What is your company Standard Time?

So I started thinking about recent conversation I had with someone regarding the discipline with adoption of Scrum within a large group, with 5-7 teams. As we touched on her observations and current condition as experienced by the teams, she pointed out the fact that these teams valued autonomy as such one expression of this was they had freely established their own sprint cadence and were unlikely to give this up. This was in the context of the suggestion that it would be valuable to establish a single sprint cadence across the group, be it mapped out across two or more weeks, as it will remove all the wasteful activities needed to synchronize across these teams.

The next day, was Friday morning and as part of my daily routine I watched the recording of from night before of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart show of September 25th 2014

Steven Johnson, author of How We Got to Now was being interviewed by Jon Stewart. He explained that his book was about the history of inventions and a look back as to how we got to now given an outcome we see today and often take it for granted. He points out, as in the case of clean water, that for most of us is a simple act of filling a glass at the faucet, is build on top of hundreds of inventions that proceeded in history. He then pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to TiVo shows like this had it not been the simple invention of standard time.

It works out that until 1918 every town in America had defined there own time standard, there was no concept of standard time across U.S.A. Would you believe if it wasn’t for the railway system we probably wouldn’t have seen the need for standard time. Even then, it wasn’t until 1883 every railroad had their own time standard, not to mention every town on the line defining its own to complicate the simple matter.

 

Departure Schedule at London's Kings Cross station.

Departure Schedule at London’s Kings Cross station.

 

Imagine the confusion there must have been if you were a passenger, what time would you keep to  whether departing or arriving at your destination, let alone the notion of having to keep a travel connection. Yet in 1870 Charles Dowd had proposed for North American railroads four time zones based on the meridian through Washington D.C. Standard time. As it turns out this wasn’t enacted into law until the 1918 Standard Time Act  which established not only standard time and time zones in U.S. law but also daylight saving time (DST) for the welfare of a working population in the industrial age. Though, the DST was repealed in 1919 and it wasn’t reestablished nationally until WWII.

So this short history on standard time as an invention aside, it seems to me that many groups have now adopted Scrum and Agile practices yet they often haven’t established a standard cadence and thus standard time. This issue is no more amplified than when working on the Cloud train, given this is a colossal effort with participation from many domain groups across the company which means many teams. So the question is:

[Q] Shouldn’t a company establish standard time for itself?

[Q] Wouldn’t a standard cadence followed by all agile teams in the company have the same benefit as standard time had for everyone?

I think so, as for one imagine the waste in the overall system of development we could remove as a result. Think of all the things that are done in the name of coordination and synchronization just because groups of teams do not follow a standard cadence. Now, in its place all who participate in this endeavor could have the time to add greater value primarily for customers and of course themselves. The very people who otherwise are having to do the many activities to keep an illusion of synchronicity at all times when they hadn’t the same start point nor a point in time when re-sync takes place, as is the case when following iterative development.

If you think this is pie in the sky then let me point you to company which did just that almost 10 years ago. Some forty miles north of San Jose, head quartered in San Francisco, CA is a well known enterprise cloud company. As best as I can recall when they first adopted Agile/Scrum across the entire R&D group and then the rest of the company they had established a standard cadence and hence standard time within the company. Mind you, I do not recall anyone in the scrum adoption group pointing out the value of this was synchronization. May be it was by pure chance given this adoption came as an edict from the EVP, who at first hand saw its value and thus required all teams will be working this way. In essence all scrum teams were readied within 3 months time frame so that they could to be on a journey and quest to deliver what was to be 12 releases a year. While 12 releases a year remained illusive at least when I was there, it definitely had us marching to the same rhythm and beat which was only amplified by a company wide end-of-sprint demo days. This is where every team/group demonstrated their sprint outcomes as in working software. This of course fueled the business driven release cadence they had adopted, which stood at a release a quarter, some ways away from 12 release a year!.

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