Scrum: Working as a Cohesive Unit Through the Product Development Cycle — Skalar

Scrum: where it started.

Scrum is founded on ideas from research by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka when they collaborated in the late 1980s at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. This is not the “Scrum” that many companies around the world are using today. It was developed later by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in the 1990s, but it was leaning heavily on the ideas of Takeuchi and Nonaka. It is interesting to go into the ideas that later influenced the “Scrum” we know today, outlined in their article “The Knowledge-Creating Company” as they can help develop a more nuanced understanding of the reasoning behind the strict ceremonies and roles that belong to the modern “Scrum” framework.

The organizational dynamics behind successful innovative product development

A combination of organisational characteristics are behind the new dynamics which leads to more innovative outcomes and success in the development of complex products. According to Takeuchi and Nonaka these new dynamics are created from multiple different organisational characteristics working together, encompassing the following principles:

  • Built in instability
  • Self organizing project teams
  • Overlapping development phases
  • Multi-learning
  • Subtle control
  • Organisational transfer of learning

Built-in instability

By giving broader goals and a strategic general direction instead of micro-managing a single cohesive development team, there is more freedom for experimentation to figure out their own way of optimally solving the tasks ahead. However, this increased freedom is combined with very demanding goals set by management teams. This creates tension between the freedom afforded vs. reaching the demanding requirements set and adds pressure contributing to more creative and innovative outcomes.

Self organising product teams

For a product development team to have a self organising capability, it requires three characteristics: autonomy, self transcendence and cross fertilization.

Overlapping development phases

Having a multidisciplinary group with the same responsibilities as in the sequential development process, means areas such as R&D and production must be able to synchronize and finish by the same deadlines.


Due to the increased freedom and room for experimentation, the product development team learns a lot throughout the development process. This happens in two different dimensions: multi-level learning and multi-functional learning.

Subtile control

The management style that should be applied to the product development team is called “subtle control.” Management is done not through direct task allocation, but by giving checkpoints and goals open for different ways of accomplishing them. Other ways subtile control is achieved is by adjacent factors such as team composition, the work environment and a higher tolerance for failures.

Organizational transfer of learning

Transfer of learning happens through placing key people from earlier product development projects into new ones which allows for them to share their accumulated knowledge to new team members.

To summerize

What Takeuchi and Nonaka set out to do was to identify how innovative companies excelled at new product development. What they observed was that, in place of the commonplace sequential product development process, these companies all had variants of more cohesive approaches. With units working together throughout the development cycle, autonomy and self-guidance, led by larger objectives. This made for more creativity, cross-fertilisation of ideas and a larger extent of learning in the product development teams. All important factors of success in developing complex and unique products.



Smart digital products, the skalar way. |

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Smart digital products, the skalar way. |