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Scrum is a simple framework for managing projects in an efficient, agile way. The term comes from rugby, in which team players hold one another by the shoulders – arms interlocking and heads down – and push in a semicircle against the rival team in the same formation to shift the ball into the field of play.
Expect the same agility from members of your project team in the workplace, where colleagues of different capacities and backgrounds interact to achieve a shared objective. The scrum approach offers a format for completing pragmatic, bite-size chunks to achieve objectives in less time while spending less money. You can use the scrum framework in any context, be it developing new software, constructing a bridge or organizing electronic health care records.
“Five values” guide your work on all scrum projects:
- “Commitment” – Set realistic goals and commit your team to them. When an agenda item has top priority, work on it in a “sprint” for a set amount of time.
- “Focus” – Clarify roles and responsibilities early in the project.
- “Openness” – Create oversize charts to mark the team’s activities and progress.
- “Respect” – Make sure everyone seeks the positive in each team member.
- “Courage” – Let go of old models and habits, and encourage out-of-the box thinking. Reward team members who break old routines.
Pillars of Improvement
Improvement projects rely on the pillars of “transparency,” “inspection” and “adaptation.” Observe kindergartners for a reminder of how to deliver a project successfully by applying these pillars. Give a group of five-year-olds a handful of uncooked spaghetti, tape, string and a marshmallow; ask them to build the highest-possible self-supporting structure. Give the same task to grown-ups and compare the results. Most adults will spend 20 minutes discussing and planning their construction. Children dive right in, and through playing and prototyping come up with taller, more creative structures. For great delivery on scrum projects, turn back to a childlike state.
Assign formal roles when building your “development team,” which ideally will have five to nine members. The “product owner” takes care of business matters. The “scrum master” coaches the team using facilitation, communication and tactical intervention. The scrum master acts as a “servant leader” by facilitating bottom-up problem exploration, not offering top-down solutions.
Make sure that the team can work without disruptions. People need a quarter of an hour to achieve a state of focus and concentration. A tiny two-second interruption can wreck productivity. The product owner and the scrum master should help keep the development team on track.
“Product Road Map” Stages
The “road map to value” structures your route through seven project management stages. Work through these stages to reduce your time to market and accelerate your ability to achieve the goal of creating value for your customers. These stages are:
- Formulate your vision – Where do you want this project to end up? Set your destination knowing that multiple routes are available for reaching your goal. Your vision statement should have an internal focus and should connect with your company’s strategy. Communicate your vision widely and review it annually.
- Create a “product road map” – How do you want to get to your goal? Your vision indicates the “what;” your road map shows the “how.” Use a board and sticky notes to depict project needs and product development stages. Take a high-level, long-term view.
- Plan your product releases – Your road map reflects a holistic view: Add granularity and engage in more detailed “release planning.” Determine when you want to launch the first version or your “minimum viable product” (MVP). Most projects will have multiple releases; start with the feature with the highest customer priority. Use a pen to set the first release date, but turn to a pencil after that to keep future releases flexible.
- Establish “sprint planning” – Sprints are the “essence of scrum.” A sprint takes the form of a “time box” in your project plan. You and your development team must come up with a clear “sprint goal” for each allotted, time-boxed event. In your “sprint backlog,” record and prioritize your sprint goals and estimate the time it will take to complete them.
- Run the “daily scrum” – Every morning, coordinate sprint actions with the entire team. Spend a quarter of an hour or less identifying possible roadblocks and agreeing on how to overcome them. Development team members own the daily scrum, which means they are fully onboard and aware. The daily scrum, a quick coordination meeting, is how your team “self-organizes and self-manages.” Schedule a more in-depth meeting to inform team members about new requirements or updates on sprint goals.
- Schedule a “sprint review” – At the end of every sprint, once your team completes a feature, hold a meeting so the team can demonstrate the working product. Invite organizational stakeholders to give feedback on each development.
- Hold a “sprint retrospective” – Invite the team, including the scrum master and product owner, to look for opportunities for improvement at the end of every sprint. Examine different aspects of the sprint, including the processes you used, collaborators and tools. Keep sprint retrospective sessions action oriented, and focus on future improvements.
“Definition of Done”
Before you start the project, establish how you will determine that it is complete. Get the buy-in of all team members. Record the parameters defining “done” in terms of development, testing, integration and documentation. Display your definition for your team. Crafting this definition will save you and your team from endless discussions down the line.
