The SCRUM and the willpower: how neuroscience can boost your productivity

Willpower is the force that is between the brain activity (I want to do this or I need to do this) and the action itself (start coding). If there is not enough willpower, people find it difficult to start any activity (especially that involves
decision making).


What is the standard approach when you feel tired and find it difficult to concentrate? Take some coffee (but latest research shows that coffee depletes the brain activity, even when body has more energy), take some sweets (but sugar ends quickly and gives even more exhaustion to the body)? These widely used strategies generally do not work, and in long-term even add harm to the body and brain.


The willpower is not endless (so-called muscle theory of willpower), it can be saved, it can be trained, there are approaches how to keep the willpower level high. To keep the willpower (and thus, productivity) on the high level, people should know and use different approaches that lay in the field on the social and cognitive science.


There are a lot of evidences that SCRUM improves the developer’s productivity in terms of speed of development, code quality, and accuracy of design. Unfortunately mainly all recommendations from SCRUM coaches look like “believe me, if you do this, you will have better velocity”. Yes, it works. But why does it work?


Sometimes SCRUM does not give such great results even when main elements are in place. The question “Why” and “What makes the difference” is here again.


I will describe the model of relationship between the willpower related brain metabolism on very low level (specific amino acid cycle) and the SCRUM practices. I can prove that SCRUM addresses the productivity of the people’s brain using 3 different flows simultaneously. There are several tips that make these productivity flows working or not. You can make Agile productive, you can have non-productive Agile. I will show you where the difference is.


Overall there are 10 productivity tips that can be put into 3 flows.


As the outcome of this session, Agile coaches, and all people who can change the process (in fact that is any team member) will review their SCRUM: does the way they have it improve the productivity or they are losing all the power? The changes are cheap, the outcome can be huge.

 
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Outline/structure of the Session

Presentation type - lecture
Introduction: 5 minutes; I am going to describe my background so the audience
understands how I came to this topic and can build the trust. Also here I will
convince people why they may want to look at their productivity and what is expected
from the Agile teams. I will list the types of knowledge involved and warn the
people that this will be quite an intense brain exercise with a lot of new
information and call for action.
The neurological piece: 10 minutes; I plan to go deeper to describe the biological
foundation for the brain productivity and what happens with the brain if there are
not enough proper amino acids.
The productivity piece: 10 minutes; What actions lead to the great brain cognitive
abilities?
The SCRUM and the brain: 10 minutes: I will draw the 3 flows that exist in the SCRUM
process that make the brain work more effectively. For each SCRUM part I will
describe how you can perform it so it boosts the performance and what actions lead
you to normally weak productivity.
Call for action: 5 minutes: Each description will have a call for action: so
everyone can check, do they make SCRUM in Productivity way or in ordinary way. This
makes the lecture more interactive and people will immediately have the personal
outcome, like they do on the training.
Wrap Up: 5 minutes: Questions and answers.

Learning Outcome

Learning outcomes:

As the result of this session people will:
- Create the list of immediate improvements to existing SCRUM process
- Analyze do they use their brain in the productive way or not
- Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters will have new type of arguments when they
are proposing changes

This session is more like a discussion about how to make brain working better, what
the drawbacks are and how the change can be done by everybody. I got very positive
feedback on this topic from local conferences and inside my company. Also this topic
is quite unusual for Agile conferences and will bring a good contrast and variety
with experience reports about using Agile.

Target Audience

Any role, especially Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches are welcome

schedule Submitted 4 years ago

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comment Comment on this Proposal
  • AgileSattva Consulting LLP
    By AgileSattva Consulting LLP  ~  1 year ago
    reply Reply

    Very interesting connection between scrum and neuroscience. Its all about bringing in predictability and rhythm! I am coming to think about if 45 mins is enough as there is a vast set of information you are covering. If thats not enough, see if you would like to pick few of those cncepts and make it more effective! 

     

    • Anna Obukhova
      By Anna Obukhova  ~  4 years ago
      reply Reply

      Hello Deepak

      Thank you for your feedback and improvement suggestion. I tried this topic in 60 and 45 minutes speech and both went good. I agree that there is huge set of information there (usually 1 slide is a whole book or a large concept), but these concepts are well-known.  What I can see is that people are able to catch the idea and if they have questions or desire to know more, the references are available and they always are able to catch me during the conference.

      I would be happy to have 60 minutes slot for this topic, but 90 minutes seem to be too long and people lose the willpower and brain focus))

      Thanks

      Anna

  • Ebin John
    By Ebin John  ~  4 years ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Anna,

    Very interesting topic. I hope you are going to map  In the conference we have Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Scruban enthusiasts. I personally feel that the talk will be more effective if you could accommodate other framework as well (not only scrum).

