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Scrum at Gillette: A Chat about Agile Simplification in Product Development

April 4, 2024


In this episode of the Community Podcast, hosted by Dave West, CEO of, special guest David Ingram, VP of Gillette Global R&D, discusses how Gillette utilizes Scrum to simplify complex challenges within their organization. Discover the power of transparency, cross-functional teams, and executive sponsorship in driving simplification and innovation. They explore how Scrum can transform processes beyond software development, emphasizing the importance of enabling simplicity in large, complex organizations.



Lindsay Velecina  0:03  
Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West  0:19  
Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO For today's podcast, we're incredibly lucky to have David Ingram, Vice President of Global r&d, Gillette and grooming care. So another David, that's easy to remember. I met David when he was using Scrum on the latest male razor that Gillette brought out the exfoliating my razor, you may have seen the Super Bowl ads, you know, I use it every not every day, because that would be ridiculous, but a few times a week. And we know it as a scrum razor. But if you're interested in hearing how Gillette applied scrum to a complex, physical, difficult froglet program and project then please watch the videos which describe this journey. It was a super interesting story that that David shared with me but but that's not what we're going to be talking about today, though, obviously, that sort of sets the scene for everything. We're gonna be talking about something different. But before we do that, welcome to the podcast, David.

David Ingram  1:32  
Thank you, David. So pleasure to be here. And happy new year for 2024. Yes, the first

Dave West  1:37  
podcast of the year. So hopefully I'm better at this now than I was in 2023. First, before we talk about the topic, which is all about simplification, and simplification in large, complex organizations, and now scrum can help there. Maybe our listeners would. Well, I know our listeners would like to hear a little bit about yourself and where you're talking to us from. Yeah,

David Ingram  2:03  
sure. So I'm I'm talking to you from actually Lexington, which is just outside Boston, Massachusetts. And where I work is for the Gillette division of Procter and Gamble, which is based in in South Boston. So right downtown in Boston here in Massachusetts as well. I've I've worked for Procter and Gamble for it's 29 years now I have to admit it. I know. And during that time, I've always been in research and development pretty much developing FMCG goods. So I've developed detergents, packaging, all kinds of products, if you like and for the last five years or so I've been working here as part of the Gillette company, which is part of p&g is grooming business unit.

Dave West  2:51  
Excellent. So it's interesting. So you're not from the software world, you're from the practical products, physical products, things that you can grab touch for in the trash, whatever, the which is very different from from normal people that we often get on this podcast.

David Ingram  3:08  
Exactly. Yeah. And you know, that makes it. You know, I think what we found, even looking at that, is that still the scrum principles of very, very helpful, you know, you can, you can directly take them from software applications into hardware developments. And, obviously, you need to translate for context. But the principles hold true and are beneficial in hardware just as much as they are in software.

Dave West  3:37  
I think that's really interesting. And certainly, that's what I learned a lot. And talking to you about the exfoliating razor in that context. But so today we're going to talk a little bit about how Gillette has used Scrum, for a certain type of project that was basically were not getting done perhaps as effectively as they could have been, and it was in the area of simplification. A large organization like Giulia, or Procter and Gamble's even larger, you know, simplification is obviously a key important thing, you have to continuously reduce complexity in the organization. So maybe you'd like to just set the scene for our listeners about this, this program or this situation.

