Scrum is a hot topic at the moment and is fast gaining in popularity as an agile project management method. What is different about Scrum compared to traditional project management and what advantages does it hold?
How long has Scrum been around?
The Scrum method originated about 20 years ago, when very long software development cycles and dynamically changing customer requirements started to clash. In large IT and software companies, for example, projects were implemented over a period of 1.5 years, the benefits of which were lost just 9 months after being commissioned in the contracted form.
The traditional project management approach with a defined service description or products requirement document at the beginning of the project, planning out the individual steps, assigning responsibilities, implementation and final testing had become obsolete in this dynamic IT world.
Scrum was developed as an answer to this challenge for software development and guides the way through a project in small steps – so-called sprints. Dynamically changing project requirements can be considered at the beginning of each sprint without jeopardising the success of the overall project.
The project is guided by an overall objective – which defines what is to be achieved, but does not yet state how this objective is to be achieved. In the course of a Scrum project, implementation details are only ever determined for the next sub-step, leaving many factors open for further adjustment, if necessary.
Today, the application of SCRUM project management is no longer limited to software development
Nowadays Scrum has increasingly found its way into agile project management processes beyond software development, which of course is predominantly done using a Scrum approach. Scrum can be applied to many types of project management e.g. organisational changes, digitalisation projects, process improvements.
What is the idea behind Scrum?
Scrum is based on a mindset that explains the Scrum methodology very well:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- User-friendly service/product over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Above all, the Scrum process requires transparency, analysis and adaptation for the iterative learning and implementation process. Scrum is based on knowledge from practical experience and quick reacting/decision-making based on actual results. The success factor is working in a team with different perspectives.
This is why there are three different fields of activity in Scrum. The development team is at the centre as the first field of activity. These are the employees who implement the operational activities. The development team mostly works independently and is supported by the Scrum Master in the second field of activity. In a third field of activity, the Product Owner focuses on the added value of the product, i.e. the project for internal or external customers.
Scrum is a process led by a Scrum Master. The Scrum Master knows the methodology and applies it as part of the project team. The Scrum Master is less a project manager in the classical sense, but rather a facilitator of a team that independently and autonomously follows the path to the project objective.
The resulting freedom is intended to consciously foster the expertise, but also the creativity of teams in achieving their goals. Scrum is an iterative method for project management and can dynamically adapt to requirements under certain conditions.
In practical terms, the iterative approach is structured by defined, short periods of time, each one a small project in itself. All these time periods together lead to a goal that is not 100% fixed and defined at the very start of a project. The next requirements for implementation are only determined through many sub-projects once the project is underway.
The project kick-off in the form of a product backlog
The product owner develops the product, service or project definition. What should the project include? What is the aim of the project? This provides the overall framework and defines the first basic conditions. Based on these, the development team derives which the topics to start with and integrates them into the so-called sprint backlog.
The project process in the form of sprints
In terms of procedure, a SCRUM project is divided into so-called ‘sprints’. Each sprint lasts about 2-4 weeks. The project goals to be achieved within the sprint are precisely defined at the beginning of the sprint. In addition to the project goals of the sprint, the teams plan how to achieve the sprint goal. The exact solution path must be chosen and planned by the team at the start of each sprint.
In larger and more complex projects, several teams can work in parallel sprints. Interfaces between the teams are coordinated in regular meetings.
Daily Scrum meetings
During a sprint, short work meetings known as Daily Scrums are held every day at a set time. The progress made the day before and the goals for the upcoming day are discussed transparently for everyone. Major problems or discussions of details that arise in a Daily Scrum are ‘parked’ and then discussed in smaller teams or face-to-face meetings outside the Daily Scrum.
The goal of the Daily Scrum is to keep the team united and provide a good summary of the progress, problems and upcoming activities.
Best practice:Some SCRUM Masters recommend holding Daily Scrums standing up – that way you can be sure that they won’t exceed a maximum duration of 15-20 minutes!
In addition to the Daily Scrum meetings, Scrum is supported by formalised review meetings:
At the end of a sprint:review meetings
At the end of a sprint, the entire project team compiles the results and together with the product owner (link to roles below) the achieved results are compared and documented with the defined requirements for the sprint. The Product Owner represents the customer in this meeting and may also reject results. Alternatively, end users or customers are invited directly to go through the sprint results together with the teams.
The review meeting is comparable with the traditional ‘approval’ for the project team. At the same time, the product features to be achieved in the next sprint are summarised for sprint planning.
This meeting at the end of a sprint is recommended to emphasise and continuously improve the procedure and methodology. What worked well in the last sprint and what would the team do better next time? If this discussion is conducted in a constructive manner, it can provide important feedback for the Scrum process as a whole.
Under the Scrum method, there are different roles within the project team:
- Scrum Master: leads the process and takes charge of problems that occur during the project. He or she organises the meetings, follows
- Product Owner: He or she is responsible for the project results, in particular for the added value in terms of customer benefit and commercial marketing. In the project, they maintain contact with other stakeholders such as sales, marketing or target customers.
- Scrum Team – 3 to max. 9 people, deliver the project results in a self-organised manner and ensure the quality of the execution. Often a team of complementary skills is useful. It should be possible to achieve the project tasks assigned to the team without major external dependencies on the team. The team leads the sprint planning and assesses the effort required for the backlog.
All three roles should be assigned to different people and together they form the Scrum project team.
- describes the required product features to be achieved in the project Similar to the former ‘products requirement document’, with the difference that it should be maintained by the product owner and added to added to incrementally. Thus, dynamically changing product requirements can be supplemented and adapted in the course of the project.
- In the beginning, a product backlog only contains the characteristics of a product known up until this point.
- In most cases, the product features/backlogs added in this way can no longer be implemented in the current, planned sprint. They are therefore recorded on a separate list maintained by the Product Owner and serve as input for one of the upcoming sprints.
Scrum events – in Scrum, meetings are referred to as events to make it clear that they are not so much ‘meetings’, but rather practical work. In practice, however, the importance of using such specific terms also depends to a large extent on how positively or negatively the use of common terms is perceived in the company.
Benefits of SCRUM for SMEs?
Even if the Scrum approach may seem overly formalised at first glance, this methodology is worth a try. The division into individual project stages and the required close coordination within a project team create a motivating environment for all project stakeholders, which brings the achieved goals within reach!
This increases the chances of leading extensive projects to certain success in individual steps!
As always, leadership of the process is crucial. The designated Scrum Master has an important role to play. It should go without saying that he or she should be trained in the Scrum method. Management experience and a ‘knack’ for a motivating management style are also soft factors that can make Scrum a success factor for SMEs.
Be it the development of product innovations, the introduction of new business areas or other change projects – Scrum has a wide range of possible applications.
At PLUCH Interim Management, we have extensive experience in leading projects.
You can find more information about our qualifications in this area.