Scrumming Down to Complete Projects

Everybody knows about rugby union scrums. For our purposes, perhaps it is best to view them as mini projects where the goal is to get the ball back to the fly-half no matter what the opposition does. Some scrums are set pieces where players follow planned manoeuvres. Loose / rolling scrums develop on the fly where the team responds as best according to the situation. If that sounds to you like software project management then read on, because there are more similarities’.

Isn’t Scrum Project Management the Same as Agile?

No it’s not, because Scrum is disinterested in customer liaison or project planning, although the team members may be happy to receive the accolades following success. In the same way that rugby players let somebody else decide the rules and arrange the fixtures, a software Scrum team just wants the action.

Scrum does however align closely – dare I say interchangeably with Agile’s sprints. Stripping it of all the other stages frees the observer up to analyse it more closely in the context of a rough and tumble project, where every morning can begin with a backlog of revised requirements to back fit.

The 3 Main Phases of a Scrum

A Scrum is a single day in the life of a project, building onto what went before and setting the stage for what will happen the following day. The desired output is a block of component software that can be tested separately and inserted later. Scrumming is also a useful technique for managing any project that can be broken into discreet phases. The construction industry is a good example.

Phase 1 – Define the Backlog. A Scrum Team’s day begins with a 15 minute planning meeting where team members agree individual to-do lists called ‘backlogs’.

Phase 2 – Sprint Towards the Goal. The team separates to allow each member to complete their individual lines of code. Little or no discussion is needed as this stage.

Phase 3 – Review Meeting. At the end of each working day, the team reconvenes to walk down what has been achieved, and check the interconnected functionality.

The 3 Main Phases of a Scrum – Conclusions and Thoughts

Scrum is a great way to liberate a competent project team from unnecessary constraints that liberate creativity. The question you need to ask yourself as manager is, are you comfortable enough to watch proceedings from the side lines without rushing onto the field to grab the ball.

Is Your Project Agile, a Scrum or a Kanban?

Few projects pan out the way we expect when starting out. This is normal in any creative planning phase. We half suspect the ones that follow a straight line are the exceptions to the rule. Urban legend has it; Edison made a thousand prototypes before his first bulb lit up, and then went on to comment, “genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. Later, he added that many of life’s failures are people who did not realize just how close they were to success when they gave up.

So be it to this day, and so be it with project planning too. There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to it. Agile, Scrum and Kanban each have their supporters and places where they do well. Project planning often works best when we use a sequential combination of them, appropriate to what is currently happening on the ground.

Of the three, Agile is by far the most comprehensive. It provides a structure that begins with project vision / conceptualisation, and goes as far as celebration when the job is over, and retrospective discussion afterwards. However, the emphasis on daily planning meetings may dent freethinking, and even smother it.

Scrum on the other hand says ‘forget all that bureaucracy’. There is a job to do and today is the day we are going to do it. Although the core Agile teamwork is still there it ignores macro project planning, and could not be bothered with staying in touch with customers. If using Scrum, it is best to give those jobs to someone else.

The joker in the pack is Kanban, It believes that rules are there to substitute for thought, and that true progress only comes from responsible freedom. It belongs in mature organizations that have passed through Scrum and Agile phases and have embarked on a voyage towards perfection.

That said, there can be no substitute for human leadership, especially when defined as the social influence that binds the efforts of others towards a single task.