Old fashioned project management methodologies may not be adequate for actual work contexts, where you have to go fast and to move in a nimble way. That’s because Agile methodology has gained so much credit over the years. Scrum is a project management framework within which you can apply the Agile philosophy and you can employ various processes and techniques. It is used mainly for problems that are new to the company, or particularly difficult, cumbersome or complex, and for situations where you need to move fast. A typical example is software development. The name “scrum” is derived from rugby where it means an organised albeit tumultuous formation. So it gives the idea of a bunch of people who formed a cohesive team and moved forward to arrive together at a result.
A scrum project in short
Scrum is a framework designed to make projects go faster. So if you adopt scrum you should never see a project starting and then not delivering anything until it is finished.
A scrum project is structured into “sprints”. Sprints are time periods (from 1 week, the shortest possible sprint, to 4 weeks) during which a scrum team commits to accomplish certain things. At the end of each sprint, those things must be delivered. The team itself chooses what to work on during each sprint and is responsible for that. So no micromanagement here. At the beginning of each sprint there is a “sprint planning meeting” where decisions are taken. Then at the beginning of each day there is a very short meeting of about 15 minutes. This is iterated until the project ends. Tasks do be done are taken from the so called “product backlog”, a list of activities, with prioritisations and dependencies. These are compiled at the beginning of the project but can always be modified, by adding new items (also called “stories”) or by re-prioritising the existing ones. The backlog is the scrum equivalent of the requirements. Any member of the team can change the backlog (scrum is a very democratic way of working).
The scrum team
A scrum team is composed of three elements: the scrum master, the product owner and the team (5 to 9 members).
- The scrum master is some sort of “facilitator”: she calls the meetings, ensures that there is an apt location, and then that each member of the team has what they need to work smoothly. She is the one in charge of resolving any issue that may happen to the group. She will assist the team in planning the steps and the things to be done during the sprints but she will not take any decision except for the sprint length. She is similar to a project manager except that she does not manage but gives assistance.
- The product owner is the key team member. She is in charge of defining, writing, inserting and prioritising the “stories” (the client requirements) into the backlog. She must also take care of how the team works and if it effectively produces value in the right time-span. She answers any questions the team members may have concerning the backlog items.
- The team members decide in full autonomy what they want to work on and which and how many of the backlog items can be done during the sprint duration. They take full responsibility for this. Of course, when choosing items the team members should take into account priorities and dependencies.
At the end of each sprint the scrum team will hold a sprint retrospective meeting, where they will all together examine what has been done and what remains to be done in the backlog, what went wrong and what was ok, if there are any critical issues to solve, etc.
Scrum is not for everyone, because its adoption implies a high grade of autonomy and responsibility in the team members, a true culture change. But if you manage to shift towards it your company’s performance will certainly experience a huge improvement.