The Scrum methodology of agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. In fact, Scrum and other agile processes were inspired by its shortcomings. The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities — all attributes that suffer in the rigidly ordered waterfall paradigm.

31st
MAR

Has Scrum Become the Face of Agile?

Posted by admin under Agile and Scrum

I just came across a recently published Forrester report called “Ensure Success for Agile Using Four Simple Steps,” that provides recommendations for how organizations can smooth out the agile adoption process and make sure it sticks. Written by David West, with assistance from Mike Gilpin and David D’Silva, the report draws on the experiences of companies using agile to manage complex projects (from HP to Wells Fargo) as well as companies who offer agile training and software solutions, such as Danube Technologies which publishes ScrumWorks Pro. It’s a great document for organizations considering an agile transformation or those who have taken the plunge, but are still encountering obstacles to adoption. To purchase it, head here: http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,54037,00.html

One of the most interesting aspects of this article was how Scrum is used almost interchangeably with agile. That is, while Scrum is in fact just one project management method beneath the umbrella of agile, there was virtually no mention of any other method. (Rational Unified Process (i.e. RUP) was mentioned, but Crystal, Spiral, and DSDM were not.) It’s clear that Scrum has become the most popular exponent of agile over the past few years, but West’s report suggests its popularity has grown to the point that it has become the face of agile. Nearly every concrete example provided refers to Scrum and, early on, Scrum creator Ken Schwaber is quoted about Scrum teams as a proof point of an “agile” trend.

In part, this squares with one of the report’s main points: “Make organizational change, not agile development, the main focus.” That is, agile development is only doing its job if it’s helping an organization improve its processes and become more effective and efficient. After all, if a team religiously follows agile practices and processes, but fails to enact actual change, then there’s no point. In that sense, any agile method can work for an organization, but I suspect West returns to Scrum time and again because it is the most widely practiced—and most successful—method.

What do you think? Is your team using another agile subset to manage projects? Or is Scrum just the standard? What reasons do you see as responsible for Scrum’s popularity?

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25th
MAR

Guest Column: Scrum Transitions, Part 3 of 3

Posted by admin under Scrum Basics, Scrum Discussion, Scrum Transitions

Scrum Methodology’s Guest Column feature asks individuals throughout the Scrum community to address an issue that is a common obstacle for Scrum teams. In the final part of the inaugural column, entitled “Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right,” Katie Playfair, director of client services at Danube Technologies, Inc., discusses how teams can work toward making a Scrum transformation a success—long before the transformation actually occurs.

Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right, Part Three
Don’t fail before you start – avoiding common pitfalls prior to the pilot stage

By Katie Playfair, director of client services, Danube Technologies, Inc.

So you’ve got your team – now what?

It’s almost time to start sprinting but not yet!  The manager trying to spark this Scrum transformation needs to make sure their (hopefully) all-volunteer pilot team is armed with the tools they need to be successful at Scrum. The first thing they need to do is understand what Scrum is. There are two basic categories of knowledge about Scrum that will help the team begin practicing:

Knowledge of Scrum mechanics:

  • Roles, meetings and artifacts
  • Story-writing (requirements) basics
  • Vocabulary
  • Common patterns and anti-patterns

Understanding of Scrum principles:

  • Reflexive knowledge of Scrum values
  • Embrace of guiding principles
  • Ability to apply values, principles and practices to scenarios not discussed in class

Although the first category of knowledge can be taught at a very basic level through books, blogs, and other didactic tools, the second must be taught through experiential means. Managers have a variety of providers to turn to and should consider the following factors:

  • Does this instructor have experience implementing Scrum at an organization of similar size and type to yours?
  • Is this person highly accessible and responsive to our questions and needs? Do they, or their educated staff, get back to you quickly with answers?
  • How involved in and respected by the Scrum community is this instructor?
  • Do they have case studies or references to back up their claims?

Once the pilot team has received some high-quality training (remember, we’re keeping costs low by limiting our audience to only those who will be immediately practicing Scrum), a manager should also be looking into infrastructure that will help them be successful. When piloting Scrum, it is extremely preferable that the entire team be co-located, if possible in the same room (team room). If facilities make that impossible, managers should seek to approximate in-room co-location as much as possible by providing some shared space for the team to have their daily stand-up and sprint planning, review and retrospective meetings. Although it is best to allow the team to develop its own tools for tracking sprint commitments and work, managers should be prepared for the need for a physical task-board area, a virtual way of tracking tasks through a Scrum-centric project management tool, or both. Often at this phase of the project, managers do not yet have senior management support or much financing to work with. Fortunately, there are free tools that can provide this necessary infrastructure without having to go through the budgeting process.