David Ingram  4:18  
Yeah. Great question, Dave. So you know, we're in any large company where you hire very bright people, and where obviously, processes are always very important and structures and anything you like documentation, anything you like, we are fantastically able to take that complex world and you know, the business world today is very complex. And then to add complexity on onto that we're great at inventing things. And I'm sure any large company and even small company is the same. And, you know, we do an annual survey for our employees to see We're doing on against a number of criteria. And one of the things that we always ask about is simplification. And we quite often find that one of the lowest scoring categories in that survey for our employees is, is simplification. So we know we know that creates a lateral lack of satisfaction, it's an opportunity for us, it is also an area that's quite difficult to get to and spend time on. And we wanted to see how we could do something different there and really have a run at simplification. The approach we took to start with was to try and embrace scrum principles, if you like of transparency. So the first thing we said was, we want to do this in a very transparent, inclusive way. So we set up a mural. And we just invited people to post the things that they were frustrated by on this mural. And it was a great start to the process that let people put up those kinds of things that were bothering them, and really a great start to have transparency on the issues. Then what happened really, is that those those tensions, those virtual posts that people have put on the mural, just sat there. And they sat there for a month. And they sat there for two months. And they sat there for three months. And they sat there for four months. And, you know, it began to get quite painful, certainly from my point of view, going back and looking at it and thinking we're not making progress here. And we reached a point actually with a with a small group of some of the leaders in my organization, where we said, you know, this isn't working the, we'd hoped, of course, that we could sell form teams, and people would go after these challenges. But that wasn't happening. So we took a step back, and we said, we're a bit stuck here, maybe, maybe we need to think about an intentional different approach that we could take to make progress here. And the first thing we realized, actually was that it was great having people putting posts up on a board. But what we realized was that, that doesn't actually define a task or an objective to do that basically summarizes attention. So actually, what we realized was that we hadn't gone through the effort of looking at these collection of frustrations, and categorizing, or in any way, prioritizing them against the things that might be most important for us to prioritize, and if you like create a backlog. So our first realization was a cloud of tensions that we hadn't in any way ordered, wasn't allowing us to understand the big priorities that we should go after as an organization. So we with the small group came up with a classification system, we scored them against three different criteria. And then we went through them basically, and said, you know, created a scoring system and ordered them and if effectively ended up with a list. So now we've gone from a cloud of possible things that we could do to an ordered list, which was a great starting point. Then, though, we were still stuck with the problem, that we still didn't have anyone working on this list, right? We felt good that we had a nice list, but we still didn't have anyone working on it. And we realized that one of the problems that we have is that and I assume Procter and Gamble is not any different from other organizations here that are metrics that we are all aligned to deliver for the year are set around delivering project deliverables or perhaps coaching and developing organizations and our people, but aren't specifically around these opportunistic simplification opportunities that will come up we don't book in anyone's work plan at the start of the year. Something that says, I, by the way, keep a few weeks free during the year in case something comes up for simplification. And everyone is obviously working. You know, they're all already busy with the work that they have. So we realized that this was a problem. And we said, you know, how are we going to get around that problem? And that was where really the second idea came up for from Scrum, if you like, which is many of these challenges that we came up with all the opportunities were needed several disciplines to come together to solve some of the problems. And that was why a single person couldn't say I'll do this, we needed to assemble a team with a combination have skills. But then we also needed to create time for that team to go in and solve the problem. So that that principle of Scrum of dedication became the second important thing that we would need for a team to go after and solve one of these problems. So we actually then went to our leadership of in my organization. And we asked who would be open to run an experiment, to give some people's time to run an experiment to go after a sprint or a series of sprints to go and tackle one of these opportunities. And we got enough people that would give somebody that we said, okay, we can run a pilot, we'll, we'll be okay. Here, there's enough enthusiasm. And then basically, we started off just thinking about how would we do this, and we said, what we need to do is to agree that will take people out of their day jobs for a period of time. And we'll give them this challenge, to work against the simplification opportunity, we'll ask them to volunteer and we'll set them against this challenge. And then we'll ask them to go after it for a couple of weeks, do what they can do, and then return to their day jobs. And effectively, that's what we did.

Dave West  11:20  
That's so let me see if I get this right. So we started up, we encourage people to put down their issues that they're having that things were more complex than they should be on this big mural. And, you know, we encourage them and provide that, that then created this big cloud of stuff. We then did some refinement on that cloud of stuff. So we became it became more of an ordered list. We then took that and said, Okay, who wants to work on it. And then that created a group of incentivized hopefully, well, leaders with staff, which then incentivize people to actually work on this thing for a few sprints, and we took them out of their day to day work to do that. And that was, that was important. So was, was it successful, did you is is Gillette, a little bit simpler. Now, we are

