Organisation

The Essence of Scrum

The essence of Scrum is to ensure progress. The formal elements of the framework –the restrospective, reviews, daily standup, etc.– are not ends in themselves but ways to ensure that progress happens.

It may seem simplistic to reduce Scrum to the mere fact of ensuring progress, but ensuring progress is not that easy, and Scrum is an effective tool to do it.

To prove this point, just think of what the opposite of progress means: to be stuck. A project can stuck for many reasons. Some symptoms include:

  • Work is half done or needs to be redone
  • Work is unclear and time is spent discussing it rather than doing it
  • Work wasn’t needed (people work on the wrong stuff)
  • Work can’t be done (because of dependencies, knowledge, etc.)

When a project is stucked, people work, but the overall project doesn’t move forward. The time is wasted.

Scrum prevent waisting time by maintaining a constant pressure on delivery and keeping the amount of work in progress low (“start finishing and stop starting”). It doesn’t matter how small the work item is. Actually the smaller the better, since it favors focus and quality.

Scrum is a framework for micromanagement, but without a micromanager. The team micromanages itself (i.e. “self-organisation”) and decides itself of the tasks to perform. Taskification happens mostly during the Scrum planning but then throughout the entire Sprint as the team actualises and refines the tasks to be done. And then does them.

The goal is to move forward, to overcome difficulties, to get concrete results, to make progress. For this you want the whole team to engage and people to help each other. You want your team to be more than the sum of its individuals.

I want teams emerging from the daily standup saying things like, “Let’s nail this. Let’s do this.”       — The Origins of the Daily Standup, Jeff Sutherland

People want to make progress fast, but software development is so complex that the risk is not to make progress too slowly but no progress at all. As long as you can ensure that some progress happens and you’re not compromising quality, you’re on a good track.

Organisation

Feedback Loops

Making sure that your project will be successful really boils down to two things: 1) get things done, 2) get feedback.

It’s obvious why getting things done matters: if you want to move forward, you need to get things done. Getting things done is however not a sufficient condition to be successful. You could be moving in the wrong direction! To be successful you need to constantly get feedback and steer the ongoing progress towards the goal.

These two principles are the heart of the agile manifesto: Move one step forward, adjust, and repeat. That’s the best strategy to ensure that what’s produced is really helpful for the project.

A step can be small or big. It can be the implementation of a single method with a peer review as feedback. It can be a refactoring with the automated execution of unit tests as feedback. It can be the implementation of a feature with the customer demo as feedback.

Scrum and XP are very different but are both considered “implementations” of the agile manifesto, since both promote moving forward and getting feedback in their own way.

Scrum is a technology-agnostic process to get things done. The work is split in stories and tasks, which are small actionable items. To keep the momentum high, team members should focus on one task at a time. Feedback is obtained during the daily standup, the sprint review and sprint retrospective. You can use Scrum to conduct any project, not just software development.

XP on the hand is organised around technical software practices. It emphasizes pair programming, unit testing, continuous integration, refactoring, collective code ownership. The first three practices are nothing else than ways to get feedback about the code. Refactoring and collective code ownership are ways to guarantee that the team can always move forward.

With little surprise, XP and Scrum are good complements to each other. But they can also be complemented with other elements of your own. If something works for you to improve getting things done or getting feedback, add it. 

Make sure that feedback doesn’t turn into noise though. If feedback is not actionable it’s not truly feedback. What you want is feedback that help you get your next thing done in a better way. That’s the loop.

More:

Organisation

Scrum Wall vs. Issue Tracker

Last year, Mascha Kurpicz and I conducted interviews and ran a survey to better understand the dynamics of Scrum teams and their use of tools to support agile development. We wrote a paper. Sadly, it was rejected at XP 2012, mostly due to a lack of data to support our claims. Here is the abstract:

Scrum is a lightweight iterative process that favors interac- tion between team members. Software development is however a complex activity and there exist many software tools aimed at supporting it. This research studies the role of software tools within Scrum practices. It focuses more specifically on comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the Scrum Wall and issue trackers, as they are frequently used together within projects. This paper presents findings from interviews that have been further validated with a survey. Results show that the Scrum Wall is highly appreciated by Scrum practitioners. It encourages positive dynamics and supports well most of the work organization. People tend to consider software tools as impediments, but use them nevertheless to control information that would otherwise remain tacit. Synchronizing information across tools is reported to be a source of troubles.

I think there are several interesting findings in our study. Team productivity and team dynamics are challenging issues to understand, but very fascinating.