Motivated, educated, and armed with tools…

With an educated volunteer team armed with motivation, eagerness to try Scrum, knowledge about the framework and infrastructure to support their work, managers can finally feel free to let the team actually start sprinting. Now that the team is ready to sprint, the team needs to be successful in two major ways:

1. The team needs to be successful on a project that demonstrates the value of Scrum to the organization.  Essentially, they need to “show me the money!”

2. The pilot team needs to experience success and enjoyment from the process, so that their motivation level stays high to continue on with the pilot.

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23rd
MAR

Guest Column: Scrum Transitions, Part 2 of 3

Posted by admin under Scrum Basics, Scrum Discussion, Scrum Transitions

Scrum Methodology’s Guest Column feature asks individuals throughout the Scrum community to address an issue that is a common obstacle for Scrum teams. In part two of the inaugural column, entitled “Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right,” Katie Playfair, director of client services at Danube Technologies, Inc., discusses how teams can work toward making a Scrum transformation a success—long before the transformation actually occurs.

Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right, Part Two
Don’t fail before you start – avoiding common pitfalls prior to the pilot stage

By Katie Playfair, director of client services, Danube Technologies, Inc.

It’s all about buy-in

Teams that are successful at Scrum are usually teams that want to be successful at Scrum. If you’re a team member and your team wants to try Scrum, you have the right ingredients to start thinking about a pilot. How can a manager convince a team that Scrum is worth trying? More importantly, how can a manager motivate a team to want to be successful at Scrum? Building buy-in for Scrum at the development level is really about getting teams to embrace that Scrum will be better for them personally and professionally. Note the world “embrace” is not the same as “understand.” The goal of the buy-in phase is to get team members and, specifically, volunteers for your pilot team to become genuinely excited about Scrum. To accomplish that, consider the following:

Teams need to understand why what they’re doing now isn’t working.

First, ask the team what isn’t working for them. Examples include:

  • BA’s are overloaded at the beginning of the project, while developers and QA are bored. QA is overloaded at the end of the project, while other functional groups may be “done” with their contribution and unwilling to help.
  • Team members may be frustrated that requirements seem to change regularly and have a heavyweight change process, resulting in changes “jerking them around.”
  • As in the case of our Intel client case study, there may be unnecessary turnover at the end of a project because of burdensome deadlines falling on particular groups.
  • Work just isn’t fun anymore.
  • The team can’t release a product due to technical debt (when we change something, something else breaks).

Secondly, tell the team what isn’t working for the organization with regard to their product:

  • Development is too slow.
  • The team isn’t open to change due to current processes.
  • The project is constantly slipping deadlines.
  • Software quality has gone down – bug reports are way up.
  • Due to technical debt, the team can’t develop new features anymore.
  • Team member attrition has gone up and the cost of replacing good people is too high.

Team members need to have adequate information about this Scrum framework a manager would like them to try.

What the team needs to know:

  • Working in a Scrum environment is more fun than traditional project management.
  • In Scrum, the input of every team member matters and the organization will ask for your opinion, often on your area of technical expertise. Scrum helps create more equality between team members and each person’s input is considered equally important.
  • The Scrum framework helps ensure that the technical team is responsible for the technical quality of their output and that the business team is responsible for the quality of business decisions.
  • Engineering practices that go hand-in-hand with Scrum will help make late change cheaper and less painful.

How can you get them this information?

  • Distribute case studies from similar companies who have experienced success.
  • Invite an experienced Scrum coach or trainer on-site to share success stories.
  • Encourage developers to attend local agile, Scrum and XP user groups to discuss how their counterparts at other companies feel about it.
  • Invite them to read blogs, participate in online discussions, and generally research Scrum online.

Seek volunteers who agree that current processes could be improved and that Scrum might be worth trying.

  • Express support for doing things differently and ask for motivated folks who want to try it.
  • Demonstrate concern for the welfare of the team and their success.
  • Assure volunteers that they are safe to try and fail at first, while they learn this new way of working.

Does volunteerism work in the real world of Scrum transformations? Yes. Let’s take the case of a 35+ person development organization, divided into two basic categories, “technical leadership” and “everyone else.” “Everyone else” members were treated as lackeys, not allowed to make technical decisions or have any input into how to estimate difficulty of their tasks. Many of the “everyone else” team members were bright and capable, longing for more responsibility and independence. When a Scrum pilot was offered as an option, members of the “everyone else” team rushed to volunteer to be on the team.