David Ingram  12:13  
just a little bit simpler. As a result of our spring that we ran, we ran it. Early Fall last year, we ran it. And it was very successful, we assembled a team together, which was an interesting combination of skills, there were people that suffer with the problem today, and some expert knowledge holders that have the solution to the problem. But but obviously don't feel the pain. And then we had a couple of system owners of people that knew how to create systems that could alleviate some of these challenges within some of our electronic systems. And then actually, we had a product owner slash scrum master who volunteered to say I'll help the team gets set up to be effective and achieve something during this sprint that they've got. And we set up and we ran actually for three weeks in the end on a 50% basis. So we agreed that the best way for us for the team to get this done was for them to spend every morning for three weeks working against this challenge. But in their afternoons, they could go and return to their day jobs. And that was the way that we set it up. But it was very successful we that the team ran for their three weeks, they delivered a product that we've now deployed to our total organization, which does solve the tension that exists. And we actually, you know, amazingly at the end of that three week sprint period, our team members were keen to do another sprint voluntarily, because obviously they didn't get done everything that they would they would potentially would be possible to do. So they were looking, could we run another sprint? Would this be possible? And you know, we said yes, you know, of course, that's possible to take it one step further. But I think we developed a product that solved the problem, and more products than we would have imagined we could develop before starting. And then we got that success that the way of doing this work and the sense of accomplishment that the team had meant that there was passion there for for doing another one or doing something different to follow on from that again. And

Dave West  14:26  
you emphasize the fact that this team was cross functional, that they had all the skills or almost all the skills necessary to deliver to fix this problem. Was that was that intentional, that you sort of went out and looked for those skills, or did it just happen by accident?

David Ingram  14:44  
It was a bit of a combination. We had some people that were passionate about the problem that could be involved. And you know, part of our part of the tension that this team was working is in in some of our systems when you're searching for information, it can be incredibly hard to find that information. So what you tend to get is some people that are expert at finding the information, everyone comes to them, which is great for the people finding the information. But for the person that's expert at finding it, they end up spending more and more of their time finding information rather than doing their day job. So we have that combination of people that would like to find information, and people that were expert at finding information. And then people that were expert in health systems come together and work together. And we intentionally created that blend of skills so that we could develop a solution, but also know that we had a solution that worked for the intended end user. One important thing that we did discover, though, is that during the work that the team did, they develop new skills. So one of our engineers that joined the team, the team ended up deciding that what we needed was a chat bot, that could help people to refine even what they're looking for, as part of this search. And one of our young engineers with no experience in the area said, Yeah, I'll take that on, you know, I'll develop a chat bot that can help us do this. And he did, and it's successful. And it's a part of the solution. And I think that's a lovely illustration of how, when we get the self assembled team together with the objectives, we can create the capacity for people to learn new skills against what needs to be done, rather than predetermined before the work starts. What work exactly needs to happen and make sure that we've got the skills when we start, there's space, even within the space of three weeks for those skills to be developed within the team, I

Dave West  16:45  
think is a really, really important message. And how does it fit though, for these people, you know, they work in a big organization with lots of KPIs that their bosses and their bosses, bosses and their boss's boss's boss, anyone could go on? How does it fit? How did that fit with their you know, you talked about the workbook, they have this idea of what they're going to be doing this year, they didn't, you know, in January, February, March, when they were thinking about the year and 2023, they didn't think that they'd be working on this, how did it fit in with the incentives? And those sorts of things? How did you deal with that? Or did you have to? Or was it just something you just do?

David Ingram  17:24  
What we decided, Oh, great question, what we decided is that everyone can take the time to take vacation. And we started actually, as we talked about it, we said, how will this work, and we said you know what everyone can take vacation. And what we what we ended up saying is you know what, when you go on vacation, though, your boss knows you're going on vacation, and they'll agree with you up from give these things to someone else to do while you're out or don't worry about those things till you're back. Or we'll just cancel those things, because they're not that important. Anyway, so actually, you make a plan before you go on vacation, about how the work is going to be managed while you're out. And so we ended up it's a bit corny, but we ended up calling these sprints or simply vacation sprint, because we said we had the same engagement before the sprint with people's line managers about how to manage their work while they're doing the sprint, then we won't leave the burden on the individual to worry about having to deal with that. And so we were very intentional, setting it up in a similar way to a vacation that allowed people to get that work done without pretending that they could just continue working at their normal speed on all of their day to day KPIs that they had as well.

