Monday, December 22, 2008

Introduction to SCRUM - Part 1

I wrote this post originally on pmstudent.com and thought I would post it here as well because not everyone knows about that site.

I started to write a response to a recent blog post about the effect that a slowing economy will have on the adoption of Agile project management methodologies when I realized from the comments on that site that there may be some folks here that are not yet familiar with Agile/SCRUM. I'm going to speak specifically about SCRUM since it's currently the most popular "flavor" of Agile. If you're already familiar with SCRUM, then this is just another SCRUM 101...if you're new to the idea, then I recommend that you read this before continuing...

If you've made it here, then you should understand what a departure these four tenets are, for most organizations, from the way they've always managed solving technical problems. As we begin discussing SCRUM, I'll be painting the picture from the standpoint of a business that is using a single small team doing internal, LOB application development. There are minor variations of this content for those producing commercial products, and for instances where you might be a cog in a much larger machine. I hope to cover these scenarios in depth in future posts. That said, you need to understand that SCRUM lays out a few, simple roles:


  • A "Product Owner" [someone from "the business"] owns ultimate responsibility for the behaviors and functionality of the system as well as the schedule of what features will be delivered and when.
  • A "ScrumMaster" is responsible for removing any barriers - organizational, technical, inter-personal, etc. that are/might be preventing the team from delivering on it's commitments.
  • A "Team" consists of everyone involved in delivery...that may include architects, developers, designers, business analysts, DBA's, QA pros, and perhaps marketing, training developers, technical writers, etc. Popular guidance suggests that a team should consist of 5-9, although it can be larger or smaller, as always, you should really have a valid reason for doing it.

and a few ground rules:

  • All meetings are Time-Boxed.
  • Development is organized into fixed duration, completely encapusulated, development windows [typically 30 days] called a Sprint.
  • The Product Owner is responsible for collecting, capturing, prioritizing, and communicating the system requirements [called User Stories]
  • Each Sprint consists of four major meeetings...
    • Sprint Planning Meeting #1 is used by the team to review the Product Backlog and discuss the desired outcome of the Sprint.
    • Sprint Planning Meeting #2 is used by the team, having used the interim between the previous meeting to estimate the size of each item on the Product Backlog, to choose how many of the top items in the list can be completely delivered in the next 30 days. This subset of the Product Backlog is called the Sprint Backlog.
    • The "Daily Standup" is a daily, 15-minute meeting used by the team to report progress since the last meeting, report what each person will be working on before the next meeting, and finally to indicate what, if any, impediments there are to their progress.
    • The Retrospective meeting happens at the end of the Sprint and is intended as an opportunity for the Team, ScrumMaster, and Product Owner to candidly discuss what went right and what went wrong during the Sprint, and then to discuss and assign specific actions in order to adapt the process for the next Sprint.
  • The "Team" is self-organizing and is responsible, as a unit, for understanding and delivering the product envisioned by the Product Owner.

So, now you should have a general feel for who's involved in the effort and what each person's responsibilities are.

Now, the first thing you need to do to understand SCRUM is to set aside your feelings and understanding of organizational structures, reporting structures, and anything else that smells of command and control. SCRUM requires a new organizational philosophy that typically manifests itself as a shift from the scenario where management controls production to one where the workers are empowered to innovate and the role of management is to alleviate anything that slows or prevents production. Naturally, worker bees are usually OK with this because they are positively affected and empowered by this shift, manager bees struggle with it because it takes their "power" away and expects them step into a role of "Servant-Leader". If your ogranization [specifically management] can't adapt to this shift and you still try to "make" SCRUM work, you're either going to have severe managerial attrition, failed projects across the board, or best case will be marginal successes with burned-out developers who feel caught in the middle/terrorized by the PM. You should also understand that SCRUM mandates very little, in fact, the SCRUM methodology is extremely lightweight and does not provide specific proscription for how you might implement it in your organization. The result of this has been mis-application of the principles and philosophies behind SCRUM, but more on that in a later blog post.

The second big mindshift you need to understand is the Agile approach to requirements. Contrary to the "waterfall" and "modified waterfall" approach to development, the collection of detailed requirements in SCRUM is deferred until the last moment. In a "traditional" or "waterfall" development process, the requirements are collected in detail at the beginning of the process, and then the development team goes off into a closet and works to deliver according to the Statement of Work. In SCRUM, a User Story is a component of work and represents a reminder for the developer to have a detailed requirements collection conversation with the Product Owner regarding the specific piece of functionality. I'm sure that right now you're saying "this can't work", "my developers are too lazy to do that", and/or "what about architecture", and a thousand other questions. I'll address these in future blog posts as well [this things is already approaching book status]. The benefit and net result of this approach to requirements is that the "customer" [Product Owner] can change the "scope" of the project [by manipulating the Product Backlog] in the midst of the project. In truth, and practice, this type of "change" is actually encouraged as long as the change to the Product Backlog is not made to the Sprint Backlog [although this can also be accepted as long as the Product Owner chooses an item of comparable size that can be moved from the Sprint Backlog to the Product Backlog and that the item being removed is not already in progress]. Because SCRUM welcomes scope changes, the product that is ultimately delivered should be an exact match to the customer's business requirement.

The first thing to do when implementing SCRUM is to evaluate your organization's willingness, capacity, and commitment to making the change. Second, make the same assessment about your willingness to be an organizational change agent because whoever adopts SCRUM will have to be prepared to make a firm and consistent stand that you CAN, with some effort, produce a ballpark estimate of time and cost to deliver a project and you CANNOT produce a detailed cost and schedule estimate, Gantt Chart, Project Plan, and the plethora of other documentation that a traditional waterfall approach mandates. This is a particularly difficult concept to endorse when you're accustomed to managers, customers, executives, etc. that demand to know the "Not To Exceed" costs and schedule up front. This "cannot" stems from the fact that, with a new team at least, you cannot estimate velocity [again, that'll be in the next post] and as such you cannot determine how many Sprints it will take to work through the complete Product Backlog.

SCRUM and Agile are not silver bullets, and adoption of them requires a serious and significant commitment from the organization to embrace change. It's not for everyone, but for those that can embrace change, do believe that it's better to deliver smaller functional bites of an application than to deliver a monolithic application, and are willing to turn their organizational structure on it's ear....then you're on the right path...please stay tuned for more.

1 comment:

PM Hut said...

What an excellent introduction to Scrum. Looking forward to Part II, although I think you mainly covered all the basics here.

Now how hard is it to implement Scrum in mature/hierarchical operations, and is such implementation really worthwhile?

I have read in the last week or 2 endless articles that are pro scrum/anti agile/scrum and the issue is mainly all about (missing) objectivity.

Note: I did publish an article about the Limitations of Agile, which is objective in the sense that it views the requirements of Agile as actual limitations.