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Scrum Inc. Japan – A New Hope

Members of Scrum Inc. and KDDI holding a sign that reads Scrum Inc Japan hashtag Team Work Makes the Dream WorkOn March 8, 2019, in Tokyo Japan, I attended the press conference for the formation of Scrum Inc.’s new joint venture, Scrum Inc. Japan. Scrum Inc. is partnering with KDDI, Japan’s second largest telecom, and Eiwa Systems Management (ESM). This joint venture is out to change the way of work in Japan and reignite the spark of innovation in this beautiful country with a rich and ancient culture.

Born from a conversation between myself and my counterpart at KDDI Keisuke Wada, this partnership has been two years in the making, but the history is a bit more interesting. It started in 2011, when Dr. Jeff Sutherland traveled to Japan at the invitation of Kenji Hiranabe (ESM’s CEO) and Yasunobu Kawaguchi to deliver a keynote, teach a class, and meet Professor Ikujiro Nonaka. Professor Nonaka is one of the co-authors of, The New New Product Development Game, an HBR article that helped to spark some of the ideas behind Scrum and gave it its name. A few years later, Kenji would sponsor our President of Scrum in Hardware, Joe Justice, to deliver a keynote at Agile Japan and the Automotive Frontier Conference.

In the hope that we might build something bigger together, Kenji introduced us to Akihito Fujii of KDDI, who, coming from Google Japan, had introduced Scrum into KDDI. His goal was for Scrum to enable them to increase innovation and productivity. In February of 2017, I made my first visit to Japan with Dr. Sutherland and taught our first round of classes sponsored by KDDI and Kenji. We’ve been back every quarter since then. And now with our partnership Scrum Inc Japan, we’re back for good.

The press conference began with a presentation, from the new CEO of Scrum Inc. Japan., Minoru Aramoto, Akihito Fujii, Kenji Hiranabe, and myself. We covered everything from the history of Scrum, its Japanese roots, and how it can help companies increase their revenue by putting the customer first. There was a really good presentation by Hiroshi Mushigami of Toyota’s Research Institute – Advanced Division (TRI-AD), which is now one of our finest Japanese case studies.

Reporters asked us: “By what KPI’s will you judge your success? What is your expected revenue?” Minoru answered that we don’t have a revenue target, instead, his goal was to engage with twice the number of companies as in our previous years combined. That would make the goal forty. I felt the need to speak up here about the mission, so I added: “As a board member, my KPI is going to be how many lives we change, how many places of work end up for the better.”

That evening we hosted a small event to celebrate the formation of the partnership and to launch the first in a series of events for gathering with our former Scrum students and anyone interested in Scrum. We called it “Scrum Ba at Night”. At first, when I suggested this title of Scrum Ba, the Japanese weren’t so sure. They really wanted to accentuate the American ingredient of the JV as they thought it would make it more popular and speak better to young Japanese engineers. I countered with the idea that the Ba is a central idea of Scrum – and it comes from a different work by Nonaka. In his article, “The Concept of ‘Ba’: Building a Foundation for Knowledge Creation”, he explains that a Ba is a shared space for emerging relationships as a platform for knowledge creation. This resonated with the team as it was really the objective for getting together.

We started with a panel of speakers, including Minoru, Kenji, and Joe Justice. This was followed by a great presentation by Katsuya Suda, the Scrum of Scrum Master for au Denke, KDDI’s electricity usage app. It is one of our best examples of a Scrum@Scale implementation, with all the teams, Product Owners, and even some stakeholders collocated in one room! The panel ended by taking questions from the audience. My favorite question, answered by Joe, was about how major corporations undertake Scrum transformations. He shared that what they needed to do was to model themselves after some mega companies, like Bosch. Start at the Board level, changing top incentives, and view Scrum as a way to restructure the company. This is what a Ba is all about – the sharing of knowledge and creating great relationships.

At the end of the night, we invited questions and comments from the audience. Chloë O’Neil, a Scrum Inc. coach took the mic and vowed, in honor of International Women’s Day, to help use Scrum to make a better working existence for women in Japan. I definitely want to see that happening!

I had been ruminating about the question about KPI since the morning, I wanted to remind this group that it’s not all about us, but Japan as a whole. So when it was my turn, I spoke about what I thought the mission of Scrum Inc. Japan should be: We should help Japan end its decades of deflation and return to the 2nd largest economy in the world. I joked that if they wanted to be number one, well, that would be a different discussion.