Dave West  18:39  
I think that that's, that's super important. Because my experience of these things from when I worked at IBM, for instance, was, oh, yeah, you can do that. And all the other thing, and then you look at your schedule, and it's got this, like, it's just all colored little boxes, and you're like trying to fit it in and you fall out your wife because you spend all Sunday on it. And you know, and it all gets really nasty. So I think that's a very important message. Do you think though, another thing around that incentive area, is the fact that it had high profile, gave them a motivation, I assume it had high profile, gave the motivation that some of these people don't necessarily deal with you on a day to day basis or some of the people at your level, and it gave that opportunity for them to, to get in front of those people?

David Ingram  19:30  
Certainly. Certainly, I was very conscious. And we were very conscious Dave to make sure that you know, I was involved. As I said earlier in our discussion. You know, we run a survey every year of the, what our people are happier, not so happy about and at the bottom is simplification. So if you look at my accountability for my organizational health, it's crucial Go for me. And it needs to be displayed that it's really important for me to care about this, if it's our bottom scoring category in our employee satisfaction survey. So certainly I've got an interest in in finding solutions in this area. And it is important then for me, and I did make sure that I role modeled and visibly was engaged with the work the team was doing, understanding the output of that work, and then making sure that our organization more broadly understood the work that the team had done, and why this is a different way of us working and how it can lead to solutions. So it was recognition for the team, but also, really making sure that people understood that we were, you know, simplification is important enough for us to be looking at different ways of working to be able to go and tackle the opportunities.

Dave West  20:51  
And I think that's another key takeaway, when you and I were talking about this last year, when you wrote this, to me, I think that's a really important message that you need that executive sponsorship, if you want these people to work in this way, solving these problems, it's important that they appreciate that it that it is important, but also that you role model or you demonstrate this, you know, transparency, the trust, you know, empowerment you, you give them the ability to Hey, wait, if you want to do and chatbot, you can go and do it his his you know, access to it, if you want to download it and buy it on expenses, or whatever, you don't know how you get chatbots. But you can do that. And I think that was really, really important.

David Ingram  21:39  
Exactly, it really was, you know, and the team Yeah, they self determined what they were going to do, I didn't get I didn't interfere with their sprint backlog. And you know, it was totally up to them. And they did amazing things. And it just demonstrates how when you have, you know, a team owning their own deliverables, and you use some scrum printer, it's very important to use the scrum principles to keep them on task, because it's very easy to, to get overexcited about all of the potential things you could do and end up doing nothing. So it was really important to have that scrum discipline there of the backlog and sticking to the backlog. But I think they surprised themselves with how much they could create and deliver in that time period as well.

Dave West  22:24  
I think that's the never message about this. And my experience of these things are that they get you get very excited at the front of it. And you create like a million things that you could possibly do. And then none of that happens on a very small set. And then it disappoints, and people disappear and people get unhappy. What scrum provides for you, I believe is that, that structure that discipline, I think the word you use is discipline. And I love that word. Because I think that's a key part of Scrum. You have a backlog. It's called a sprint backlog. Yes, you have a product backlog. We have hundreds of big things on that's all great. But you also you have a sprint backlog that says this is what we're actually going to be doing. And you have a time box and you deliver in that cadence. One thing you did say, David, and I just want to you talked about the the product owner, the scrum master. That was kind of like a little bit fluid on this on this engagement. Do you want to somebody picked said I'll take I'll take those accountabilities? Is that that how it worked? Or did the corporate provide some? Yeah, you've got a magic machine for giving you product owners and Scrum Masters? You

David Ingram  23:39  
know, I guess the way that I would look at this one is, if you like the product ownership, you know, we described earlier how we had scored and prioritize the previous cloud into a backlog. So I think the overall product ownership was done, because we were picking from our highest priorities on the backlog. I think you articulated it. Well Dave on the sprint priorities. That was where it became really important to have that, I guess it's more of a scrum master role that we use there. And it was actually someone from one of the intermediate levels of our organization, who who is very much more versed with Scrum than than the the average if you like, and who would really experienced the exfoliating Raisa project, and said, I think I can help this team. I'd like to get involved in my capacity as scrum master and wanting to help to make sure this team is successful. So again, great, great situation where somebody within my organization had the passion to want to help the team to be successful, volunteered, and really was a, you know, a critical part of the team's effort in achieving such good results in a short time.

