Scrum AND Six Sigma – Can they co-exist?

I have clients in two diverse domains – material sciences and life sciences – that are currently investing in maturing their business agility using Scrum. Recently, both clients asked about introducing Six Sigma practices into their organizations. They pose the question – can Scrum and Six Sigma co-exist?

The short answer – of course they can, and they should, if the problem requires it. Please read on and share your opinion in at the end of this blog.

What is Six Sigma? Motorola developed Six Sigma in 1986. Six Sigma is a structured methodology for process improvement and problem solving. The tools, techniques and roadmaps aim to reduce variation, improve the quality of production processes by decreasing the number of defects and improve the capability of the processes, products and services. Six Sigma gained popularity quickly in the manufacturing domain, mainly because of its origin and main objective of reducing variation in production processes.

What is Lean? Lean has deep roots, often associated with Dr. Deming, the Japanese, and in particular the phenomenal continuing success of Toyota. The Lean movement has been rising in parallel to Motorola’s Six Sigma movement and is finding success in many industries beyond manufacturing. Basically, the Lean philosophy systematically eliminates waste. Anything other than creating value can be a target for elimination. Lean and Six Sigma were eventually combined to produce what was called Lean Six Sigma: a systematic approach for process improvement and problem solving aiming to reduce variation, remove waste and increase capability.

What is Agile? Agile is a mindset, often mistakenly used as a synonym for the Scrum framework. Until recently, Agile was seen as a set of practices relevant mostly to software development, because it was created by software developers looking to achieve a smarter way of creating useful software. Agile’s foundational document is the Agile Software Manifesto (2001.)

What is Scrum? Scrum is a well-known and widely practiced Agile framework used for delivering products in complex, human-centric environments, such as software development. By the nature of software development, you’ll always find variation due to complexities associated with the interdependencies of individual skills and team dynamics. From this perspective, variation is not perceived as a problem in software development because different engagements are not identical (at best, similar) and thus, not repetitive. That makes Scrum a strong solution for software, but now we are also seeing a steep rise in the use of Scrum outside of IT, in domains like Marketing, Recruiting, and Education.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

There are many best practices shared between Agile, Scrum, Lean and Six Sigma. They are complimentary disciplines, which rely on data, are committed to reducing waste, and intentional in the pursuit of continuous improvement. In order to make the right decision, define the problem first, and then choose the best combination for your needs. If your goal is primarily to remove variation in a repetitive production process, Six Sigma can be a successful approach. If you are working in human-centric and innovation-focused domains like software, Lean UX, creatives and marketing, an agile approach with Scrum is the method you can use to gain higher team performance in your pursuit of continuous improvement.

The big picture: Agile is a subset of Lean, which is a subset of Systems Thinking

Both agile frameworks and lean models focus on achieving business goals and delighting clients with a competitive product of the best quality. But a team can only get so far without hitting obstacles if the rest of the organization is not maturing along the same agile roadmap. We need to encourage Lean thinking in management (continually reduce waste and remove impediments) and Systems Thinking in leadership (all parts of an organization interrelate and affect each other). [Read more about Agile < Lean < Systems Thinking here.]

Adopt a Systems Thinking approach

Six Sigma and Scrum can coexist in organizations with leaders who really understand how to apply Systems Thinking at the portfolio level. The modern portfolio management system provides:

1.   A culture of innovation with clear organizational objectives. Autonomy without alignment is waste.

2.   Cross–functional teams. Ruthlessly mitigate dependencies.

3.   Safety to let people be awesome, feel awesome, and act awesome.

4.   Opportunities to learn. Pause. Listen. Adapt. Celebrate.

Empower people and enable flow

A modern management system is built for agility and innovation. With the right balance of strong alignment and healthy autonomy each team should choose the toolkit that best solves their problems, which can include both Scrum and Six Sigma.

~Julee Everett with help from Milan Radulovich and amazing Sketch Art by Joshua Partogi

Hone your craft, live your truth, show your thanks…

5 tips for new Agilists


Hey! Does your agile coach’s job look like fun? It is! I believe it’s the best career possible in the market today – and the need is growing. Every time I am at an agile event, people reach out to me telling me they want to get into coaching, or evolve into an agile career. When they ask for advice, these are some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Please add your tips.

1. Play! Get hands-on. Exercise all sides of your brain and get your teams involved, too!Experiment with the plethora of #retrospective activities, #designthinking exercises, and mapping techniques available everywhere – online, in books, videos, webcasts, podcasts… sources abound! Stop wondering ‘if this exercise is going to work.” It is. Have fun with it – and don’t take yourself too seriously. Every day is a chance to try something new.

2. Read. Read everything that interests you. Don’t wait until that vacation or that weekend where you imagine you will stop and read all those things you bookmarked. Find time every day to immerse yourself in the power of the written word. Learn from others, be inspired, and then go further. Read the works of those you disagree with, open your mind, consider their viewpoint. Educate yourself on industry trends. And then – read for fun.

