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Agile Project Management: Scrum Soup to Nuts

Scrum is a framework for improving the way people do their work, or as defined on the Scrum Alliance site “a team-based framework to develop complex systems and products”. Scrum uses an iterative process where each repetition (aka sprint) is kept as short as sensibly possible, keeping to an even rhythm as it pulses through planning, execution and reflection. This strict, rhythmical, time-boxing aspect of Scrum provides an uncanny ability to unearth organisational dysfunction.

Scrum specifies three roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner and Team), requires a prioritised set of goals (stories), a commitment for every sprint and a simple way of measuring progress. Scrum uses time boxed ceremonies to plan, to inspect/adapt on a daily basis and to inspect/adapt on a sprint basis.

A clear distinction is kept between the “what” (the goal) and the “how” (the pathway). Scrum requires clear focus, commitment and complete transparency at all levels; it embraces, or emphasises certain human-centric values including (but not limited to) trust, integrity, courage and respect.

Scrum Values

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Completed functionality over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan

While there is value in the items on the right, the items on the left matter more.

True success with the Scrum framework comes from teams and organisations who understand these values and the principles that form the foundation of all agile processes.

Scrum terminology

Scrum introduces some new terms in describing its framework. It is made up of three roles, four ceremonies and three artefacts.

Three roles

  • Product Owner: responsible for the business value of the project. The Product Owner is the main voice of the customer, establishing a compelling vision and using a process of continuous prioritisation to get there.

  • Scrum Master: a servant leader to the team and a change agent within the wider organisation. The scrum master ensures that the team is functional and productive. Not a project manager!

  • Team: The Team are a self-organised, cross-functional, empowered group who do the work.

Four ceremonies

  • Sprint planning - The Team and Product Owner meet before the start of each sprint to plan the work. The Team commits to prioritised items of work that have “well-formed outcomes” (the goal) and are expected to deliver finished products to meet those criteria at the end of the sprint. How they do their work (the pathway) is solely their own concern.

  • Daily scrum - the team meets each day for 15 minutes maximum

(stand-up preferred) to share struggles and progress

  • Sprint reviews – the demo. At the end of each sprint the completed work is reviewed by stakeholders and consumers, and adaptations suggested.

  • Sprint retrospectives - following the review the team members reflect on their process, seeking ways to improve and making commitments to change. Every Sprint produces an improved product or service and a better, happier team.

Three artefacts

  • Product backlog - a backlog of requirements or goals is always maintained. It contains all the features (we think) we’d like the product or service to do, at any given moment in time. It is a living list, in a continuous state of flux, yet always in a prioritised order which will change over time. Items in the backlog always focus on the “what".

  • Sprint backlog – this is a subset of this backlog that the team have agreed to deliver during a sprint (usually 2 to 4 weeks) It is broken down into work-tasks, which will describe the “how” of the product or service. Scrum requires only simple metrics, such as, measures of work remaining, or business value delivered. The metrics are used to measure truth — not to measure success or failure. Only measures of truth can be trusted not to incite quick-fix behaviour in a team.

  • Product increment - required result of every sprint. It is an integrated version of the product or service, kept at high enough quality to be shippable. Get in touch to discuss how we use this approach every day in our consulting, BAU services and project managment services to Law Firm Clients.