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Entrepreneurial Operating System® / Traction®- How does it relate to Agile/Scrum?

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I’m hearing from more and more companies that are using the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®) and are also looking at or practicing Agile e.g. using Scrum. In discussions with these companies two key questions surface time after time:

  • My teams want to use Agile/Scrum – is that aligned with the fact that we’re using EOS® in the organization?
  • My teams use Agile/Scrum, can we use EOS®? 

The short answer is that Agile and specifically Scrum and EOS®are mostly complementary. 

EOS®, as well as Agile approaches, emphasize focus, alignment, a disciplined approach with structured events, artifacts, and policies that attempt to limit the amount of work in process (WIP) in a systematic way, and create better flow with cadence. 

So what’s one big thing that’s different about Agile/Scrum in comparison to EOS®? Transparency and Empiricism

Transparency is emphasized in both but is used differently. Both approaches make the work transparent. Agile frameworks like Scrum are designed to deal with VUCA  (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) through empiricism – an aspect which EOS®isn’t explicitly solving for. And in this environment Transparency goes much further – it is not just awareness of what the team and individuals on the team are working on – it is the transparency of whether the product of the team’s work (whether the team is building a product or leading a company) is working and effective. 

Scrum can help teams:

  • align towards the Vision – making the Vision or a specific sub-aspect of it their “Product Goal” (even if they’re not a Product team – it’s the overarching goal for the product of their work – be it winning deals, operating the company, growing, etc. ) 
  • plan and deliver on their Rocks and achieve Traction®- by using Product Backlogs, Sprints, and potentially concepts like “Program Increments” from SAFe which align very well with the EOS®Quarter. 
  • EOS® Big Rocks can map almost 1:1 to PI Objectives. For teams, We recommend having them at the team level and not an individual contributor in order to drive collaborative collective ownership towards results. When scaling across the organization each team/function does have its own list of PI Objectives/Big Rocks like in EOS, as well as an organization-wide list of Big Rocks / PI Objectives. 
  • SAFe PI Planning or other types of Big Room Planning could complement EOS®Quarterly planning by involving the actual Teams and not just the function leads in the planning and accountability cycle. 
  • Issues are very similar to Risks and how they’re managed in SAFe via ongoing ROAMing (Resolving, Owning, Accepting, Mitigating)
  • Scrum Sprints map to the Weekly Level 10 cycle. Sprint Review/Retrospective/Planning is an opportunity to inspect and adapt where we are within the quarter, which is especially important in VUCA We’re not just executing a quarterly plan. We’re intentionally learning what works/doesn’t and adjusting course accordingly. 

Another opportunity is to use Scrum at the leadership level – as a way to apply more empiricism to complement EOS®discipline. 

  • All of the above could be used by the leadership team itself. 
  • The “Product Backlog” is focused on the “product” of the leadership team’s work – which is leading the company – solving issues, growing, implementing strategies/tactics, etc. Changes in Process, People, Dealing with Issues, Advancing Rocks. 
  • The Increment of each Sprint is not just a “Done / Not Done” answer to to-do items – it’s an actual “working change” in how the company operates. (For example – list of candidates for a VP position, draft scorecard, analysis of desired profitability range, etc. ) This Increment is ready for the leadership team to inspect, review, with the goal of adapting their plans (Product Backlog) accordingly each and every Sprint/Week. A leadership team could also decide to run longer Sprints e.g. Monthly and use a weekly cycle similar to Scrum’s “Daily Scrum” to inspect and adapt progress within the Sprint. The Sprint length should match the level of VUCA the leadership team/company is facing. 
  • Leadership Team acts as the “Developers” of the “Product”
  • The PO/SM Scrum roles could map several ways –
    • Option 1
      • Visionary – Product Owner
      • Integrator – Scrum Master
    • Option 2
      • Visionary and Integrator™- Sharing the Product Owner role
      • Dedicated coach/Scrum expert as the Scrum Master

Similar to how EOS®starts at the top, Organizations NOT using Scrum yet could use Scrum to complement EOS® at the top level and then expand from there into the various teams. 

This would follow the guidelines/mapping described above. In this scenario, a solid Scrum Training/Coaching would be provided to the leadership team in advance of the whole organization and they would become Scrum Practitioners better able to understand as well as drive what’s going on when Scrum/EOS®gets implemented throughout the organization. 

For teams in an organization using EOS®…

If you’re starting to use Scrum in an organization using EOS®or if you’re using Scrum and your organization is in the process of implementing EOS®the list of mappings above will help you create some common language and reduce the conflict/confusion that might arise due to running both EOS®and Scrum at the same time. 

Real/Imaginary conflicts between Scrum and EOS®

Is EOS®Waterfall? 

The main aspect of EOS®that looks waterfallish is the fact that it runs a quarterly cycle with planning the Rocks for the quarter in advance. I don’t consider that waterfall. And if care is given to making sure that Rocks focus on WHAT rather than HOW and leave enough space to account for variability/learning, I don’t see a problem. It’s very similar to SAFe’s PI-level planning, which is again properly done with an eye towards emerging learning and adjusting course as needed while staying focused on the high-level objectives for the quarter. 

How about individual accountability in EOS®- isn’t that in conflict with Scrum’s “Collective Ownership” approach? Isn’t EOS®in the way of Teamwork? 

Indeed this is a potential area of conflict. But even EOS®makes several mentions of the fact that in order to succeed team members need to prioritize the team’s rocks over their individual ones and support each other. When implementing EOS®there should be an emphasis on accountability towards team rocks rather than individual rocks, even at the leadership team level. 

Isn’t EOS® Micro-management under a thin veil? 

The way to look at this is that EOS®allows teams to micro-manage their work – with the understanding that in a VUCA environment there’ll be lots of surprises and emerging realities that are better addressed quickly. The Integrator role, like the Scrum Master, should lead the team through this discipline of tight-loop inspection and adaptation, rather than feel a need to micromanage work or output. Learning the proper “Leaders who Serve” Scrum Master mindset would be very useful to any EOS leader if he wants to avoid EOS becoming a checklist-based micro-management tool. 

 

Conclusion

As you can see above, as long as you understand the purpose and practices of EOS®, Agile, and Scrum, and are thinking about how they can complement each other, you can definitely use them in tandem. If you want some help in thinking through what this would mean in your context, we’ll be happy to discuss it further.

 

Credits to Erez Tatcher, AgileSparks CEO who participated in the thinking and writing of this article.

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