Industry and Service Applications
The scrum process brings products more quickly to market while reducing overall expenditure, especially when developing tangible goods. For example, imagine working on a civil engineering project in India, where the goal is to create a “flyover construction” across a busy intersection. If you decided to create a traditional engineering project plan with temporary roads on both sides and simultaneous flyover construction, you’d need a year and a half for completion amid constant major traffic delays. Using scrum and a staged step-by-step approach could half construction time, reduce congestion and improve efficiency.
Service operations can realize many potential improvement opportunities through scrum. Especially in health care systems, decision makers appreciate solutions that increase access and lower costs. Take, for example, creating electronic health care records (EHR), often starting with handwritten patient forms and diverse medical sources. While EHR appeals to most health care providers for its efficiency, its complex implementation has inhibited its rapid adoption.
Stakeholders at hospitals struggle to find the financial resources to mobilize sufficient personnel to carry out the huge amounts of data entry EHR requires. Hospital administrators may raise concerns about data security and privacy. Using scrum, allay these concerns by embarking on an incremental approach that completes the highest-priority requirements first. This reduces overall cost and helps find solutions to privacy and other concerns through cycles of testing and revision.
“Business Function” Applications
Scrum clearly makes a difference in software development and IT projects, but other fields and functions also can employ it to their advantage. Take HR, for example. Employee retention and leadership development are top issues confronting today’s HR departments. Higher personnel turnover leads to greater needs to recruit new talent – often a lengthy and cost-intensive process. Parexel Informatics – a global medical device and biopharmaceutical business – needed to add two dozen new hires within a short time to fulfill the requirements of a new, large project.
The firm faced multiple challenges: It lacked a hiring or onboarding process and it didn’t have a training department to facilitate new employees’ smooth transition into the organization. The company used the scrum framework, held a one-day planning meeting, identified road map priorities and embarked on “one-week sprints” to monitor its progress. Within seven weeks, Parexel hired, trained and on-boarded 21 new professionals who were ready to work on the new project. This is an amazing success for scrum, given that large companies with more than 5,000 employees usually take more than 11 weeks to hire one new employee.
Companies also can use the scrum process for business development, such as working on a sales process or sales funnel for converting initial business contacts into done deals. Start your “road map to value” by defining your sales growth vision. For example, say you set out to increase your leads-to-sales conversion in a specific location by 15% by using more social media channels and personal follow-ups with every new contact.
First, create a high-level product road map and a detailed “product backlog” list. Catalog all of the activities that can help reach your target. Engage in release planning – following clear priorities – before diving into sprint planning. Run your daily scrum and review your progress. Invite your sales director and other company stakeholders to your sprint reviews and show your latest social media developments. With stakeholder feedback, gather your team for retrospectives after each sprint to adjust and improve before starting the next sprint.
“Pitfalls to Avoid”
You don’t want people to just talk about scrum’s tools and element as they keep on creating traditional project plans and deliverables that they falsely label as sprints. To avoid this pitfall, embrace “agile principles” when taking the scrum route. Training is part of a scrum strategy; build it into your plan. The scrum master selects and coaches the product owner and integrates him or her fully into the team. Ideally, “product owners clarify, prioritize and set an environment for focus.” If performance drops due to ineffective product ownership, find a replacement.
An insufficient “physical environment” offers another potential pitfall, especially if your team members do not work in the same place. Seek a shared space for the team to use as its permanent project home. If your team is spread out and the members can’t relocate into one space, consider recruiting local team members. Everyone needs to embrace agile project management principles. The team’s success will depend on each person’s adaptability and motivation to learn. Discipline is your friend as your team members make progress and monitor their shared goals.
To improve, measure achievement. Use metrics to highlight your progress and identify areas that need improvement. For example, review your road map and check how many project sprints fulfilled their goals. Account for your “sprint goal success rate,” and make sure your team feels stretched when setting goals going forward. Achieving every objective leaves little room for learning and improvement. A less-than-perfect score can be a motivator.
Calculate your return on investment (ROI) to show your organization the value your scrum created. Advertise that your projects generate returns from early in the release-and-delivery cycle. This advantage sets you apart from traditional project management that generates ROI only in the final release. Use this advantage when negotiating for internal company funds; reinvest these early returns back into your new developments.
Measure the “skill versatility” of people at different levels of your organization. Having each person learn something every day positively affects your team’s skill levels and the capabilities of your organization. Move faster and produce higher-quality results by including people from different functions. Encourage team members – for example, by receiving and giving regular feedback – and give them incentives to expand their skills.[/text_block]