Scrum: Team office sport?!
Magazine Contact #21
Mornings at half nine in Germany in the development department of a software company: All of the desks are abandoned, a few colleagues stand densely huddled in front of a screen and converse animatedly. Another group stands a few metres away and is also engrossed in discussion. A half an hour later the image has changed: The desks are manned and everyone is immersed in their work. This situation describes a scrum team’s typical morning’s work.
Why “scrum” actually?
The term “scrum” is originally English and means crowd. Borrowed from the British sport of rugby, where scrum describes a dense pile of players scrimmaging for the egg-shaped rugby ball, the term in project management symbolises “crowd” in terms of close collaboration between the team members, who are in constant interaction. Not just the name comes from rugby, scrum also avails itself of this sport’s proven tactics, which presuppose good teamwork and have to be studiously rehearsed. IT companies (e.g. Xerox, Canon, HP, IBM) are role model and pioneers in the field. Experience has shown that strict planning steps curb the progress of software developments. Development processes are too complex to be handled in consecutive phases in strict accordance with a plan. Scrum offers the necessary flexibility to react to unforeseen events nimbly and quickly.
Reaching the goal more quickly with sprints?
Scrum is an agile work method, which relies on the employees’ self-management and is based on few and simple rules. Specific to this are clearly defined roles and the scrum process:
To start, a “wish list” is plotted with all the product’s requirements, functions and features – the product backlog. In the beginning this is formulated vaguely but during the course of the project more and more specifically. The next step is assigning priorities: What requirements and elements are the most important? For the sprint backlog to follow the project is divided into partial tasks or “sprints”, as it were. Sprints are the individual development phases, which are implemented in a fixed period – from two to a maximum of four weeks. Every team member takes on a to-do list and thus has independent responsibilities. During a sprint phase all of the members meet every day at the same time for the daily scrum. At these brief 15 minute meetings each team member reports on what they have done since the last scrum, what is to be handled by the next daily scrum and what hinders the work from progressing. Daily scrums increase the level of knowledge of all employees, which prevents misunderstandings and duplication of the work. At the end of every sprint the results are presented live and feedback is solicited, which flows back again into the product backlog. Like in rugby the game then begins again from the beginning.
The playing field: Scrum office
Bernhard Kern, Managing Director of Roomware Consulting GmbH, described the requirements on office space planning for scrum teams: “An ideal work environment supports team members in quickly internalising agile approaches. Traditionally scrum teams work in a shared open space office. In addition, multifunctional zones are created, such as working cafés and lounges for informal communication and small meetings in between, such as the 15-minute daily scrums held every day.
On your mark! Finished! Scrum?! The practice test.
The question is whether rugby also works in the day-to-day life of project management:
The introduction of the scrum is no sure-fire success and entails all manner of transitions in the organisation and during product development. It is important not to view the scrum as an individual solution but to ensure its ongoing use in the entire company and/or whole department.
It all depends on the company culture.
In practice the changeover to scrum management presents companies with a major challenge and only work in conjunction with the corresponding company culture, which is characterised by flat hierarchies, a high level of self-management and a sense of responsibility on the part of the employee and trust on the part of management personnel.
Like in team sports: The chemistry has to be just right!
The roles of the team members must be clearly defined. All of the participants are on equal footing and in constant exchange. That presupposes that the team members can interact well with one another both personally and professionally. Open communication is a must.
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings.
Many meetings are true time wasters, however, as a rule direct coordination at the meeting replaces the laborious creation of project plans.
Flexible and then again not …
Often scrum management in a company is not at all possible, however, as the project team works spatially separate. In this event, technical solutions, such as video conferencing systems and instant messenger are indispensable. Virtual meetings may not be permitted to become a permanent solution, however, as personal interactions between the team members are essential for a project’s success.
… but when everything’s just right: Unbeatable!
The changeover requires a willingness to change and patience on the part of all of the participants, however in the long-term the quality of the results, productivity and collaboration significantly increase. The common struggle to achieve the self-defined sprint goal additionally results in a high level of team spirit spreading through the company and strengthened employee motivation.