In the third instalment of The Agile Journey, we explain agile frameworks and unravel the nuts and bolts of the most popular method for ‘doing agile’, Scrum.
Agile frameworks focus on business value (rather than scope) and use this to determine what will be delivered given the constraints of development, such as time, cost or feature. The main aim is to provide value to the customer by providing valuable, working features as soon as possible, so that the customer can start gaining a benefit from the product as soon as possible.
While agile is often referred to as one concept, it’s important to remember that there are many ‘flavours’ of agile, such as Scrum, Kanban or Lean. Whichever framework you use you will still be adhering to standard agile principles and using standard agile practices, it’s just that the tools, techniques and terminology you employ to ‘do agile’ will vary.
It’s safe to say that Scrum is today’s agile project management ‘flavour’ of choice, particularly for completing complex projects in dynamic conditions. While originally designed for software development projects, it’s now used in many environments.
Here we explore what Scrum is and how it works, including some of key processes and terms that come into play when putting Scrum into practice.
According to the official Scrum Guide, Scrum uses an iterative, incremental approach when delivering products to optimise predictability and control risk, and is built on the theory of empiricism.
Empiricism means that knowledge comes from experience and decisions are made based on information available at the time.
There are three pillars that support the theory of empiricism:
- Transparency: Key aspects of the process must be visible to those responsible for the outcome.
- Inspection: Timely and frequent inspections take place to detect unwanted variances.
- Adaptation: Unacceptable variances trigger a change in the process to minimise further deviation.
Empiricism and its three pillars are underpinned by five Scrum values:
The idea is that working in a consistent way with the courage to learn and adapt helps to foster a culture of continuous improvement and trust.
In practice, Scrum tools and techniques allow for large tasks to be broken down into manageable chunks that can be completed in a limited time period (called a sprint).
The main aim is to deliver value to the customer early and continuously throughout the lifecycle of the project. To this end, those features and product increments that provide the most value for the customer are ordered so that they are developed and delivered first.
To facilitate this process, Scrum relies on cross-functional, self-organised teams and typically uses a visual representation of the workflow to keep all team members in the loop on WIP and what’s to come.
As with all things project management, there’s no shortage of terminology when working in Scrum. As you familarise yourself with the method, here are some of the key terms you will come across:
Backlog – a prioritised (ordered) list of everything that might be developed in a product or service and the single source of requirements for any changes to be made in future releases. The list is typically made up of user stories (see below), describing who wants the feature and why.
Sprint – a fixed timeframe (usually two weeks) that is repeatedly used to deliver selected features from the backlog. The objective is to produce valuable product increments from each sprint.
Sprint planning – a collaborative event to kick off the sprint. The planning session defines the overall goal of the sprint i.e. what backlog items the team will realistically complete, and how that work will be done.
Daily standup – a short team meeting to share progress and intentions, highlight obstacles, and identify opportunities for team members to help each other get the work done. Also known as a huddle or daily scrum, standups support the concept of a self-organised team.
Burn chart – a technique for showing progress for a sprint, where work that is completed and work still to be done are shown with one or more lines. This is updated regularly/daily.
Visual management board – a visual tool (physical or virtual) to display the status of each work item or user story in the sprint. It typically features a series of columns representing different work states and post-its representing the work, which move through the columns as work progresses.
User stories – user stories are well-expressed requirements written from the perspective of an end-user outcome. They are usually short and written in the form of who, what, and why.
Epic – an epic is a large user story, typically too big to be completed in a single sprint, so it needs to be broken down into smaller user stories at some point before development.
Retrospective – a regular, continuous improvement activity where the team looks at how they can work together more effectively – ‘what went well’, ‘what didn’t’, ‘things to try’ etc.
The iterative nature of Scrum puts the emphasis on efficiency and optimisation. It also puts the customer at the heart of the development process and helps to ensure their requirements are being met at every stage.
That said, Scrum is just one of a number of proven frameworks for delivering successful outcomes, and there are no rules about sticking to a single approach.
Likewise, there’s no need to throw out existing processes either. It’s quite acceptable to blend agile ways with traditional project management methods – PRINCE2 Agile® is a case in point, and many organisations develop their own hybrid approach. Adapting and experimenting to find what works best in your particular context is key.
To find out more about delivering solutions using an agile approach, consider our Agile Fundamentals course, or develop your scrum skills with Scrum Master Certified (SMC™). Alternatively, call one of our professional development consultants today on 1300 70 13 14.