The Value of Self-Organization

January 18, 2016

When people think about the corporate world, they often picture a hierarchical system in which orders filter through a chain of command that starts with the micromanaging CEO and ends with submissive, low-wage workers. That’s not the case in the world of Scrum, where self-organization plays an essential role. Scrum embraces “servant leadership,” which emphasizes achieving results by focusing on the needs of the Scrum Team. The belief is that when employees are self-organized they are self-motivated and seek greater responsibility, resulting in much greater value.

When paired with cross-functionality, self-organization offers Scrum Teams great flexibility. The use of cross-functional teams ensures that all of the skills and knowledge required to carry out the work of a project exists within the team itself. This provides an efficient working model that results in the creation of deliverables that are potentially shippable and ready for demonstration. Self-organization ensures that Scrum Team members determine on their own how to do the work of the project without a senior manager micromanaging their tasks. Having cross-functional and self-organized teams allows the group to adapt and effectively manage the ongoing work and any minor issues or changes without having to obtain support or expertise from members outside of the team.

The benefits continue. Self-organization leads to team buy-in and shared ownership, team-wide motivation and an innovative environment conducive to growth. Initiative, creativity and enthusiasm have room to grow when not shackled to tight parameters. It is important to note that self-organization does not mean that team members are allowed to act in any manner that they want to. It just means that once the Product Vision is defined in the Create Project Vision process, the Scrum Core Team itself works very closely with relevant stakeholders to refine requirements to match that vision through the Develop Epic(s) and Create User Stories process.

Prioritization is primarily done by the Product Owner who represents the Voice of Customer, but the self-organized Scrum Team is involved in task breakdown and estimation during the Create Tasks and Estimate Tasks processes. During these processes, each team member is responsible for determining what work he or she will be doing. The Scrum Team and Scrum Master work closely to demonstrate the product increment created during the Sprint in the Demonstrate and Validate Sprint process where properly completed deliverables are accepted. Since the deliverables are potentially shippable, the Product Owner and the customer can clearly visualize and articulate the value being created after every Sprint. In turn, Scrum Teams have the satisfaction of seeing their hard work being accepted by the customer and other stakeholders.

Although self-organization does not mean team members have free rein to do as they please, it presents an opportunity not to languish under the reign of a suffocating hierarchy. When employees are self-organized they are self-motivated, and when employees are self-motivated they generate much greater value. And that’s when deliverables make it rain.

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