The Importance of Scrum & Agile – Harvard Business Review

The May 2016 edition of the Harvard Business Review includes a notable article providing advice to executives who wish to promote and benefit from Agile. “Embracing Agile” is of particular interest since it is authored by:

Hirotaka Takeuchi –  who in 1986 helped stimulate the emergence of Agile with a ground breaking HBR article on innovation; he is now a Harvard professor

Jeff Sutherland – who with Ken Schwaber fleshed out the Scrum methodology in 1995

Darrell Rigby – a partner with management consultants, Bain, specialising in global innovation

Agile signifies an iterative approach to project management characterised by self-managing teams and an ability to flex in response to external changes. “Scrum” is an interpretation of Agile with tightly defined roles, processes and language.  For IT solution development Agile and Scrum have become the default approach for organisations worldwide. The appearance of this latest article in such a learned management journal underlines the fact that Agile and Scrum are truly mainstream, and can no longer be dismissed as light weight fads.

The HBR article concentrates on when it’s appropriate to extend Agile beyond the IT teams, and how to increase its effectiveness by embedding the principles at ALL levels within the organisation.

Focus is an Agile training specialist offering the most comprehensive range of both standardised and customised training courses. The most popular options:

Certified ScrumMaster

  • A 2 day immersion in Scrum
  • Accredited by the Scrum Alliance and inclusive of 2 years’ membership
  • Ideal for those working primarily in a software development or other organisations adopting a Scrum methodology

Agile Project Management Foundation & Practitioner

  • A 4 or 5 day course encompassing the full agile project lifecycle
  • Less emphasis on one specific agile methodology
  • Ideal for those applying Agile more broadly than just software development

PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner

  • A 3 day extension for PRINCE2 Practitioners
  • Explains how Agile and Scrum approaches can be used to adapt PRINCE2 methods
  • Ideal for those wanting to combine the benefits of both Agile delivery and a more structured project environment


Whilst organisations as diverse as GE and Spotify enthuse about the ability to accelerate innovation and growth by breaking down traditional boundaries and inflexibility, the authors point to the failure of business leaders to fully harness the power of Agile. It’s a regular theme from many agile advocates that too many senior managers see Agile as just another set of administrative processes rather than a radically different business culture. The article provides a series of tips for those who want to fully embrace Agile.

Learn the Basics

  • There are many Agile variants including Scrum, Kanban, Lean Development and DSDM
  • Experts often combine various approaches. The key lies in the core values and principles – neatly summed up by the Agile Manifesto

Understand When Agile is Appropriate

  • More appropriate for product development, marketing, strategic planning, and supply-chain innovation
  • Less appropriate for routine operations such as plant maintenance, purchasing, sales and accounting

Start Small – Spread Organically

  • The most successful Agile introductions start small, often in IT, then spread incrementally

Allow Customisation

  • Scrum purists will object but mature Agile adopters will improvise and adapt to suit their specific environment

Practice Agile at the Top

  • Reassign leaders’ time from functional silos to Agile leadership teams

Destroy Corporate Barriers to Agile

  • Pockets of legacy culture and processes will undermine Scrum and Agile achievements

Perhaps the most interesting content within the article is the section on when Agile is appropriate. As Agile has become more mainstream so all involved have needed to temper missionary zeal with pragmatism. In recent years we have seen the IT centric DSDM approach fleshed out into a broader set of agile project management best practice. We have seen Scrum adopters evolve hybrid solutions to cope with unavoidable compliance barriers and contractual boundaries. We have even seen guidance from PRINCE2 on how best to integrate Agile and Scrum approaches with more structured control and governance.


You can access the full article on the HBR website: