Scrum@Scale: Part of the U.S. Navy's Business Operations Plan?

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Department of the Navy Business Operations Plan

Our mandate to increase our competitive military advantage in this dynamic environment demands bold, holistic, and end-to-end thinking that will move the enterprise towards greater effectiveness, efficiency, agility, and accountability.

The Department of the Navy (DoN) released its Business Operations Plan this week which contains an outline for how the DoN will create organizational agility and accountability. One of the key points found in the 65-page document is that outdated business practices are impeding the DoN’s ability to anticipate and adapt to the complexity found in this new era of great power competition. The Honorable Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy, points out that in order to build the Navy the Nation Needs, DoN leaders must leverage experts and leading practices from all sources, private and public.

In Section 3.2, the Business Operations Plan calls for Optimizing Organizational Structures to enable urgency and accelerate execution by reducing team size and support structures, and delegating authority down to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, Section 1.2—Lay the Foundation for Future Readiness through Recapitalization, Innovation, and Modernization—calls for improving acquisition agility through the reevaluation of external reporting requirements in favor of reporting alternatives that ensure transparency while reducing program management and time costs. These two sections in the BOP perfectly describe the need to implement Scrum@Scale.


Co-created by a West Point graduate and former RF-4C pilot, Scrum is a small team framework inspired by Boyd’s OODA loop and the Toyota Production System. According to the Scrum Guide, Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering viable products of the highest possible value.

For navy units familiar with or using TOPGUN’s Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief cycle, Scrum adds additional artifacts and roles that (1) make work visible, (2) help prioritize work, (3) create a container to monitor output, (4) minimize context switching, and (5) provide an explicit opportunity to develop leaders (Scrum Master and Product Owner Roles).


Scrum@Scale is a fractal, whole-of-organization Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief (PBED)-like framework that emphasizes Mission Command, establishes an Executive Action Team focused on removing organizational impediments to agility such as acquisition constraints, and creates a Product Owner Cycle where multiple safe-to-fail probes can be prioritized and monitored for amplification or early termination. Within Scrum@Scale, continuous improvement and local impediment removal, cross-team coordination, and product deployment are part of the Scrum Master Cycle.

Will Scrum@Scale work in the U.S. Navy?

A U.S. Navy unit that implemented Scrum@Scale has seen a 13X increase in productivity... not 13% but 1300%. That is doing more than six times the work in half the time. Typical results of using Scrum@Scale properly in the private sector are in the 2X to 4X range. So why is Scrum@Scale working so well in the U.S. Navy? Several reasons, including leadership buy-in where the command triad is walking the walk, teams are more than just teams in name only, and the command's performance management approach values team-work over individual performance.

As a consultant and speaker who exports leadership and teamwork lessons from the military to industry, and having engaged with more than 70 private and public entities this year to identify leading practices, Scrum@Scale is one of my recommended leading business practices that can help develop and improve organizational agility, safety, and resilience. However, Scrum@Scale is NOT a panacea and will fail when executives impose the framework on others while doing nothing to change the way they work as teams.

If the Department of the Navy is serious about improving agility and accountability, leaders will need to move beyond repeating the platitudes found in business operations plans towards actually implementing leading business practices that work in different domains. Scrum@Scale is one such leading practice that navy commands can apply now without a mandate to help meet 80% FMC rates, build a 355-ship navy, and thrive in an environment where competitors have equal access to information and technology.

Real organizational change in the U.S. Navy will only occur if leaders in D.C. walk the walk. Until then, what's your command's excuse for maintaining the status quo?

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, founder of AGLX, and the creator of the ZONEFIVE™ Team Performance Indicator. Contact Brian at

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