Autonomous Autos, Change and Scrum

December 4, 2013

Nissan and Mercedes-Benz have committed to building and marketing self-driving cars by the year 2020, according to Popular Science magazine. In October 2013, the BBC reported that Ford was building “a car that takes control of the steering wheel when it detects the risk of a collision” and testing it in Aachen, Germany. “Other manufacturers involved in the project at Aachen include BMW, Fiat, Daimler, Volvo and Volkswagen. They will share data from the tests to develop systems of their own,” the BBC said. These reports underscore two realities that are shaping the business world today: competitors are finding it necessary to cooperate in ways never before expected in order to profit from the rapid pace of innovation, and the rapid pace of innovation continues to grow more and more rapid.

Survival in the current business environment depends on being able to anticipate, embrace, and manage innovation. Innovation is the word people use for change when they want to avoid the baggage that comes with “managing change.”  One of the best management frameworks for managing change without all the baggage is Scrum. As companies have scrambled to find ways to leverage innovation, such as collaboration with competitors, an increasing number have been looking to Agile management methods; the most popular of which is Scrum. Ruth Kim, VP of Academics at VMEdu, Inc. an affiliate of, explains, “Scrum embraces change, traditional PM and ITIL are about controlling or managing changes. Scrum does not fight change, as other approaches do, that is why it can be so reactive and successful in certain fast-changing environments. Traditional approaches look at changes as risks that need to be fully documented, approved, scoped, etc. before accepting a change. By the time that happens, a Scrum project would have already implemented it and learned from it.”

Scrum originated in software development and many of those spreading its use—including its founders—continue to focus in that field. However, others such as SCRUMstudy have been helping individuals, companies, and organizations apply Scrum principles and practices to domains outside software development.

Scrum has unique abilities to not just handle innovation and the changes that it brings, but to embrace it and use it to increase productivity and profits. Kim says, “Scrum is a tool for the ultimate expression of innovation as a project approach. It fosters or cultivates innovation by lifting up the team to do what they can do best. The close collaboration between the cross-functional team members and the customer/Product Owner allow rapid feedback loops to be able to try out and learn from many more approaches than in a rigid Waterfall approach.”

Self-driving cars will open up opportunities for new products and services beyond the software that drives them. How might outdoor advertising take advantage of the fact that drivers will be paying attention to more than just traffic signs and the distance to the car in front of them? How will insurance companies responds to fewer accidents and fewer claims? What will fewer fender benders mean for the body shop down the street? The very real possibility of autonomous autos impacting all business sectors becomes readily apparent. Project management experts say that the Scrum framework and organizations like SCRUMstudy can help those businesses prosper by leveraging all the change.

Software development has played and will continue to play the defining role in making the innovations that are reshaping the world possible. Scrum’s founders understand that reality very well and have the vision to keep making that field stronger, faster, more accurate, and more agile. The arrival of the truly autonomous, self-driving car will present new opportunities for flexible Scrum Teams to design and develop innovative software applications. What about a “commute mode” setting on your iPad, tablet, or notebook that monitors the car’s progress and informs you when you are within two minutes of arriving at your destination? Or software that compares the route your car is taking to your daily to-do list and suggests errands that you can do along the way?

Proponents of self-driving cars assert that autonomous cars are the prototype of software and physical reality relating in new and dramatic ways. Three-D printing is another example of this evolving relationship. The growth of 3-D printing is swiftly closing the gap between design and reality. Once a design leaves the inventor’s mind and enters a computer’s CAD library, it can be used immediately to create its physical entity with a 3-D printing unit. Some are saying that there is now no gap between software and physical reality. A striking consequence of this is the need for non-software companies to be able to think like software companies. This is where frameworks and methodologies such as Scrum and companies such as SCRUMstudy come in. By adopting the change-embracing principles and functionality of Scrum, manufacturing, marketing and service companies can think like the innovators who are driving the future.


“Driving Toward Autonomy.”  Popular Science. Dec. 2013. vol. 283: no. 6. p. 45

Kelion. Leo. 9 October 2013. “Ford car takes control of steering to avoid collisions.” BBC News; Technology.  15 November 2013.

“Scientists Steer Car With the Power of Thought.” 21 February 2011. Science Daily online. 15 November 2013.


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