I wrote this paper for school. My adviser liked it, despite not being familiar with either scrum or complex adaptive systems.
In a talk delivered at Google, one of the early collaborators responsible for the development of the scrum process, Jeff Sutherland described the basics of scrum, and some tips for creating hyper-performing scrum teams. Sutherland states that the most important thing a scrum master can do to increase the performance of a team is to learn the principles of complex adaptive systems. The basic principles underlying complex system are straight forward, and though they are easy to grasp, it’s not always apparent to see how they are relevant to the social and professional interactions of daily life. When applied to a professional team with goals and deadlines, the principles of complex systems run counter to much of what we believe to be true about how things get done. Most of us come to believe that organization and management generally work best when controlled from the top down. We have a strong perception that, in both individuals and groups, there is a central planner that holds the vision and makes it happen according to some plan. The interesting thing about this perception is that it persists despite the ubiquity of evidence to the contrary. In this paper I’ll provide a basic introduction to complex adaptive systems, providing examples of the ways in which bottom-up organization seems to work to well. I’ll also describe the ways in which we ourselves are embodied complex systems, and suggest some tools that you, as a scrum master, can introduce to take advantage of this fact, and make your team happier, more cohesive, and higher-functioning.