    - Ebin

    • Anna Obukhova
      By Anna Obukhova  ~  3 years ago
      reply Reply

      Hi Ebin,

      Thank you for considering this topic interesting, I'm also very excited about it.

      Do you have any links/references to the evidence that other than Scrum techniques have hyperproductivity like what Jeff Sutherland found? If yes, please send them to me, I would be happy to include this and investigate what pearts of it may contribute.

      I absolutely agree that all Agile frameworks are brilliant and use several tips that make life and productivity better, I can mention this, bit I see only Scrum that has maximum concentration of these, that is why I used it as an example.

      In any case, knowing what principles are related with the productivity and willpower saving can improve the behaviour and performance in any framework.

      Thanks

      Anna

       

  • Naresh Jain
    By Naresh Jain  ~  3 years ago
    reply Reply

    Anna, this is a great topic. Love how you've pitch the whole connection between habits and productivity and blended it with how the brain functions.

    In your talk I see that you are referring a lot to Scrum, but actaully I feel this body of knowledge can actually be applied at process level (like eXtreme Programming which is a super-set of Scrum [framework]. XP has everything Scrum has and many more usefull values, principles and practices beyond it.)

    I knew that L-lysine is a basic building block of protein and it helps convert fatty acids to energy. But I was not aware of its connection with willpower. Is there any research which will help me understand the connection better?

    100% agree with you on "Take one cup of coffee with sugar and that's the worst thing you can do." Some folks refer to it as a "brain-drain" technqiue. A quick way to drain your brain.

    Also you claim that to set something as a habit, you need to do the same exact steps in the same order in the same environment 15 times in a row and hence you need to do something at least for 21 days for it to become a habit. I'm intrigued. Where can I find data to back these numbers?

    You suggest to become hyper productive on needs to do the daily scrum at the same time, same place, in the same order of people and with the same set of questions in the same order. How practical do you think this is?

    • Anna Obukhova
      By Anna Obukhova  ~  3 years ago
      reply Reply

      Hi Naresh,

      Thank you for the interest, answering in the body with [Anna] mark to start the answer.

      Anna, this is a great topic. Love how you've pitch the whole connection between habits and productivity and blended it with how the brain functions.

      [Anna] – Thank you! I love the topic as well and it happened that people who already visited my talks on that, recommend it to their friends on the conferences that I feel very encouraging.

      In your talk I see that you are referring a lot to Scrum, but actaully I feel this body of knowledge can actually be applied at process level (like eXtreme Programming which is a super-set of Scrum [framework]. XP has everything Scrum has and many more usefull values, principles and practices beyond it.)

      [Anna] Yes, I agree that XP, Kanban and other Agile approaches have a lot in similar practices and they all share great success. I’m referring to hyperproductivity in Scrum, which is supported by Jeff Sutherland’s article and set of conference talks that are very well-known and cited, but I don’t have such articles or conference proceedings or my own measures about XP. I would be glad if you can point me to some, I would be happy to improve the presentation adding this. Anyway I can mention during the talk that even if people do not use Scrum, but use these principles, they can expect the productivity increase (and this is perfectly valid from my experience, but just would like to have evidence about this possibly someone will calculate improvement after the presentation?).

      I knew that L-lysine is a basic building block of protein and it helps convert fatty acids to energy. But I was not aware of its connection with willpower. Is there any research which will help me understand the connection better?

      [Anna] – Thank you for touching my favourite topic))) The theory about the connection of Lysine and willpower was created and investigated in 1970s in Russia by War Medicine Academy of Sciences (I think it will never be referenced or googled for security and language reasons, but my coach participated somehow in this research).

      For sure they were looking for the increase of ability of soldiers to keep making decisions and select tough ways in the conditions of stress, fatigue and uncertainty.

      When I heard this, I did secondary research for the Lysine theory and found that it is supported by the modern investigations strongly enough to suggest it worth talking about.

      I’ll explain part of it: The willpower itself means ability to still follow the decision (not selecting easy or habitual way) when brain is fatigued. Brain is selecting habitual way simply because it takes less energy (there is referenced research on that, cited in books). But what is drained? Why willpower is not endless? The western main theory is because of sugar. But the problem is that brain all the time has necessary amount of sugar (if it does not, it will be dead or in seconds, this is pure biology), the only difference is the sugar source. The sugar theory is highly critiques for this fact, but still used and I mention it in my talk. But when there is not enough glucose in the blood (easy source), the body comes to stress and goes to the sugar saving mode. Stress mode is connected with cortisol level, and is followed by fatigue, and brain fog and problems with concentration and short-term memory. And here is the Lysine, it is the molecule that works with cortisol to reduce its levels, and if it is not enough Lysine, the brain does not work well (this was also research by others) and set of other relations. Also with the reference to Lysine, the researchers have found that after flow-condition activities that brain function is still close to the start level, even when the sugar was used a lot (this is what the russian research was about).

