Agile Business Conference 2009
Zombieland Project Management

Scrum, Bikram Yoga and The Attention Economy


What do Scrum and Bikram Yoga have in common? They both cater for the attention economy. Humans derive a lot of their sense of security and confidence, what psychologist Albert Bandura calls “self-efficacy,” from predictable routines. Without these predictable routines we can feel uncomfortable and uncertain.


I was talking to a colleague, Mike McCullough, last week who was creating agile training materials and quick-start templates to help organizations adopt agile. I was teasing him on the irony of creating prescriptive templates to guide people through an adaptive process that should probably be tailored for each project. He agreed, but pointed out that definitive models (even if not optimal) are much easier to sell than open-end frameworks requiring adjustment and set-up.


This is true, known entities create buying confidence. Comforted by the certainty (or less uncertainty) of a well defined approach our mental search for predictability is satisfied. Plus, really, which is easier to explain and sell to sponsors:

  1. We are adopting Scrum, it has two-week iterations, a Product Owner role, and work prioritized in a Product Backlog.
  2. We will select a hybrid of agile and traditional approaches, based on project and organizational characteristics, and selectively add and subtract approaches based on stakeholder feedback and project performance.


Even if option 2 is better, it sounds so fuzzy and nebulous that frankly as a sponsor, I am not sure what I am buying into.



At the heart of Scrum is a simple process, obviously a great deal of skill is required to make it successful in challenging environments, but the underlying model is simple and this is a great strength. Scrum is the fastest growing and most widely used agile method, due to this simplicity. It can be quickly described, the rules are clearly defined, and there is a certainty to the process guidelines that (regardless of whether they always really apply) satisfy our urge for completeness and certainty.

  • There are clearly defined activities (Release Planning Meeting, Sprint Planning Meeting, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review)
  • Sprints are fixed time periods, traditionally 30 days, but now many teams use 2 weeks
  • Only Certified Scrum Trainers can deliver Certified Scrum Master training courses

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga is a form of hot-yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury. It caused some controversy when the 26 postures were pursued under copyright and wide-scale franchising occurred. The whole commercialization of yoga for personal profit seemed, well, un-yoga -ish and spawned the “Yoga, Inc” documentary and terms like “McYoga “.  Regardless of the controversy, it has been amazingly successful. With over 600 studios worldwide, it is the fastest growing form of yoga.

  • All classes perform the same 26 Postures
  • Classes are always 90 minutes in length and conducted at 104F
  • Only certified Bikram instructors can run Bikram hot yoga classes

The Attention Economy...

In today’s busy times, are we constrained on information or time and attention?  Thomas Davenport used the term “Attention Economy” to describe a common mistake made by designers of information systems.  He noted that they thought people were looking for more information when what they really wanted was answers. As a result designers tend to build systems that excel at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information.


In other words, in a time when people are bombarded with choices, many are just looking for well thought out packaged solutions. There is this feeling of “Don’t give me a whole slew of potentially conflicting choices I am likely to get wrong, give me the best solution!”


Is Bikram the best yoga, or even the best hot-yoga you can find? Perhaps some days 60 minutes or 120 minutes might be a better duration for us. If you have a stiff hip maybe some extra postures beyond the standard 26 could help? However this is ignoring the attention economy influence again, for many consumers a well rounded solution is the big win.


Solution or Seduction?

Could we have a simple model with some optional plug-ins? There is no denying the appeal of a single, simple model and maybe this should be packaged and marketed with 80% of the publicity and visibility available. Then have some add-ins for consideration after the simple model has been successfully practiced.


For Scrum this might be tools and techniques for geographically dispersed teams, or teams with over 50 people. For Bikram Yoga it might be further postures for quadriceps and hip flexors.


Yet we need to be careful that our tendencies to associate More with Better do not take hold or else we will be back to complex RUP frameworks and month long yoga retreats. Man, this balance idea is tricky!



Terence Gannon

The concept linking the three is the pursuit of simplicity and the elimination of complexity. The defining characteristic of Scrum, based on my experience, was it's simplicity; there's just so darn little to it, there isn't much room for misinterpretation, and therefore easy to get right. I have no first hand knowledge of Bikram, but it sounds like the same formula. There are lots of great examples of concepts succeeding because of their simplicity; the iPod is the classic example. It invented nothing, but was wildly successful because it was simple, and it worked. The products from 37signals ( are also good examples.

I'm reminded of Antoine do Saint-Exupéry, who I believe said; "Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away."

Robert Dempsey

Great post as always Mike.

As you rightly point out, known entities inspire buying confidence. There are now a great number of stories and evidence that the implementation of Scrum in development and non-development shops alike, can bring great benefits. Making it easily digestible is a key in selling it, and the simplicity of Scrum itself helps.

As for keeping a balance, the simple model with plugins you mention is I feel the best way to go. At the heart you have Scrum, and from there you have all of the additional Agile practices - TDD, pair programming, etc. Finding what works best in the context of the company is key. So, while we work for #2, we sell #1, knowing full well that ultimately what we deliver will be option #2, the hybrid approach. Leading with simplicity will get us in the door.

Michael Aucoin

Mike, this is an insightful post, and it applies not only to Scrum but to so many products or services. It demonstrates the power of packaged solutions, and it also suggests the power of branding. The best brands foster deep trust as well as a certain buzz, and Scrum fits that description. I share the conflict over the balancing act in training. While many people want the packaged solution in the form of a recipe, it is important to understand the principles behind the recipe. Otherwise there are times when the following the recipe will not lead to the best results.

Mike Griffiths

Hi Terence,

I agree the pursuit of simplicity and elimination of complexity is a great thing. I have some concerns that if we have a beautifully crafted and perfectly balanced hammer then a lot of our problems begin to look like nails, but this is really a separate issue about inappropriate use. I love your iPod example, that is a perfect illustration of the success of simplicity. Thanks for your comment.


Mike Griffiths

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your post and “Leading with simplicity” sums up the issue perfectly. I think selling the simple #1 knowing we will likely implement the hybrid #2 is realistic. It feels a little bait-and-switch, but certainly eases the acceptance, which for many companies is still a barrier to adoption.


Mike Griffiths

Hi Michael,

Yes, this is my conflict, a concern that the packaged solution masks the principles behind the recipe. For simple applications the process it can be duplicated successfully, but when the client needs the gluten-free version or we need to cook on an open fire we get disappointing results and people blame the chef’s recipe. Perhaps wanting to teach the principles first is unrealistic for all audiences, I guess demonstrating success with a simple approach and then hoping this will foster more interest and learning is an appropriate way to go too. It seems to me that simplicity is seductive, plug-in options are a practical approach, and an appreciation of the principles is our end goal.

Best regards

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