Dave West  24:53  
And it's interesting because what they did was they facilitated those more fine grained decisions on value this or that, rather than drove made that ultimate decision based on a clear product goal or a clear goal that you were striving to around around simplification? And I think that's something we often talk a lot about, do they have to be separate rows? Are they the same rules are that you know, and obviously, in a big, more complex situation, often it is the need to have a separate human being playing those two different accountabilities because of that tension. However, in this situation, it was more about facility, facilitating, and helping everybody, you know, make those make those value calls. So that was a little bit different. That was awesome. So, so what's next? Are you rerunning this? You know, you've got a survey, I think, coming up soon, I imagine. And hopefully, your scores are gonna improve fingers crossed on that one. But what's next? Are you going to do this again, is what you know. Yeah,

David Ingram  26:00  
absolutely. So we're going to, as you can imagine, you know, we ran our first sprints, as I described in the early fall, then we looked at what we've done, and we figured out we needed to train everyone on the solution. So we did some training on the solution. And then we started to talk about the sprint number two. So actually, in two weeks time, we're scheduled to start our second sprint. So I would love that we would have done it, you know, four weeks after the first one to get on to the next one. But you know how these things work your your first, your second always takes longer than your second or your third will end up in a situation where we're running them more frequently, almost continuously, let's see, that would be great that we would always have an effort. But yeah, we're running our second sprint in two weeks time, against our second, you know, area that we've selected, or the team selected. So very much looking forward to that. And, you know, seeing what the team is going to do, again, that's exciting. I should have said it will be a different team this time. So it's not the same team, what what we're finding is with a slightly different problem, again, we have slightly different groups of people that feel the pain and individuals with solutions. So the nice thing here is we'll have a different group of people attacking this opportunity. And that means that we'll have more people understanding that we can tackle simplification, and more people understanding that scrum can be a tool that helps them do this, which is a really nice outcome for me as as we look at getting more confidence in our organization that agile tools can really help. But then learning that from experience, rather than just because I say it's a good thing to do, which is shouldn't be a reason for anyone to do anything. Yeah,

Dave West  27:53  
I think that's the art of the possible, I think empowering. You know, Gillette, for my experience is full of incredibly smart, amazing human beings who want to do the right thing want to deliver value. But ultimately, they're in this quite large organization. So giving them this spotlight on the possible. And the fact that you can get stuff done in three weeks, you can deliver something that can change hundreds, if not 1000s of people's daily work in three weeks. And I think that is indeed an incredible message to send. Exactly. Awesome. Well, thank you for your time today, we try to keep these short, I, I really could have talked to the hours about all sorts of implications around this about, you know, the the Tesla Model, the way its total self organizing and everything and how that could have worked or all sorts of things. But we tried to keep these short, the you know, the the length of the average commute or, you know, two shirts to ironing shirts. That's what they used to use to say when you own a shirt. But um, so thank you for your time. David.

David Ingram  28:59  
You're welcome. It's been a pleasure. And thanks for having me. Brilliant.

Dave West  29:03  
Well, today, this is the scrum documentary, podcast. And today we were very fortunate to have David Ingram, the Vice President of Global r&d at Gillette grooming care. We're very excited to hear that story about simplicity. You know, the fact that scrum can be used in a, in a situation that isn't the norm. It isn't just a project team that's been formed on some strategic initiative, it can kind of come up evolve out of the needs of an organization and in this case, it was about making Gillette just a little bit simpler. And we talked to a lot about how teams can form and focus on that goal and and how you had these teams finding new skills and developing new skills in pursuit of this problem. We also talked a little bit about the importance of executive sponsorship and keeping Seeing that light on it and giving people time to actually do the work to focus on the work. It sounded like we a fun holiday was perhaps the description that we used. And maybe every organization should have two types of holidays, holidays where you're out of the organization or the days where you're simplifying it maybe. And anyway, that's today's podcast. Hopefully you found it interesting and informative. This is just one of many podcasts, subscribe to the channel. Listen to others. There's been some interesting stories including another podcast with with David Ingram from from Gillette talking a little bit about the exfoliating razor which we couldn't rename the scrum razor, but it's always going to be the scrum razor in my head. So thanks for listening, Scrum on everybody.


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