3. Write. Keep a journal of your wins, funs, and fails. Apply some introspection and self-awareness to your journal… Am I listening to everyone in the room? Did I get too full of myself today? Did I speak up when I should have? Did I shut up when I should have?

4. Find your tribe.  We are very fortunate with the growth and expansion of our craft. So much so, that there is no excuse not to network, somehow, with other agilists. You might not have the budget for travel to the big conferences, but I personally, cannot, in good faith, recommend anyone who is not active in their local Meetup or user group in some way. These events are typically free, easy to access, and frequent…. Plus, I have an expectation that people will not just come and take, but give back to their community. The best way to learn is to teach, so take a risk and get in front of the audience. I am always inspired by those who can get up in front of an audience and explore and share a topic or an exercise they are learning about. You don’t have to be an expert… you have something to share.

5. Be impeccable in your word. Your reputation will proceed you, and it’s only a click away from everyone in the world.

I promised 5, but here is one for the bonus round: If you are just starting out, be easy on yourself. There is a lot to learn – and the worst mistake you can make is thinking you need to know it all right away.

There’s a lot more… but I wanted to leave room for others to chime in. Please add your thoughts below!

Julee Everett

Hone your craft, speak your truth, give thanks 

3 tips and an 8 second habit that will change the emotional climate of your team

Scrum Masters, are you a natural servant LEADER, or do you struggle to be the inspiring coach that creates high-performing teams?

The following blog is inspired by Scott Watson’s work, an emotional intelligence speaker and trainer. I hope they will complement what you are already doing well and help you create a tactical plan to improve your own emotional intelligence and the emotional climate in your team. You might find that focusing on how your behavior is impacting others can change the emotional climate in your team – and positively impact your career. (Think the issues on your team are all the Product Owner’s fault? Share my Emotional EQ for Product Owner’s article.)

1. Physician, Heal Thyself

We teach people how to treat us

As a leader, you must overcome any of your own emotional insecurity and speak up, even if you might have a personality that shies away from conflicts. It’s not about standing up to others; it’s about finding your voice. If you cannot speak up for yourself, how can you defend your team?

Continue reading “3 tips and an 8 second habit that will change the emotional climate of your team”

ProductCamp GulfCoast

ProductCamp is an unconference that brings talent from the entrepreneurial, product, and IT space together in an exciting day of collaboration and networking. This event is held in several regions nationwide, and now we want to bring it to Tampa! Please visit 

This site currently hosts a very short survey that will help us gauge local interest and shape a venue that will bring the most value to our participants. Please share! #ProductCampGC

Creating a Modern PMO… Empower People; Enable Flow

Stop being good at process and start being good at business! Evolve your PMO from process-centric to people-centric with what I call the the Minimum Viable Artifacts. These are three actions, with outputs, that I believe are the 3 ingredients to a Lean PMO.  Interested in learning more? I’m speaking about this at Orlando’s ProjectSummit, in April 2017, and again in May 2017 at the Tampa Agile Meetup. Contact me for more information, or view my slides on here.


Motivation, not Medication

Once I got a $30,000 raise. It was the worst job I ever had.

In order to get a raise, I had to leave a good job. (More thoughts on that later.) As a single provider, the overnight increase put me in a state of near ecstasy. It was The Motivating Factor to leave that good job – and of course, I thought I was going to a great opportunity.

For the professional standpoint, I successfully delivered a multi-million dollar agile program that had C-suite visibility. We delivered on time and under budget; I had alignment with the executive sponsor, clearly identified outcomes, and a team of top performers. It was a huge win for the organization.

But the relationship I had with my manager was incredibly rocky. There was a chasm between him and I that we would never close. It was if we didn’t speak the same language, and certainly, we didn’t act as if we were on the same team. He would question my wording, he would second-guess my decisions; he would challenge me in front of my team on a daily basis. I would get defensive; I shut down; once, on the verge of crying, I left a meeting.

I felt I was at a professional all-time low. It seeped into my personal life, and people closest to me started to comment on the negative changes in me they observed.

I found myself debating every day if I needed to stay in order to learn a lesson, or if I needed to leave in order to survive.

Continue reading “Motivation, not Medication”

6 steps to agile outside of IT

Agile – it’s not just for IT anymore.

The technology arena is saturated with agile – particularly in software development with the maturity of Scrum and the lean method of Kanban. The momentum created by the successes of collaboration, transparency, and adaption in a technology group naturally seeps into the rest of the organization. It’s not uncommon to see leadership decide to take those same frameworks and apply them outside of technology to other divisions such as Business Intelligence, Marketing, and Creative Services. There are often some early successes, particularly in the beginning. But many non-technology teams experience challenges that are not answered through the application of the same frameworks that created the successes in technology.

