SCRUM in Africa

SCRUM is an agile project management framework. In two earlier articles, we explained the advantages of using SCRUM over traditional project management methods in the ICT sector. We also shared our experience with SCRUM in virtual teams and why it helps managers to control their production while working from home during the pandemic. In this final article, we will focus on Africa. We will explain why we believe that SCRUM can work well in this part of the world.

SCRUM was originally developed in the USA as a response to how project management was failing in western culture. While the African work culture differs from that of the USA, SCRUM can and has successfully been integrated into African companies, so there is experience with the application of SCRUM in the African context, though not yet on a large scale.

We have also been training people in SCRUM here in Ghana, experiencing that participants to our programs are quick to get an understanding of Agile and SCRUM; they prove to be fast learners in the application of the framework.

What can be the reason for this seemingly easy match? We have a few theories, which we are currently discussing on various African SCRUM platforms, to see if SCRUM trainers and practitioners outside all over Africa have similar experiences.

  1. In Africa, we are used to working in an environment with a lot of uncertainties. Things may change every day, and we need to be resilient or “AGILE” and always have Plan B, C, and D. In SCRUM, the illusion of control to achieve long-term plans is replaced by an acknowledgment that during a project a lot may happen. SCRUM is dealing with that uncertainty appropriately, making the success factor of projects a lot higher.
  2. Africans have a culture that values the group or (extended) family over individualism so team-building with Agile, and SCRUM seems easily done. African Agile coaches and SCRUM masters have a great connection with the rest of the team, and this enhances high productivity. The basic value of working on a product together and share responsibilities for the result resonates.
  3. The short timelines of SCRUM match well with the African culture. Inspection events like daily standups and retrospectives have a natural way of happening. Imagine waking up at dawn in an African village and decide what to do that morning.

This brings us to where it is said that time management is a problem in Africa. The mentality of having “Ghana man time” is what must be in check to have a team that is delivering on time, and that is doable in the African settings.

SCRUM addresses that problem practically with its daily checks in the morning, live transparency, and short feedback loops. It visualizes everyone’s production in real-time.

Most challenges with Africa for SCRUM have to do with managers or those in charge of an organization. Traditionally, African organizations can be quite hierarchical and bureaucratic. This makes accepting change and changing the status quo difficult. Many will argue that without a “real boss” a team will not be accountable. The new way of working may just cause laziness and low productivity.

Currently, Agile SCRUM is not yet popular in Africa and it sounds like a new thing to many people. In this series of articles, we have tried to give you the right reasons to decide for SCRUM after all. We invite Agile coaches and SCRUM masters to propagate and evangelize Agile to Africans, so they know what Agile is, the benefits it has, and how to use it effectively in their professional and personal lives.

However, with a young and vibrant professional population, in IT, Agile can be a good way to engage them in your company, giving them freedom and responsibilities without losing control by the management. We foresee a big future for Agile in Africa!

Scrum Africa: Can we help scrum to become better by adding African strengths?

According to a survey and response from African Agile coaches, SCRUM may be fine-tuned to suit Africa. Our culture and ways of doing things differ from other parts of the world, and Agile was designed for the American (and European) culture. What can SCRUM learn from the Africa experience?

 

Team members share their social lives: In Africa, we believe that to do business together, you first become friends and build a level of trust. Strong relationships help to solve problems and create an awareness that we are all taking care of each other.

We advise that social relations in the developers’ team should get a place in the framework. This can be done by extending daily standups with some personal quotes or engage in a social activity together at the end of the week.

Pray together: Africans are most of the time religious and spiritual, and we usually start work with a prayer and end it with a prayer too. Our SCRUM teams have a short morning devotion or short prayer irrespective of the religions the group is made of a short prayer is said before any other thing begins, asking God’s help and acknowledging his reign over our lives. This helps start the day well, and praying together brings in the social bond and connection of the team.

Laugh and joke together: Icebreakers are known to be used to ease tension and release stress before the start of most events or activities. Having everyone laughing or smiling before the daily standup makes things easy for everyone to share their progress on the work being done. This also enhances team build and makes team members feel like they belong and creates a safe and friendly environment for working.

While all these add-on suggestions may seem a waste of time for some, we believe that they prove to be a blessing for the culture of your teams and the whole organization.

Agile is good and very suitable for Africa, but to get the most of it we propose to “Africanize” the framework. Changes that may also turn out to be for the good of organizations in other cultures, as in every part of the world, people want to feel valued, taken seriously but also feel that they are loved and belong to a community.

 

Author: Diana van der Stelt is a social entrepreneur outsourcing SCRUM teams to the Netherlands at Trinity Software Center in Kumasi and the Co-founder of Maxim Nyansa IT solutions, an IT training center in Accra | Member, Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana. Elvin Assiam, agile SCRUM trainer and consultant with Maxim Nyansa IT solutions.

For comments, contact dianavanderstelt@trinitysoftwarecenter.com