Creativity Support for SCRUM Teams

Von cs

The words creativity and software development are not very often uttered in the same sentence. For decades, the “engineer’s” perspective on software development has prevailed, following the motto: programming software is like building a house. First you need exact plans, which are then “implemented” by the craftsmen, and finally the proud owner gets the building of his dreams in all its beauty and splendour. In this model, a creative adaptation by the craftsman, probably even one that is not in accordance with the plans, is not desired.

In practice, however, we have seen that the development of (non-trivial) software systems according to the underlying, strictly sequential “waterfall model” is all too often unsatisfactory. This negative experience is not the only reason why eventually a new concept was created, the “agile manifest”. It is nothing short of a change of paradigm: software development is now an empirical, dynamic process highly influenced by the individual parties concerned.

In SCRUM, the focus on individual persons is evident, as you can see if you look at the emphasis on team work (with all members having equal rights). The “protective role” of the SCRUM master, the impediment log, the daily SCRUM meeting and the fixed review phases are also facettes aiming at the appreciation of all team members and the creation of space for them. It is precisely this space that offers the best possible basis for creativity and innovation which otherwise would have had little chance against detail-loving project plans and work-sharing processes.

Following this concept, the IF-/TEG-/TUM Creative-Scrum-Workshop from August, 8th to 9th wanted to find out where and to what extent the creativity of the team can be actively promoted during the SCRUM project process. To this end, the participants were provided with access to idea stream platform ( Idea stream is an application enabling teams to execute creativity techniques via a browser collaboratively (in real-time). The techniques range from “classical” brainstorming and the morphological cube to idea evaluation techniques. There was no rule according to which the participants had to use a certain application. Instead, they were allowed to choose at their own liberty.

The workshop showed that using a creativity support tool in a SCRUM process can make sense at several stages:

– In sprint planning: for dividing the backlog entries into tasks and for weighing various implementing approaches against each other.
– Probably also for cost evaluation (planning poker – but that was not conventionally dealt with in the workshop).
– When looking at it in retrospect: for collecting, organizing and archiving feedback. A participant might feel more comfortable with anonymous brainstorming than with “classical” brainstorming.

– Case-to-case application, probably in ad-hoc groups for processing tasks: participants also made use of the creativity support while working on their tasks. This happened spontaneously and self-organized in ad-hoc groups with different, also changing groups of participants. The idea evaluation function, in particular, was a much-loved instrument in the group.

During a subsequent poll, all participants agreed that using different creativity techniques had a positive impact on the result. The shared, simultaneous work on ideas also received positive support by most of the participants. However, the extra effort required for creativity technique support put a damper on our enthusiasm – although we were aware of the fact that this was mostly due to technical problems during our first workshop day.

The workshop also showed that even a mostly self-organized group needs an experienced moderator in order to work efficiently. Nor will it be possible to replace the moderator in the near future by some computer application or other. Nevertheless, creativity support software can considerably lower the moderation cost by providing structural guidance and information.

Florian Forster, TU München.

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