“The key is to refine the plan throughout the project rather than to do it all up front.”
The term ‘scrum’ comes from the game of rugby, and it refers to the way a team works together to move the ball down the field. Careful alignment, unity of purpose, and clarity of goals come together to achieve desired outcomes.
Drawing from the 1986 Harvard Business Review paper by professors Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka titled The New Product Development Game as well as from his own military career, Jeff Sutherland created Scrum in 1993 as a fast, reliable, and effective way to create software in the tech industry.
Traditional software development uses the waterfall method, where detailed plans are made and projects completed in distinct stages: business requirements, design, coding, testing, client acceptance, and launch. Each phase cascades down to the next like a waterfall, with every single step laid out in detail, including every milestone and delivery date. It is impressive and reassuring to management that things are under control, but falls apart when it meets reality. Every project involves discovery of problems and bursts of inspiration. All the effort poured into planning, trying to restrict change, and trying to know the unknowable, ends up wasted.
Scrum embraces uncertainty and creativity. It places a structure around the learning process, using an ‘Inspect and Adapt’ cycle. As a result of continuous improvement and minimum viable products to get immediate feedback from consumers, Scrum results in greater productivity, less waste, good product fit and ultimately, happier customers and teams.
Steps of Scrum
"The Scrum framework harnesses how teams actually work and gives them the tools to self-organise and rapidly improve both speed and quality of work."
To implement Scrum, Jeff outlines the following steps:
1. Pick a Product Owner, Team and Scrum Master
The team does the work. The Scrum Master figures out how to do the work better. The Product Owner decides what the work should be, and the priority.
2. Create a Product Backlog, prioritize and estimate efforts required
Product backlog contains every feature that could be included in the product or service vision.
Not all features can be accomplished. The key is in prioritizing based on impact, importance, ease of implementation and profitability.
3. Sprint Planning
Sprints are typically one or two weeks and less than a month. The goals and work to be done are determined at the beginning of each Sprint, based on the product backlog.
4. Make work visible
Sticky notes representing items to be done are placed and moved on the Scrum Board under three columns: To Do, Doing, Done.
5. Daily Stand-up or Daily Scrum
Each day, at the same time, for no more than fifteen minutes, the team and the Scrum Master meet to report and review what were done and what could be done better, including the need to remove any obstacles.
6. Sprint Review or Sprint Demo
The team shows what they have accomplished during the Sprint.
7. Sprint Retrospective
A review of what was done right and what could be improved.
8. Immediately start the next sprint cycle, taking into account the lessons learned.
Characteristics of Scrum
"What Scrum does is create a different kind of pattern."
By setting up a positive pattern, the daily and weekly rhythm of scrum creates a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle that encourages increasingly better performance.
The following are key characteristics inherent in Scrum:
- Small (less than 6 persons), cross functional and autonomous.
- The Scrum master removes obstacles for the project to flow quickly.
- Leadership is not based on authority but on knowledge and being a servant-leader.
- Sprints provide the momentum for teams to focus and accomplish tasks.
- Waste is work done that does not produce any value, and is very common in modern corporations.
- Avoid the emotional waste of unreasonable expectations. Plan realistically.
- Do one thing at a time to avoid the cost of context switching.
- Minimise stuff that is half done.
- Do it right the first time.
- Fix mistakes as soon as they are discovered.
- Avoid waste of mistakes due to burnout by working long hours.
- Plan in just enough detail to deliver the next increment of value, and estimate the remainder of the project in larger chunks.
- Define tasks in the form of ‘user stories’ so that the desired outcome and motivation is clear. An example for Amazon.com would be: As a customer, I want to browse books by genre, so that I can find the type of books I like.
- Get customers involved.
- With Scrum’s incremental development and delivery, the focus is on features that deliver value to the customers as soon as possible, and creating revenue in the process.
- Scrum’s focus on autonomy, mastery, and purpose helps people achieve personal growth and fulfilment, and leads to happiness for teams and customers.
Opportunities and Challenges
"Each sprint is an opportunity to do something totally new; each day, a chance to improve. Scrum encourages a holistic worldview."
Scrum accelerates human effort and it is universally applicable.
In the Chemistry class in Ashram College, Netherlands, teacher Wijnands introduced eduScrum to the students. Cross functional teams were formed based on skills ranging from bravery and empathy to maths and goal achievement. Students learned to work with and appreciate people with different talents.
The students used a flip chart with columns listing ‘All items’,’ To do’, ‘In progress’, ‘Done’, to plan the lessons they wanted to complete each day, and track their progress. They also used ‘Definition of Done’ and ‘Definition of Fun’, to help motivate the learning process. The outcome was a totally engaged class without disciplinary problems.
In Uganda, The Grameen Foundation provided 1200 ‘Community Knowledge Workers’ (CKWs) with smartphones so that they could access information on crop health and sales prices. Scrum was used to develop the app with the most critical features. One participant reported that the agricultural data doubled both her yield and prices.
The Scrum framework encourages transparency, priority and accountability, and is more responsive to the wishes of the people. The office of the Chief Information Officer of the State of Washington used Scrum to deliver actionable, implementable policies to state departments every week, with moderate success.
One roadblock is that the Waterfall method is actually written into State Law and hard to change.
Scrum requires team members to share information, as well as be flexible and transparent, which is not easy to implement.To be effective, Scrum demands a certain degree of emotional maturity and an atmosphere of trust. Team members need to have the fortitude to bring up issues, listen to feedback, and seek solutions as a team rather than being defensive.
Scrum is increasingly being used outside the software development field, and being adopted as a productivity tool.
Do you see the opportunity for adopting Scrum in your work and life?