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18th
MAR

Guest Column: Scrum Transitions, Part 1 of 3

Posted by admin under Scrum Basics, Scrum Discussion, Scrum Transitions

Scrum Methodology’s Guest Column feature asks individuals throughout the Scrum community to address an issue that is a common obstacle for Scrum teams. In the inaugural column, entitled “Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right,” Katie Playfair, director of client services at Danube Technologies, Inc., discusses how teams can work toward making a Scrum transformation a success—long before the transformation actually occurs.

Scrum Transitions: Do It Once, Do It Right, Part One
Don’t fail before you start – avoiding common pitfalls prior to the pilot stage

By Katie Playfair, director of client services, Danube Technologies, Inc.

Introduction

The pressure to create more software of higher quality with fewer people isn’t new, but the global circumstances of the last several months have created greater urgency around cutting costs and doing more with less. Scrum is a framework designed to leverage small teams to deliver maximum business value and has become the answer for many organizations for reducing development costs and time to market, while still delivering a great product. As Scrum becomes a more visible and popular framework for managing enterprise development, managers and executives are naturally eager to implement it as soon as possible. In an interesting paradox, however, most successful enterprise Scrum transformations have been driven, at least initially, through strong bottom-up efforts that started at the developer level, gradually gained the acceptance of management, and, ultimately, scaled organically to large teams. So if managers today are drawn to Scrum, how can they leverage known best practices of bottom-up transitions to spark a transformation in their organizations?

Don’t start how you think you should…

If you are a manager eager to roll out Scrum across your organization, please hear out this argument. What you believe has worked for you in the past (in terms of rolling out new processes) will probably not work with Scrum. Here’s an anonymous proof point:

Case One – Online e-commerce portal:
Senior managers at this company decided Scrum was the key to restructuring teams and, therefore, developed a process roll-out plan based on previous process roll-outs. The plan involved training about 150 software team members and asking all of the teams to “kick-off” on the same day. The plan sounded very organized, but, critically, failed to consult anyone with actual enterprise Scrum implementation experience. Trainers were brought in for several sessions. What management discovered is that employees had not “bought into” changing the way they worked. Moreover, since more than 50 percent of the staff was comprised of contractors who felt the transition jeopardized their employment, more than half of the staff present for training refused to participate. Ultimately, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on training, only a few enthusiastic individuals embraced Scrum. It took approximately three years for these enthusiastic volunteers, working on a pilot project, to re-sell Scrum to the organization by demonstrating their success and the best practices they had developed as a small pilot team. This same outcome could have been achieved by spending only a few thousand dollars on sending those enthusiastic volunteers to training or conducting a small- to medium-sized training session for 10 to 30 people.

Almost every successful Scrum transition has started with an enthusiastic pilot team that wanted to try Scrum, demonstrated its capacity for success, documented their best practices, and, finally, asked their management to invite other teams to join. So if your plan for starting Scrum among your teams doesn’t look anything like that, it is almost certain that you will fail either entirely or by spending more time, money, blood, sweat, and tears than necessary.

Rather than spending time developing an enterprise roll-out plan, sending out RFPs to vendors for training and coaching services, and risking spending too much money, let’s talk about how managers can leverage best practices developed by successful Scrum teams around the world to facilitate lasting change that positively impacts the bottom line. On a side note, what you’re about to hear is going to be cheaper than these “big bang” strategies, too.

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5th
MAR

A Scrum Users Group with a Twist

Posted by admin under Scrum Basics, Scrum Discussion

InfoQ just published a brief article on Scrum Club, a group of Los Angeles-based software professionals that operates like a mix of a user group and a philanthropic outreach organization. In short, the group—which was founded by devs who connected at Agile Open California 2008—strengthens the Scrum community by meeting regularly and discussing Scrum best practices. It extends its impact by offering its services to a hand-picked group of local non-profit organizations. You can read the full text and check out the group’s Fight Club-inspired video here: http://www.infoq.com/news/2009/02/Scrum-Club

While Scrum Club’s model of a users group expands the mission of most of the ones I’ve encountered, it’s a great reminder of the value of getting together with folks who speak the same language, face the same challenges, and can share strategies for overcoming similar obstacles. There are Scrum and agile user groups all over the country—in fact, they seem to be popping up more often than ever these days. A quick Google search should help you find one in your area.

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