July 21, 2021

Introducing the PAL-EBM Training Class

Today, Scrum.org launches the new Professional Agile Leadership - Evidence Based Management (EBM) training course. The ideas of EBM came from a simple idea that Ken Schwaber had when looking at the medical profession and the similarly named Evidence-Based-Medicine :-). An article in BMJ describes Evidence-Based Medicine as “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current based evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients” Ken pondered how that would apply to agile adoptions. What is the right evidence? A simple example in the medical profession is taking vital signs. How many times have you seen medical professionals on TV shows start with taking the vital signs? They will take the Body Temperature, Pulse, Respiration, and Blood Pressure. Ken wondered, ‘what would the measures be for agile product development?’

After introducing the concepts of EBM to the Professional Scrum community, many people have explored these ideas. They worked to introduce empirical measures to both the outcomes of teams and to the team’s capability.  The resulting thoughts are described in the EBM Guide, and ideas are tested in the EBM assessment. And now Scrum.org has released a one-day training course that supports this growing body of knowledge. 

EBM wrestles with the fundamental truth of being a professional and the need to deliver value. EBM encourages you to ask the right questions and build the measures that slowly expose the value that you are delivering or provide evidence that you are not.  These measures are not as simple as pulse and blood pressure. They are unique to each situation. EBM helps people create the space to have conversations with teams, stakeholders, and the customer on what is important. The resulting measures provide clarity. They connect the outcomes to the goals in Scrum. They provide motivation and insight. Sometimes the journey with EBM is actually as important as the final measure themselves. 

I have experienced many organizations pushing back against outcome-based measures and encourage internal-looking motion metrics such as task percentage complete, or velocity. They say things like ‘but if we measure the team by outcomes, then it doesn’t matter how hard they work’, or ‘those measures are private, and we do not want the team to know them’, or ‘taking those measures is really hard.’ But ultimately by pushing the agenda to slowly move toward thinking differently about the value the team(s) delivers it challenges many of the systemic problems that undermine an organization’s agility. It challenges team structure, legacy systems, alignment to the business, Product Ownership, and management practices. It reminds us of Conway’s and Brooks’ laws. But perhaps it answers a more basic question that all teams have, ‘How does my work provide value?’. It is true that not all value can be measured, but it is also true that all measures should provide value. EBM provides a focus on building the right measures for a team, product, and ultimately an organization. 

And the timing for EBM might be perfect. OKRs are very popular now with organizations trying to emulate the success of Google and Facebook who are both advocates of this approach. OKRs intend to provide a direct connection between strategic goals to the team and individual goals. But sometimes organizations adopt them in a very waterfall manner. Kurt Bittner talked about this challenge in his blog describing the ‘ugly’ of OKRs as when they describe tasks or work rather than value. EBM can complement OKRs providing a way for teams to both connect those OKRs to Scrum, and ensure those OKRs do not re-enforce waterfall or the industrial mindset.