Scrum Philosophy and Agile Safety Management

How the principles of Scrum can help you manage your company’s safety department

In our previous post on Agile Safety Management, we touched a bit on the values and frameworks of Scrum. In product development, companies use Scrum to improve quality, decrease time to market, increase return on investment (ROI), increase customer satisfaction, and increase collaboration and ownership.

Many of these benefits apply when implementing agile as a safety management process. Companies can use it to solve problems faster, improve outcomes, increase ROI for the safety department and safety initiatives, and improve employee morale, engagement, and ownership of safety practices. Scrum excels when applied to complex and unpredictable problems. This is good, because while safety problems can sometimes be straightforward to solve, more often they can involve complexities and intricacies including different priorities and lack of authority and accountability. In this post, we take a look at the values of Scrum philosophy more deeply and see how they apply in Agile Safety Management. The three main values of Scrum are transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Transparency

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The Scrum process, meetings, and artifacts are designed to create transparency among the team. Transparency means that everyone on the team has a common understanding of what needs to be done, who will be accountable for each task, and the “definition of done” that explains what is necessary for each task to considered complete.. Each team member shares three key pieces of information with the rest of the team every day. They talk about what they had done yesterday, what they will do today, and if there are any roadblocks keeping the team member from getting work done. This helps the team understand what each team member is doing and help to eliminate obstacles.

Transparency also leads to better decision making. When each team member can see all information associated with what they’re working on, they can make sound, informed decisions without requiring a bunch of feedback or approvals. Immediate decisions can be made regarding urgent problems and the organization can feel comfortable that the team member will make the best decision. Team members are empowered and feel ownership over their decisions when they don’t have to check in with management before making them, which increases engagement.

Effect of Transparency in Agile Safety Management

Benefits: Improved accountability, engagement, morale, and speed of resolution.

Many safety processes suffer from being too opaque.  Managers and employees may not know what needs to be done or if they are the one that needs to do it. This isn’t exclusive to safety departments, as 69% of workers at U.S. companies feel that lack of accountability hurts overall performance and 44% report that this diminishes engagement.

Agile safety departments can use transparency to increase accountability and engagement. When everyone knows each step and task that need to be completed and who is responsible for them, those tasks tend to get done. Additionally, making safety activities transparent and available will let the workforce know that safety is valued at the company and they should value it too.

Inspection

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Have you ever created a to-do list and then just added to it and added to it and added to it? At some point, it can become difficult to know what needs to be worked on and some important tasks can go undone. Scrum encourages regular inspection to make sure team members are working on the highest priority tasks and to ensure that no important task gets missed. A backlog of items is created (your “to-do list”) and then the list is regularly pruned to remove items that no longer matter and re-prioritized to ensure focus on the most important tasks right now.

Additionally, the grind of work often makes it impossible to evaluate how well our processes really work. In Scrum, there are regular meetings to evaluate how well work is being done, how effective processes are, and ask if there are things we could be doing better or not doing at all. This allows teams to incrementally improve the way they do work, leading to greater success for future tasks.

Effect of Inspection in Agile Safety Management

Benefits: Improved outcomes, speed of resolution, and ROI

Safety managers have so many different responsibilities. When you need to ensure regulatory compliance, identify hazards, manage incidents, conduct training, perform investigations, write and implement policies, conduct meetings, and perform audits, among other things, it is understandable that some things fall through the cracks. Regular inspection of task backlogs allows managers to ensure that nothing gets missed.

Inspection also allows the entire team and organization to regularly measure progress toward goals. Transparent communication of progress and roadblocks will come up during the inspection process and make sure steps are taken to ensure success. These meetings are usually infrequent enough to allow team members to focus on the work, but frequent enough to establish the importance of progress and success. They also allow employees from outside the core team to understand progress and give feedback.

Safety processes can also suffer from a once-and-done implementation. Agile safety teams regularly step back and analyze their processes and find ways to improve them.

Adaptation

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“Because that’s the way it’s always been done” are words that just about guarantee eventual failure. The best organizations and teams reevaluate their processes, tasks, and responsibilities and update them in accordance with new realities. The works being done doesn’t matter if it’s being done on the wrong path.

Scrum gives teams an opportunity to step back and analyze if the work being done will lead to the best outcome and to adjust as necessary. These adjustments are intended to happen as quickly as possible to optimize for success, but not so frequently as to make it hard to do any work at all.

Effect of Adaptation in Agile Safety Management

Benefits: Improved outcomes, ROI, and engagement

Priorities can change in an instant. Agile safety management allows team members to focus on specific priorities, but also regularly evaluate and update their priorities based on what else is happening in the organization.  

As things change within the organization, team members may find that tasks they had been assigned are no longer contributing to their goals. Being agile means identifying and eliminating unproductive or irrelevant tasks so that the team can focus on what truly matters right now.