OPINION: Making Scrum work

Scrum, like other Agile approaches, requires a mind-set shift from conventional software development methods

Last week, I wrote about how Scrum has become a mainstream software development approach. This article explores how to make Scrum work for your organisation and deliver results.

Adopt the Scrum mind-set

Scrum, like other Agile approaches, requires a mind-set shift from conventional software development methods. Scrum places value on deliverable software and communication above traditional structure and documentation. It uses lightweight techniques such as face-to-face communication, frequent demonstrations and regular retrospectives to achieve the certainty and communication intended by traditional means.

Project oversight is still achieved, but in a way that’s ingrained within the Scrum approach. This can lead to improved software results, but also requires a greater level of trust from stakeholders. In our experience, teams need to embrace this new mind-set for Scrum to succeed.

Get management buy-in

Like any change activity, it is vital to have buy-in. A 2013 Scrum Alliance study reports that 49 per cent of participants believe senior management involvement was the most crucial component to Scrum’s success.

Scrum projects do not provide fully fleshed out plans, requirements and designs at the start like traditional projects. That’s not to say that these activities do not occur. Arguably there is more time spent on planning in a Scrum project due to constant re-planning as understanding increases and new information is uncovered. However, if the organisation’s governance and approval procedures enforce traditional milestones it will be difficult to get the true benefits of Scrum, such as responding to changing requirements and delivering quickly.

Continued buy-in is achieved by demonstrating measurable results. In adopting Agile at Equinox IT, we established metrics relating to budget and work completion. We often find that we can deliver less functionality than originally requested, while still meeting all business needs. The most important benefit of Agile is to the client or business so we also track unnecessary rework, unidentified defects and customer satisfaction.

Build the team

The emphasis of Scrum is on the team. The Product Owner and ScrumMaster are team members but are not managers like traditional project managers. This flat structure helps team members to be more engaged, avoiding the common disconnect between project management and actual day-to-day development activity. People rather than process become the project’s safety net.

Training can provide a valuable grounding on the Scrum approach and Agile concepts, and helps to create a shared understanding for teams adopting Scrum for the first time. However, in our experience, while the roles and practices of Scrum are relatively easy to understand, many teams can find them difficult to make work in practice. Working with a Scrum coach, who has successful Scrum project experience, can help to embed correct practice and the right mind-set in the team.

Keep getting better

“If something is hard – do it more often and you will get better,” says Mary Poppendieck, international Lean software development thought leader and Equinox IT partner.

Scrum’s strength lies in its agility so never lose sight of the agile philosophy and the intent of its development.

The adoption of Scrum can be an incredibly beneficial transition for your organisation, and the next article in this series will explore ‘Evolving Scrum’.

Ben Hughes is a Systems Analyst who plays a key role on many of Equinox IT's software development projects, where Scrum, Lean and Agile practices are used. Equinox IT is New Zealand’s leading independent IT consultancy, delivering software development, consulting and training services.

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