Scrum and politics – too scary to contemplate?
Scrum is gaining support across the IT community as a long-awaited and logical evolution from the hierarchical development methodologies of the previous decades. The reasons for its popularity are simple: it empowers the users, the very group of people that will have to live and interact with the results of the system delivery. By enabling this group to actively participate in the design and building of the systems, we allow them to re-define and shape their own reality. It’s all about power to the people, as opposed to the former methodologies, where a small group of technocrats imposed their own interpretations of what users “needed”, then spent months (or years) trying to come up with complex solutions that, more often than not, failed to meet major expectations or even lacked substantial functionality.
Scrum listens to rapidly changing demands, delivers functionality that works, and adapts solutions whenever the situation calls for it. So why not try it in other areas?
Having worked in Switzerland for more than a decade, one aspect of the country has struck me as particularly appealing: the principle of direct democracy. Switzerland is blissfully devoid of that pyramidal structure you find almost anywhere else; a small elite, usually consisting of a few hundred people, defining and enforcing laws and political directions. Instead, the country has a tradition of public votes on all levels of government, ensuring the possibility of the electorate to not only choose their preferred “rulers” but also to participate in the outcome of important political decisions.
Swiss politicians are functionaries more than rulers. If the people, or “users”, signals a thumbs down, the political course is appropriately altered. Based on specific numbers of collected signatures, the “users” can request additional “features”, or cancel existing ones. When the (tax) bill arrives, they can rest relatively assured that the amounts they pay reflects the will of the majority, not a remote elite with sometimes obscure motives.
This bears a striking resemblance to Scrum. In a well-performing Scrum project, developers and users come together to find common ground, and to review progress and project direction. Features that are not needed, or not considered worth paying for, are scrapped or rejected. On the other hand, if the users decide on added or altered functionality, these new requests are taken into account (costs and time allowing). The final product can differ considerably from the early sketches, based on this continuous feedback and consensus-driven input from the major stakeholders – the users.
On the other hand, political top-down systems, or what our rulers love to call “representative democracies”, closely resemble the ancient development methodologies of the past. Political parties set out their directions in stone, finely honing their manifests, with little or no room for dissent. Once elected, they may of course deviate from their own ideologies, usually fuelled by a mix of failing to understand real-world constraints and the need for political concessions in order to stay in power, but one thing remains sure: a government never asks it’s people for any kind of advice. Once election day is over, the government sets out implementing their own ideas of what they perceive the “users” of needing. Not once are said users allowed to actively provide corrective feedback or input in order to alter the political decisions, or even asked our opinion on specific issues – even if the outcome has huge national or local impact.
The result is an evil circle: a set of decisions which more often than not fail to resound with the majority of the population, and a tendency among the electorate to subsequently deride and despise the enforcing politicians. People are faced with a multitude of regulations, rules and laws they fail to grasp and never asked for in the first place, as well as costly projects that only benefits small sub-groups among the electorate, instead of being given the opportunity to provide continuous feedback and changing the features of our “system”. Because of this, we despise and loath the political figureheads for their lack of competence, common sense and inability to connect with us.
Switzerland got it right from the beginning. For more than 700 years, this country has actively pursued Scrum as the fundamental base of it’s political system. Decisions are implemented based on consensus, and the people provide a constant flow of feedback. Granted, this sometimes slows down the implementation, but at the end of the day, the “users” can rest fairly assured that the bill they’re footing is a reflection of what they asked for, not the result of a governmental group of bureaucrats with a fixed idea of what suits them best.
Strange, then, that even as Scrum gains in popularity across the development environment, only the Swiss prevail in using it as a political ideology.
Time for a revolution, anyone?