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by Jan Fischbach

Scrum and Agile are quite popular these days. Scrum is the most popular agile framework (according to the latest State of Agile report from 2022). Scrum has helped companies develop and operate successful products. But Scrum Masters still complain that managers often do not take them seriously. If a company is short on money the freelance Scrum Masters will frequently be sent home first. Here is something that the Lean community can teach Scrum Masters.

Where Lean, Scrum and Agile come from

Historically Lean, Scrum and Agile have the same roots. All started at the end of the 19th century, when factories popped up in the industrial centers in the United States, Europe and Japan. The factories became bigger and more complex. People like F. W. Taylor in the U.S., Henri Fayol in France, Max Weber in Germany or Yoichi Ueno later in Japan offered ideas how to manage an industrial enterprise. There was a strong Scientific Management community that was well connected around the globe. They organized conferences with international guests, wrote and translated books.

Interestingly, these thinkers mingled with the early psychologists. Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig was the first professor to create a lab for experimental psychology. In his lab, he measured movements of eyes and studied motions. Wundt had some interesting students from the U. S. and Japan. G. Stanley Hall founded the American Psychology Association and Matatarō Matsumoto the Japanese Psychological Association.

At the same time, some members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) met regularly to talk about management. As the ASME shifted its focus to more technical things, those interested in management founded the Society to Promote The Science of Management in 1911, which was later renamed to Taylor Society.

During World War I and II members of the Taylor Society, in particular Channing Rice Dooley, organized nationwide training programs. In WWI they focused on quick training of craftsmen for the army. (Side note: agile readers may be interested to find a burnup chart on page 22 in the final report.[1]) During WWII they organized the famous “Training Within Industry” (TWI) program. After the war, the TWI program came to Japan. See especially, Isao Kato’s book about how the TWI courses were used and changed at Toyota.[2]

Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-creators of Scrum, referred to Taiichi Ohno in his book “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time”. E. g. he quotes the inventor of the Toyota Production System: “Waste is a crime against society more than a business loss.” [3]

Sutherland further recommends: “Process Efficiency can, together with Lean practices, help a team to improve their way of work and become more efficient.” [4] So, we see a clear flow of ideas from the early days of Scientific Management, to TPS and Agile today. The last, 2020 update of the Scrum Guide states it clearly: “Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed. Lean thinking reduces waste and focuses on the essentials.” [5]

"The Agile community is eager to learn from the lean practitioners."

Scrum Masters have a mission

Often we see job ads for Scrum Masters where the job is reduced to facilitating the Scrum events and managing the requirements in a ticketing system. There is no mention of continuous improvement or taking care of the delivery processes. On the other hand, Scrum Masters experience doubts in other parts of a company. The desire to become an agile company leads management to employ Scrum Masters, yet without setting the clear mandate needed to make it successful.

Here is a clear mission for all Scrum Masters: improve the productivity of your team and company.

Sutherland has advised us: “The most important thing in Scrum is: The Scrum Master runs a scientific experiment every day to try to figure out how to make the team better.

Lean people to the rescue

The Agile community is eager to learn from the lean practitioners. Invite Scrum Masters to your company and share your experiences and tools. Show your production, your standardized work and your visual management. Explain the why behind specific practices. If Agilists object that Scrum Teams do not build cars, encourage them to look beyond the tools and industry. Any team that regularly delivers something to users, has a repeatable process. Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda were manufacturing cars with craftsmen in the beginnings, just like IT people do these days. Later they only changed to flow-oriented processes when demand grew and they were short of skilled experts.

Let agile team members and Scrum Masters join you in good gemba walks. This is interesting for managers in agile companies, too. In the beginning, agile organizations are often unsure about the role of managers.

Spark the creativity of Scrum Masters. Ask them tough questions about how to measure productivity frequently. Show them how to instruct new team members, how to create good working relations and how to improve their job methods. Some Scrum Masters already know and use Toyota Kata.

Perhaps they can be offered support in defining target conditions. It takes a lot of patience to get there in small steps.

Your language also matters. Hugh Alley’s novel about a person becoming the Supervisor offers many good examples of conversations between coach and coachee. Scrum masters can learn from that.

At the leadership level, Hoshin Kanri and the catchball process are practical tools to coordinate departments and teams. Agile teams love Objective and Key Results (OKRs). But often they are additional tools rather than an aid for setting of priorities. Instead of improving the work, they make it more complicated.

Seek Agile User Group meetings, give talks at agile conferences. Do lean/agile projects together and share your findings.

Why should you do all of this? Facing fundamental threats to the planet Earth and to free societies we need successful companies, in which good teams thrive. Lean and agile are natural allies in promoting good teams, enhancing productivity and fostering human values. Good teams can lead us to social change and provide new technologies for reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Waste is no longer the only crime society. Now, slowness has joined it as a true menace against our global society.



[1] Dooley, C. R. (1919). Final Report of the National Army Training Detachments Later Known as Vocational Section, SATC. War department, Committee on education and special training.

[2] Kato, Isao, Smalley, Art. Toyota Kaizen Methods: Six Steps to Improvement. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press, 2017.

[3] Sutherland, Jeff, Sutherland, J.J.. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. New York: Random House, 2014.

[4] Verbruggen, F., Sutherland, J., van der Werf, J. M., Brinkkemper, S., & Sutherland, A. (2019). Process efficiency-Adapting flow to the agile improvement effort.

[5] The Scrum Guide,

The author thanks Nadja Böhlmann, Peter Fischbach and James Lee for feedback on this text.


Jan Fischbach is a trained engineer. He is a trainer and consultant in the Scrum Events network in Germany. He is co-organizer of Agile and Lean conferences in Germany like the Scrum Day or Lean Around the Clock. Jan is heavily influenced by Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum. In his leisure time Jan researches the idea history of Lean, Scrum and Agile. In the Agile community he is know as the creator of the Ubongo Flow Game.

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