The world of business, in an ever evolving grind for innovation, has become more complex and subject to massive change than it’s ever been before. By necessity, the demands put forth by the consumers have grown in parallel with what the modern market can offer. Developing and selling products/services attractive enough for end users is the greatest challenge that organizations face today. In an environment that’s grown increasingly avoidant of traditional marketing methods, new approaches have had to be adopted and developed in response.
If you are a first-time scrum master - a technical person who needs to get into an Agile software development project - or perhaps you’re a professional/entrepreneur doing non-software development activities who simply want to achieve your goals effectively and efficiently, there’s only one viable method to shoot for: Agile development. Agility is a mindset that can help you achieve highly valuable outcomes in short periods of time.
In this article, you will find a simple and pragmatic implementation guide for an Agile project management approach, along with recommendations from a recognized agile organization. Integrating these methods into your project development framework may take time and effort, but the fruits born of your efforts will have long-reaching benefits for adhering to new market demands.
The base Agile philosophy revolves around flexibility and rapid adjustment in a project’s design through repetitious engagement. A traditional method many are familiar with, the Waterfall method, takes a linear approach between planning, development, and deployment, where the end product is the final version of the whole. The Agile philosophy, in comparison, rarely ever ends with its first iteration. By converging development and testing, Agile projects constantly revise their product and services through a continuous loop of development and testing, with each new iteration improving on the last.
Fundamentally, using the Agile philosophy derives its core practices from the Agile Manifesto, an online set of rules, values, and principles that guide the mindset for optimal usage, including 4 values and 12 principles to abide by. The four values dictated by the Agile Manifesto help guide behaviors rather than dictate instructions, which they outline:
- Individuals and interaction over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan.
There are several separate Agile methods that could be used in the pursuit of a better, more flexible, and versatile project design. For the purpose of this guide, however, we will keep it simple and describe Scrum.
Rather than a methodology, Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems in complex environments. In action, Scrum prioritizes learning through a familiar Agile method: learn by doing. In many ways, it’s closer to philosophy, or a guiding mindset for how to accomplish your work, not dictating your means of getting there.
Scrum is intentionally designed to be incomplete. That makes it adaptable for any team environment, allowing the individuals to use their collective intelligence to formulate it to their Agile project development. By leveraging empiricism, where knowledge is gained through experience and making decisions based on observations, in combination with lean thinking that trims excess clutter in a project environment, Scrum fosters an approach that incrementally improves every project through tangible work and reflection.
For optimal Scrum utilization, your teams will need to engage with Scrum’s core pillars:
In conjunction with each other, these values translate a theory into results. Each principle cannot function on its own, and only through full integration with your Agile teams can a greater whole be attained.
Steps for Implementing Scrum
Simplicity is a driving force for ensuring any new approach to the Agile philosophy works properly. If they were too complicated and contained too many moving parts, adoption would be severely limited, and the results would be compromised through excessive baggage tied onto the project. To start a Scrum project, you only need three aspects:
- A Product Owner who provides the product vision and objectives.
- The Developers who can create the product increments.
- A Scrum master to illustrate the process and assist with the implementation.
Keeping the steps and requirements simple and compact are instrumental in being able to effectively use Scrum in your workspace. This way, every member of your team will be able to participate easily, unifying your efforts to get the most out of your collective performance.
Step 1: Get to Know Scrum
Your new Scrum Teams need an individual well versed in Scrum theory to keep the ship running. Tackling a Scrum project without proper direction, whether it’s your first or your tenth, leaves no guarantee that you’ll have the capability, enablement, or guidance to reach your end goal. To ensure a smooth implementation, you need an experienced or well-trained Scrum Master so that they provide Scrum awareness or training to the Scrum Team.
Your Scrum Team, in the meantime, consists of the Developers and Product Owner. Developers are anyone contributing to the development of highly valued and usable product increments. Product Owners are accountable for maximizing the value of the product. They are individuals who represent the needs of the many, leaving the responsibility of managing the product on their shoulders.
Step 2: Start Building the Product Backlog
The Product Backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve a product. As your Agile cycles create new iterations of your project, the Product Backlog can continuously be updated with new addendums for what needs more attention in the next cycle, providing a bullet point procedure useful for guiding thought processes and desired objectives.
Anyone in the team can add elements to the list. However, the Product Owner is the one establishing the vision and managing the Product Backlog. You don’t need to have the full list of requirements to start with the Scrum implementation. So long as you have sufficient Product Backlog items for the next iteration or Sprint, you’ll be able to proceed and catch up on other Scrum goals along the way.
