Which IT Project Methodology? Scrum – Why and Why Not?
In a recent introductory piece on IT Project methodologies, I promised to follow up on each individual methodology and investigative its advantages and disadvantages.
Having looked at Waterfall and Agile, let’s now turn to Scrum.
Scrum. What Is It, When Should You Use It?
Normally, when you talk of scrums you think of a bunch of well-built players, huddled together and yet working alone to achieve their goal – a rugby scrum. In IT Project Management, when thinking of scrum, one word jumps out and connects the two nicely - Interlocking.
In rugby, players will interlock with one another and push against their opponents in an attempt to win possession of the ball. IT teams who utilise the scrum methodology rely on five interlocking values, these values are relied upon when developing software.
In the introductory piece, I wrote the following on Scrum
I've deliberately placed Scrum just below Agile. Many Project Managers don't see Scrum as a stand-alone methodology but instead a branch of Agile thinking, Scrum certainly offers more solid stepping stones to the Agile manifesto.
Scrum is based on the values of ...
Whether used alone or as a hybrid Agile approach, Scrum adds to the iterative value of Agile and, used right, can add increased transparency, governance, accountability and collaborative value.
When Is It Most Effective? Great for mid-sized to smaller teams who need (paradoxically) both greater flexibility and greater structure.
Scrum is built around key roles. The Scrum Master ensures execution based on Scrum principles, the Product Owner is the representative of the stakeholders and the Development team who, well, develop and deliver the product.
Delivery is broken into events, such as sprints, giving a clear and transparent real-time view during the project lifecycle.
The sprints are at the core of Scrum's success. In "The 5 Scrum Values", Mark C. Layton writes "The sprint requires clear goals set within fixed time boxes. The good news is, in this model, you break down those goals into the smallest chunks of work possible so that you know what you’re getting into. You’ll know what “realistic” is, so you can set appropriate goals and meet your commitments."
What do advocates of the Scrum methodology say?
Extremely flexible - As Scrum is considered a branch of the Agile methodology it shares many similarities in terms of its advantages. One of those advantages is its flexibility. As previously mentioned, scrum projects are broken down into short ‘sprints’, this makes problem-solving much simpler. At the end of a sprint, any minor issues can be identified and rectified, this ensures that developers aren’t left with a large number of issues to solve towards the end of the project. Change is less demanding when following the Scrum methodology, it is much easier to make changes to small sprints then it is to make changes to a larger sprint, this, therefore, allows developers to take a different direction of thinking if necessary.
Clear Visibility – Progress in IT projects can be clearly tracked by the scrum leader. Scrum-based teams will regularly meet in order to discuss the progress in which developers have made. These meetings allow teams to ensure they have fully completed the previous sprint whilst planning what they aim to achieve in the following sprint. Any issues that have arisen during the previous sprint should also be discussed during these meetings, allowing the team to discuss problem-solving techniques. Consumers should also be regularly invited to provide feedback during these meetings. Feedback should include any problems they are having with the software as well as any features they would like to see implemented in future updates.
Great For Goal Setting / Milestone - As previously mentioned, at the beginning of sprints the scrum leader should meet with the team in order to discuss and plan what they aim to achieve. During these meetings, the leader team should discuss their overall aim for the coming sprint as well as what is expected of each individual. A good scrum leader should be able to evaluate their team in order to understand their limits, this will also for them to set their team realistic targets. This will ensure that targets push the team to work hard without overloading them with work, thus forcing the team to sacrifice quality in order to complete the large quantity of work set.
Increased Staff/Team Motivation – As goal setting is a commonly used tool within Scrum teams, this, in turn, breeds greater morale. Latham, a well-respected psychologist states that ‘The setting of goals has been shown to increase employee motivation and organizational commitment’. His research has found when employees are presented with a goal to work towards their work rate increases. Scrum teams do often seem to be more motivated to complete tasks and therefore often complete the development of a piece of software, for example, more efficiently.
Teams working with Scrum methodology are also likely to feel more valued in comparison to other methodologies. Each team member understands that they have a role within the team as well as a set of responsibilities; the fact that they have individually been assigned a particular task usually motivates them to work hard to complete it. There can also be a really useful competitive edge to scrum as individuals strive to deliver first or at least ensure that they aren’t the only member of the team who has failed to complete their part of the sprint.
Again, a good Scrum leader should be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of those within the team in order to ensure that employees aren’t assigned a task in an area which they are weaker.
What Do Scrum’s Detractors Say?
Intense Process – As previously stated the lifecycle of scrum projects consists of short sprints that constantly follow one another until the end of the project. This constant cycle of sprints can be extremely intense, especially in projects that have a set deadline. Whilst having a goal to work towards can motivate teams to work hard, in some cases these goals may become a burden to either the team or individual members. Team members are under constant pressure to achieve their individual tasks, this pressure may begin to place stress on team members. In some cases it may also lead to teams rushing their tasks in order to complete them before the end of the sprint, most likely leading to a reduction in the quality of their work.
In order to avoid this, the scrum leader needs to ensure they set realistic targets for their team in order to ensure that the team aren’t overworked during a sprint.
Increased Risk Of Scope Creep – Scope creep, when a project’s requirements increase over its lifecycle, can be more common using Scrum. In a recent case, a team that originally set out to deliver one instalment of software finished the project having delivered multiple instalments. This fact had been “lost in the sprints” and the project delivered late. The risk with short sprints, like short sprints in real life, is that if you’re sprinting in the wrong direction, you can quickly veer way off course. Check you’re sprinting in the right direction.
Scope creep is often caused by the end client changing their requirements, however, it can also occur as a result of miscommunication within the team. Scope creep can be overwhelming, especially for in-experienced teams, projects without delivery dates may appear never-ending, and in the intense round of Scrum sprints, it is crucial that you identify that each sprint is aligned to the overall goal and not an offshoot that leads the project off course.
In order to combat scope creep, a helicopter view of the project as a whole is crucial. Processes for agreeing change are essential and scrum leaders should also ensure they remind their team that change is normally a positive thing. It can be demotivating to feel like you’re suddenly working on something that wasn’t in the original plan, a change in direction can be frustrating, and communicating that it will allow your team to ensure their project meets the changed needs of their consumer, thus allowing them to create a more effective piece of software, can help with morale.
More Experience Required – As touched on several times already, Scrum will most likely not work for in-experienced teams. It is vital that the scrum leader is experienced, they need to be able to asses the ability as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their team, this will allow them to set their team effective targets. Experience amongst team members is also vital for Scrum to work effectively. Experienced members will have developed the skills necessary for Scrum projects to be successful, for example, communicational skills. Experienced teams will have also developed time management skills, allowing them to understand the amount of time they need to dedicate to a particular task. This will allow them to plan each sprint in more detail, for example planning how many hours/days can be spent on a particular task, sticking to this schedule should see the team complete all of the tasks within the sprint to a good standard.
In conclusion, as with all IT Project Management methodologies, the benefits significantly outweigh the risks – if you do it right and have the right people on board. Don’t discount Scrum if you are lacking experience in your team, resources from the Project Management as a Service market can fill gaps and allow you to benefit from the many advantages it can offer.