Empirical Process Control

Empirical process control is a core Scrum principle, and distinguishes it from other agile frameworks. The Scrum Guide puts it well:

Scrum is not a process or a technique for building products; rather, it is a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques. Scrum makes clear the relative efficacy of your product management and development practices so that you can improve.

Meaning? With empirical process control we don’t fix the scope of the product nor the processes of how to build it. Instead in short cycles we create a small shippable slice of the product, inspect what and how we create it, and adapt the product and the way we build it, with built-in mechanisms for transparency to enable clear inspection.

Why is Scrum based on empirical process control? Because central to the insight of Scrum is that product development is too complex a domain—and with too much variation between product groups—for an elaborate set of “canned” defined process formulas.

The development world has tried again and again to succeed with highly-defined process recipes, treating a complex domain as though it were a simple deterministic system. They never really work out, but there will always be those who will say, “Ah, you just didn’t try hard enough.” And there will always be those who will say, “Ah, you just haven’t found the correct detailed process formula and tools yet.” And that leads to an endless cycle of adopting fads (often bought from some vendor), dropping fads, and then adopting new fads.

In contrast to a detailed defined process, Scrum emphasizes principles such as transparency and self-managing teams, to support empirical process control.

At the same time, some simple, straightforward, adoptable structure within which to realize these principles helps young groups concretely get started. These concrete practices of Scrum provide the starting point for adopting its deeper principles. A perfect balance.

In other words, a group needs “just enough process” to get started to generate the transparency, inspection, and adaptation cycle that is at the heart of empirical process control.

Since Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) is Scrum, it achieves the same balance as single-team Scrum for larger product groups. It adds a bit more concrete structure—the LeSS Rules—to Scrum, whose purpose is to maintain transparency and emphasize the inspect-adapt cycle so that groups can continuously improve their own ways of working. These practices and structure make it easy to start, but are intentionally ‘incomplete’ so that groups have space for the vast situational learning and adaptation needed in complex domains such as development.