Scrum: the antidote to rigid processes

Siemens, Vodafone and Porsche – big companies that rely on agile work in small teams. The scrum method has become second nature to them. But what are the benefits of scrum? And, how can small and medium sized businesses profit from it? We explain this agile method.

The scrum method has established itself in agile project management. That’s because it succeeds where conventional methods fail: completing complex tasks successfully and efficiently, even with limited resources. Scrum utilises a simple principle to this end.

What is scrum?

Programmers adopted the term to describe an agile method of software development. The scrum approach: untangling the knot – or scrum – of existing tasks and new developments, and simplifying the process.

A customer wants a finished product within a certain timeframe. Discussions like that are almost impossible in IT because unpredictabilities dictate daily processes in product development. These variables were never factored in before scrum. They often caused delays and led to bad products

Scrum solves the problem by reorganising the roles of project members, dismantling old structures and gathering together tasks into flexible part-results which lead to interim products.

How does scrum work?

Each product consists of part-tasks, and every task is a building block of the result. Conventional project methods prioritise these tasks once, then work through them one after the other. But some tasks last longer than others. When resources are limited, especially in smaller teams, this can create backlogs because new tasks can’t be started. Scrum teams know the answer to this: they pick up the tasks, gather them together and create cycles with them – known as sprints.

What is a sprint?

A sprint involves finishing particular, predefined project tasks within a certain time. What the sprint contains is defined in the product backlog, which is the first scrum artefact. The whole scrum concept has three artefacts. These are collections of tasks and results that arise as a project develops.

Before the sprint, the development team meets for sprint planning and draws up a sprint backlog which is the second scrum artefact. This defines and prioritises all of the tasks of a sprint, which are also known as tickets.

A ticket is usually defined as a day’s task, whereas a sprint takes between one and four weeks. Once all of the tasks are completed, the sprint backlog is closed. The aim of each sprint is called a product increment, which is the third scrum artefact. Each of these is a finished part-product.

The sprint is based on the two pillars of prioritisation and re-evaluation. This means a sprint adapts to developments and learns from the results of previous sprints, so it can respond more flexibly to the next sprint. The scrum board supports this working process.

What is a scrum board?

Another principle of the agile scrum method is the transparency of the working process. With scrum, everyone knows everything. The scrum board centralises the to-do lists of all the team members in one place. Anyone can look at it at any time, so the board shows which tickets are being processed and which are finished, and which are still waiting to be started. This means there are three clear stages in the scrum process. That improves workflow, because the board visualises developments during a sprint and the team can re-evaluate and prioritise tasks during the sprint process.

Scrum roles

The scrum method doesn’t just simplify processes, it simplifies teamwork too. That’s because the agile method breaks down conventional hierarchies. It knows only three roles: the product owner, the scrum master and the scrum team.

The product owner

The product owner records all of the conditions and requirements required for the development of the scrum project in a catalogue of tasks called the product backlog. The product owner’s aim is to work through the backlog and execute the scrum project. To do so, he or she relies on the work of the development team.

The scrum master

The scrum master mediates between the product owner and the team. He or she ensures that the development team can concentrate on its tasks undisturbed. To do that, the scrum master is responsible for organisational matters such as scheduling meetings and consulting with the product owner. He or she also ensures that the team achieves the aim of the sprint, and helps coach them to that end. The scrum master can also be part of the development team.

The scrum team

A scrum team consists of at least two people, but in practice, a group of seven team members consisting of different specialists has proven effective.

The big difference between scrum and conventional project management is that the development team organises its own work and decides without superiors. This eliminates checks and approvals, but also means more responsibility for everyone.

Say goodbye to rigid processes: the scrum method is based on flexible project management, which helps even small teams master complex tasks. #jobwizards http://bit.ly/2TqTZkC

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The scrum process

Imagine a project in which everyone knows everything. But it doesn’t complicate the process, it simplifies it. That’s because if you’re informed, you always know where things are stuck at any given time. This means everyone involved in the project can intervene in the process more flexibly, which is precisely what the scrum method achieves with its cyclical sprints and regular meetings.

What happens in the scrum process?

The scrum process is cyclically structured. It consists of a fixed sequence: planning, consultation, implementation, feedback and evaluation. So, after the sprint planning comes the sprint, which itself consists of daily scrum meetings. After the sprint, there is a sprint review and sprint retrospective, which are two feedback meetings. The cycle then ends and a new one begins. This continues until all of the tasks in the product backlog are completed.

What kind of scrum meetings are there?

What is crucial for a successful scrum process is therefore not only the completion of sprints but also, meeting together. There are four regular kinds of meeting.

  • In sprint planning, the scrum team decides which tasks in the product backlog will be done in the next sprint. The development team is entirely free in its sprint planning.
  • The daily scrum is a morning meeting in front of the scrum board. The team briefly exchanges any necessary information about previous and forthcoming tasks. Daily scrums help develop synergies in the daily process.
  • ln the sprint review, the scrum team presents the results of a finished sprint to the product owner. This stakeholder needs this information in order to amend or add to the product backlog.
  • The sprint retrospective is a review of a finished sprint, with the scrum master. Were all the tickets finished on time? Were there any unforeseen developments? These findings help the forthcoming sprint planning.

What is the difference between scrum and Kanban?

Anyone who uses the scrum method will inevitably come across the term Kanban. Kanban is another method of agile project management which follows similar principles. Both methods involve backlogs and boards. Kanban also utilises transparent working methods, small groups of specialists and regular meetings such as the daily stand-up.

While scrum emphasises speed and part-products, Kanban is more focused on the continuous processing of tasks without any particular waymarks. Kanban is therefore not a cyclical process, it is a continuous one. Without a sprint backlog, anyone can start a task at any time. As a result, new tasks that arise can be started more quickly in the Kanban process and don’t have to wait until the next sprint. This makes the Kanban method even more flexible in such cases. However, scrum teams can handle more tasks in parallel, and that in turn accelerates the workflow in the project. So you should decide which agile method is better for your project.

Why should you use the scrum method?

Scrum processes are especially suitable for projects that involve a whole development team every day. Scrum, however, is not designed for large-scale projects involving multiple teams. Internal communication is clearly regulated in this method, but it does not envisage workflow between different teams.

Big companies with lots of departments can benefit, because expertise is gathered together to create interdisciplinary teams that are closely connected. Small and medium sized businesses, on the other hand, can effectively unite their limited resources thanks to the scrum method. This allows them to take on bigger projects than ever before.

Scrum breaks away from old corporate structures. Team members are largely autonomous. The scrum master, for instance, is only really a coach, and replaces the role of the conventional manager. So hierarchies are flatter in the agile method. New working structures of this kind have to be set up in a company, and that is something you have to plan.

But the results are worth it: your company will be more effective and flexible. The new structures will also boost employee motivation and their output of results, and that is something every stakeholder likes.

Team & Transformation