It’s highly recommended to use professional tools for tracking the Scrum process. JIRA by Atlassian is perhaps one of the most popular tools, providing many accessible options for organizing, tracking, and managing your Sprints. However, if it doesn’t quite fit what your teams need, there are other options like YouTrack by Jetbrains, or free alternatives such as Trello. Project management is essential for keeping your teams on track through the frequency of each project iteration.
Step 3: Agree on the Operational Rhythm
There is no ingrained schedule that Scrum provides your team. That’s because there’s no one rigid structure that fits with every single Scrum Team across the globe. Every organization boasts its own unique team dynamics, which means that your team members need to get on a common work cycle decided together. Get an agreement with the Scrum Team on the process, communication, and interactions expected to make the Scrum implementation streamlined for everyone.
The best place to start, typically, is a launch workshop including the whole Scrum Team. By having a Session 0 of sorts with your team members before the project gets fully underway, you can make great strides in defining several key factors:
- Sprint duration
- Days and hours for each Scrum event
- Scrum roles and responsibilities
- And more
Alignment within your team is essential for promoting collaboration and focus for the coming days. Without a clearly established structure that fits what your team members need and expect, you’ll find yourselves hitting more roadblocks that essentially render the entire Scrum exercise pointless. As soon as you start compromising on aspects of the Scrum and Agile method, the entire project goes out the window.
Step 4: Implement Scrum Events
Now that everything else has been settled in anticipation of the project’s operation, the final step is to begin Scrum event implementation.
This is a 2 to 4 hour meeting where the Product Owner discusses the top Product Backlog items on the list, including how they impact the product’s goal. Following the meeting, the developers will make the necessary clarifications with the Product Owner in a way that allows them to add some elements to a Sprint Backlog to be worked during the next iteration or Sprint.
Establishing the direction of each iteration or Sprint usually begins here. The Sprint may last up to one month, but the typical duration is two weeks.
Once the Sprint Planning is finished, the developers should immediately take tasks from the Sprint Backlog and start working on them. From then on, on a daily basis, the Scrum Team meets for 15 minutes to discuss:
- The activities they have completed that contributed to the sprint goal.
- The activities they will keep working on that will contribute to the sprint goal.
- What impediments they have right now and should be removed.
These short meetings keep your teams informed about the project’s overall progress while ensuring they’re staying on top of their responsibilities, keeping accountability consistent. Were you to reduce the frequency of each meeting, you risk decreasing the opportunities to provide transparency and ability to timely remove impediments during the Sprint.
Once the Sprint is concluded, the Scrum Team meets together with stakeholders to inspect the outcomes or increments of the product completed during the last iteration. A concluding overview that involves all aspects of your company’s development phases provides an opportunity for valuable feedback. With this feedback obtained, determining future adaptations for ongoing Sprints help inform the next steps for your teams.
Following the Sprint Review with your stakeholders, your Scrum Master should facilitate a brainstorm session with your Scrum Team. During this session, the team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems they encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved. This further aids alignment within your team, and using it as a capstone helps keep momentum going for the next Sprint. Some of the determined actions may be added to the next Sprint Backlog to be resolved at a later period.
This final step is not mandatory for all teams. It is, however, a highly recommended event. During Backlog Refinement, the entire team participates to make progress on the definition of Product Backlog items, brainstorming and helping the Product Owner refine the backlog so that they arrive more prepared to the next Sprint Planning session.
The success of Agile Project Management lies in the effective implementation of the Scrum framework (or, for that matter, any other Agile approach). It’s important to keep in mind that any unnecessary shortcuts, customization, or deviations from the outlined Scrum articles and guidelines can make the advantages of it be reduced or lost entirely.
Scrum is a pragmatic approach. As Scrum.org, the go-to site for Scrum guides created by Scrum’s creators Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, says, “It is easy to implement, but difficult to master.” To reach an acceptable level of performance, you must keep each iteration intertwined with a learning mentality. Not every cycle will procure the results you’re looking for, but they provide an experience that carries onto future Scrum cycles.
Always reinforce the message with stakeholders that with Agile methodologies, it’s more important to obtain early tangible outcomes of great value and usability than it is to arrive on time and on budget. Each Sprint provides a continuously increasing result of greater value, maximizing on long-term goals by improving through experience and hands-on effort.
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