      Just if you are interested, I can add the reference list, there are at least 11 books that were used in the preparation and several articles about Lysine.

       

      100% agree with you on "Take one cup of coffee with sugar and that's the worst thing you can do." Some folks refer to it as a "brain-drain" technqiue. A quick way to drain your brain.

      [Anna], thank you, this is quite unique that you agree with that, people mainly try to protect their habits, not trying to understand how them can make life worse)))

      Also you claim that to set something as a habit, you need to do the same exact steps in the same order in the same environment 15 times in a row and hence you need to do something at least for 21 days for it to become a habit. I'm intrigued. Where can I find data to back these numbers?

      [Anna]: About 21 days is the digit used very often, but this is related to very-very old and not proper research.  That is why I cite it, because people somehow heard about this.

      The recent well-known research is made by Lally P., Cornelia H. M., Jaarsveld v., Potts H. W. W. & Wardle J. (2010) How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology. October 2010. 40 (6), pg. 998-1009. They show the curve of timings of habit formation from 18 till 80+ days (depending on type of habit) and suggest that few days missing is not critical, so 15 is more accurate about minimal amount of execution of forming a habit.  If you consider, I can expand this explanation in the talk.

      You suggest to become hyper productive on needs to do the daily scrum at the same time, same place, in the same order of people and with the same set of questions in the same order. How practical do you think this is?

      [Anna] I find it practical enough so the ritual is formed. In my practice people tend to change it too much so they miss the opportunity to form the habit of day start using the powerful ritual.  This is all about opportunity to do better, nobody is punished for not following the recommendations if thisis not appropriate for them, but knowing what can be modified is benefitial.

       

       

       

  • Jerry Rajamoney
    By Jerry Rajamoney  ~  4 years ago
    reply Reply

    Hi Anna,

    Good Day. A very different topic. Thanks for choosing this topic. Out of curiosity I have the following question. I would like to know how are you going to map the fundamentals between "NeuroScience" & Scrum. You have beautifully explained the mapping between scrum rituals & NeuroScience. But Scrum is an Empirical process and
    NeuroScience is a very differnt one. In my experience I found the NeuroScience is very much used by Coaches (Life Coaches or Coaches like David Rock) & the whole domain of this is very different from Scrum.

    If you are not clear about my query please let me know.

    Thanks for your time.

    Regards,

    Jerry

    • Anna Obukhova
      By Anna Obukhova  ~  4 years ago
      reply Reply

      Hello Jerry,

      Thank you, the question is very interesting and clear.

      In my presentation I really map the neuroscience tips with the widely used Scrum rituals. The key there is to show that even standard Scrum framework has the full potential to boost your brain and results. You just need to know and use rather simple tips.

      I agree that Coaches use a lot of persuasion techniques that involve neuroscience knowledge (and I use them a lot, and even have a presentation about the techniques that Scrum Master and Coach can use to get the results). Thisis just not in the scope of this speech. If you feel that  it may be also interesting to speak about the SM/Coach approach to persuasion and using neuroscience tips in their work, please let me know, there is some time for the application left.

       

      Thanks,

      Anna Obukhova

      Agile Coach, Luxoft


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  • Liked Jason Yip
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    Jason Yip - Think Like an Agilist: Deliberate practice for Agile culture

    Jason Yip
    Jason Yip
    Principal Consultant
    ThoughtWorks
    schedule 4 years ago
    Sold Out!
    90 mins
    Workshop
    Intermediate

    If I say, culture is important to adopting Agile, most people will just agree without even thinking too much about it.  But what is meant by "culture"?  Why is it important?

    Culture is not typical behaviour; it is not what we say we value (but don't actually do).  Culture is our basic assumptions of how things work.  Culture is the logic we use to think through and respond to any particular situation.

    If you imagine a pyramid, Agile practice and any other visible behaviour is on the top, stated or written Agile values and principles are in the middle, fundamental assumptions (aka culture) is at the base.

    My session is intended to expose people to the base of that pyramid.