I am a proponent of the popular frameworks and models. They provide safety in an agile transformation so we have a playbook to guide us through the labyrinth of change management. So why not just pick a framework and start with where you are at? Because to fully harvest the benefits of agile at a team level, it is best to start with fertile ground – create an agile environment.

In this blog, I take a practical look at six steps that help nurture and grow agile at a personal level (what you might describe as the agile mindset); a team level (including those pesky managers who don’t know what self-organizing teams will mean to their job); and an organizational level (how do we do more and how do we do it better.) Continue reading “6 steps to agile outside of IT”

How to lose ten pounds in a Sprint

[Disclaimer #1: Warning: strong Scrum language ahead. If you don’t speak Scrum, you can make it through this blog, but you might need to review the Scrum Guide. For example, I use the Scrum term Product Backlog Item (PBI) which can indicate any requirement in the backlog. The PBI might be in the form of a User Story, but a PBI can be non-functional requirements, technical debt, or anything the Product Owner wants in the backlog.]


  1. You are <anyone on the Scrum Team.> You are half-way through Sprint Planning and tasking stuff out but realize there is a major dependency that cannot be mitigated. Everything is blocked. Sprint Planning starts over with a new Goal.
  2. You are the Product Owner (PO). You bring your beautifully written PBIs to Sprint Planning and start planning but you can’t come to a consensus on a Sprint Goal because the Development Team keeps interrupting with things they need to do before they can build what you want.
  3. You are a member of the Development Team. You are ready to dig in and task stuff out, but the PO hasn’t had time to prepare. The whole team spends the day writing PBIs.
  4. You are the Scrum Master. You are texting all your buddies asking for a diversion phone call because this train wreck is just too painful to watch.

It needs to be said: Poor Sprint Planning leads to a heavy, bloated, wandering Sprint. A Development Team that just can’t take flight. Work gets blocked for days because the team is waiting on another team or resource to do something important – but they have their own important stuff to do. PBIs blow up, they don’t get finished, everyone is frustrated, and then there is the great rationalization to let stuff slide into the next sprint because it is “almost done.”

If the following scenarios sound familiar, this blog is for you. Continue reading “How to lose ten pounds in a Sprint”

Kanban – it’s not just lazy Scrum

Me: I’ve fallen in love with Kanban again.

My friend: Um, yeah… Who is Kanban, again?

From David Anderson, the founder of the Kanban movement: “with Kanban we’re using visualization, a working progress limit (WIP), and a quantitative measurement to stimulate Kaizen (Japanese for “improvements.”)

Me: In Kanban, we show all of the work in the system on one board, control how much we work on at any one time, and use data to improve the flow of the work through the system.

My friend: And they pay you to do this?


Are you happy? Tell your face!

When I was first introduced to Kanban in 2009, it was this funny sounding thing, (which I didn’t really know how to pronounce) and while I understood the whole “controlling WIP” concept, I have to admit, I felt like it was just lazy Scrum. But, as I get to know Kanban more, I’m realizing all I didn’t know.
Continue reading “Kanban – it’s not just lazy Scrum”

Agile < Lean < Systems Thinking

Agile Subset Low Detail I’m working with a colleague on a client’s organizational design issues. So I started to refresh my thinking with industry resources and reading. I call it “spring training” (even though as  I write this, we are in the dog days of summer in the Sunshine State right now, with a hurricane or two thrown in for fun.) I think of it as the same thing that a pro baseball team does in the spring – making the investment to hone my craft. It’s the third part of my coaching kata: practice the principles, uphold the values, continually improve. (Don’t have a coaching kata? Here’s how to get yours.)

My spring training has validated a core belief. To borrow from Oprah, there is one thing I know for sure:

Low Trust = High Process
Process kills Innovation

Innovation is the life blood of any organization that wants to exist more than 15 years, the average age of a company today. And for innovation to be in the bloodstream of a company competing in our global business world, we can think of cultural agility as the heartbeat, the regular cadence of responding and delivering, responding and delivering. Cultural agility sounds sexy, and for a start-up, it’s as natural and necessary as breathing oxygen into that bloodstream. But for those of us working with mature organizations to move the cultural needle, it’s darn hard.

My spring training also taught me something new. I came across this quote on the agile insights blog:

“Agile is a subset of Lean principles and practices which are in turn a subset of Systems Thinking.”

As an agile consultant, I help organizations understand the different frameworks such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, or Kanban all share agile tenets, and which one to use for their problem. However, I often thought of Agile and Lean as friendly cousins, if you will, borrowing favorite outfits from each other on their way to delight the customer. I’m taking my thinking one step further, and I really want your feedback. Do you find the below to resonate?

Continue reading “Agile < Lean < Systems Thinking"