OPINION: Scrum for continuous improvement

New Zealanders are naturally pragmatic, and this aligns nicely with core concepts of the Lean software development philosophy, which aims to achieve continual improvement by learning quickly from experience.

In the previous two articles I have discussed the rise of Scrum and making Scrum work within your organisation. This article explores how to evolve Scrum to deliver additional agility while never losing sight of the Agile philosophy that underpins the Scrum approach.

Experiment to continuously improve

New Zealanders are naturally pragmatic, and this aligns nicely with core concepts of the Lean software development philosophy, which aims to achieve continual improvement by learning quickly from experience.

So while using Scrum as your core framework, you may choose to experiment with various non-Scrum practices that enhance or complement Scrum. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what works and what does not, and adopt those practices that help you to continuously improve.

Metrics, such as cycle time (the time from feature inception to delivery), are critical here, providing a measure of which changes have a positive impact. Less quantitative observations, such as the effect on the team, are also very important.

In support of ScrumBut

Augmenting Scrum with other practices, as discussed above, falls into the territory of ScrumBut and is usually explained as “we do Scrum, but …” and then follow-up with a number of non-Scrum techniques. In the Scrum world this is seen as a negative, and if you are attempting to implement pure Scrum then it is.

However, a 2013 ScrumAlliance study shows that hybrid Agile methods are a reality in most Agile implementations and Scrum is often used as a ‘wrapper’ that includes other software engineering practices. If your aim is to deliver the best result for your organisation, as intended in the Agile philosophy, rather than be a Scrum purist, then ScrumBut can be a practical solution.

Enhancing Scrum with Lean and Kanban

The Lean software development practice of Kanban uses a visual board to manage project workflow, enabling you to identify bottlenecks and reduce waste. Using Scrum together with Kanban is becoming popular, even gaining its own moniker – Scrumban.

We combine Scrum with Kanban and other practices at Equinox IT, and we have found Kanban to be a highly beneficial addition for managing work and identifying problem areas.

We have also found that the broader Lean philosophy can work well in evolving and supporting Scrum. Many of the principles, such as build quality in, focus on customers, eliminate waste, learn first and continuously improve (Kaizen) can help to embed a mind-set, and encourage the adoption of practices, where the team is continuously looking to get better at developing and delivering software.

In our experience, the successful implementation of Scrum provides many benefits, and this is supported by its wide adoption internationally. By enhancing Scrum with other Agile and Lean practices we believe you will see on-going improved results, as your team continuously learns and gets better. In our fast-paced and changing world, using and adapting Scrum in this way provides a software development approach that continuously evolves to remain relevant.

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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