    If culture is assumptions, then to understand Agile culture, we need to understand the basic assumptions of Agile.  To do this, I have created an approach called "Think Like an Agilist" that both exposes how we think through an "Agile situation" and allows us to deliberately practice "Agile culture".

    The general idea is that I won't just talk about Agile culture and values, what I'll call "culture theatre", but rather expose people, who nominally consider themselves part of the Agile culture, to their underlying thought processes and assumptions, given a relatively difficult scenario.  Those thought processes and assumptions are the essence of culture (reference Edgar H. Schein).  What is interesting is noting when the thought processes and assumptions are different which indicates that there is a different culture at play.  What I've noticed is that this difference is common between novice vs expert Agilists.

    Note that it isn't even about analyzing vs doing it mechanically but more about exposing what assumptions are being used to respond.

    NOTE: I will be updating the attached slides as when I created them, I was framing it more as "doctrine" rather than "culture", defined as fundamental assumptions"

  • Liked Nikhil Joshi
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    Nikhil Joshi - Build - Measure - Learn : Without spending a fortune

    20 mins
    Experience Report
    Beginner

    At times we have great product ideas but the biggest barrier to entry lies in answering few questions such as:

    - How do I define and validate Problem hypothesis, Solution hypothesis and Underlying assumptions?

    - How do I quickly setup a platform for people to register their interest?

    - What will keep the potential customers engaged, excited until the first release (or beta) is out?

    - How do I get feedback from the early adopters?

    - And eventually when I have answers to some of these questions, how do I make a decision to persevere or pivot?

    If you've faced a challenge while answering any of these questions while building/validating your product idea, this session is for you. We'll look at tools and techniques to validate the product hypothesis early-on without spending months or fortunes. We'll also look at a case study to highlight how some of these tools, techniques helped us validate our product idea.

  • Liked Ram Srinivasan
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    Ram Srinivasan - The Conflict Paradox

    90 mins
    Workshop
    Intermediate

    It is not a question of if a team is going to have a conflict; it is a question of when. Equipping them to deal with conflict is more than creating agreements or having a good facilitator. We look at a conflict model that focuses on dynamics of conflict by understanding- 1. Cognitive skills:self-awareness about triggers, hot spots, emotions,behaviors. 2. Emotional skills:reading emotions, body language, balancing emotions, using curiosity 3. Behavioral skills:understanding others’ perspectives and needs, avoiding 8 destructive behaviors, embracing 8 constructive behavior. In an organizational setting, it is important to understand the source (culture, interdependence, incompatibility, personality, power, etc.) and types of conflict (cognitive vs. affective). Creating awareness about conflict processes, retaliatory cycles and building a conflict profile can empower teams engage in constructive disagreements. 

  • Liked Phil Abernathy
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    Phil Abernathy - The Sixth Force

    45 mins
    Talk
    Intermediate

    Over the last 2 years, in small pockets all over the world, people have been experimenting with the use of Agile and Lean in formulating and executing corporate strategy.

    The finding will astound you and lay the foundations for what may become the next wave of ‘Agilean’ transformations, thus paving the way for vertically transformed ‘Agilean’ organisations that deliver outstanding profitability.

    The ‘Lean Startup’ mentality or ‘Management 3.0’ are tips of the iceberg in recent strategic thinking.

    This talk draws on experience and real life examples to outline how Agile and Lean, and not just Porter’s 5 forces, can be used effectively to not only formulate and execute corporate strategy but also to enable transformation throughout the organisation.

  • Liked Fiona Mullen
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    Fiona Mullen - Agile - An Australian Journey of Cultural Change

    45 mins
    Talk
    Beginner

    How did one of Australia's leading financial services organisation become the biggest Agile transformation story in the Southern hemisphere and what did we learn?

    The Suncorp Group leads in general insurance, banking, life insurance, superannuation and investment brands within Australia and New Zealand. The Group has 16,000 employees and relationships with nine million customers. It is a Top 20 ASX listed company with over $93 billion in assets.

    In 2007, we embarked on our Agile journey of cultural change. In this talk we will cover the strategy taken, the roadblocks we came across, the mistakes we made and the achievements along the way.

    You will learn how to tackle an Agile transformation, what to do and what NOT to do, where to start and what to expect and most of all what impact it will have, both negative and positive.

    Today Suncorp are seen as market leaders in Agile and are known globally for the Agile Academy http://www.agileacademy.com.au/agile/ which was designed for both staff and also the external market.

    The role of the Agile PMO, how to get infrastructure to work Agile, what about all those legal challenges, the cultural differences and the resistance to change? These are some of the learning we will share.

    There were challenges and successes and in this honest Aussie presentation will share with you both the highs and the lows.