Check out the audiobook and hardcopy book so you can reference it after you listen.

Memorability = 4 - The foundation of this book is set on real world examples. I feel like this is a lot more impactful than just theory alone.

Actionability = 3 - Definitely easier said than done. I'll have to modify the concepts in this book in order to suit my teams and organization. I also have to put some thought into how to use Scrum concepts in mom life. We'll see what happens! How have you effectively used Scrum in a non-software industry? Let me know in the comments!