Scrum is a lightweight framework that guides teams tackling complex work. It is a way of working oriented around values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect and Courage.
This article gives practical examples I have seen of the Scrum values being modelled successfully on projects and explains why they helped our work. The idea that I want to get across is that Scrum is not a set of processes to be followed but rather a set of behaviours that influence the actions that we take. Without these behaviours, the benefits of Scrum are unlikely to be realised.
At the start of each Sprint, the Scrum Team commit to a Sprint Goal. A well managed Scrum process helps the Team to forecast more reliably what they can commit to achieving within a Sprint, thus setting realistic expectations with stakeholders.
On one project, in addition to the standard Scrum events, the developers had regular Backlog Refinement sessions to review Backlog items with the Product Owner. This gave us a chance to ask questions and understand what each item was trying to achieve. It allowed us to explore different ways of implementing the item to find the one which was the best fit in terms of functionality and complexity. We also sketched screens to consider how users would interact with the system.
At the end of these sessions, we felt more confident about what needed building and about estimating the size of the task. This in turn helped with Sprint Planning and delivering the work requested to meet the client’s expectations.
Backlog Refinement and Sprint Planning helps to focus the whole Scrum Team on what is important.
For another project, the team was extending an existing system that was proving successful and popular with users. There were many ideas and suggestions for new features. Asking questions during refinement and at Sprint Planning helped to separate ideas that required further thinking from those ready for implementation.
Aware of the commitment we were making at Sprint Planning, we explained what we believed was feasible and what was not. This helped the Product Owner focus on the priorities for the Sprint, weighing-up the business benefits of the different Backlog Items.
The Development Team rely on the Product Owner for this focus, as the Product Owner best understands the business needs.
The more I learn about Scrum, the more I can see how it requires a significant shift in working practices and even the culture of an organisation. Part of this is building an environment that encourages openness and transparency.
This can be challenging on an individual level, as it means being transparent about bad news as well as good news, which I don’t find easy. In my experience, however, I have found it is better to raise issues early and get help from rest of the team and the client. Product Owners and stakeholders want to know if there are problems and what their options are.
Scrum uses the Daily Scrum and Sprint Review events, in particular, to facilitate openness. They provide a regular opportunity to raise issues both within the team and with wider stakeholders. Keeping-up communication in this way helps to keep people informed and avoid nasty surprises.
The flip side of the coin is that you need to support your colleagues on the team when they raise issues and be ready to work together to resolve them.
One of the aspects I like about Scrum is how it encourages good relationships between people. So often, friction and workplace problems can be caused, not deliberately, but because we don’t fully appreciate what our colleagues do and how we can best support them. Scrum tackles this by emphasising the team over individuals and helping us work together more effectively.
I saw a good example of this on one project where the team was under pressure and the developers were putting great efforts into getting the coding completed. The problem was that the person doing the testing had become quite isolated from the rest of the team and was having difficulty getting the code to run and struggled to understand what to test. Despite all efforts, the team was not making the progress they hoped for.
By spending more time supporting testing – by creating a stable environment for testing, discussing issues and explaining how things worked – relationships within the team improved. The testing caught many more issues, and improved the quality of the product. People were happier too, as misunderstandings were more easily resolved.
Making time to support colleagues is always worthwhile. This is even more important when working remotely. Developers and testers can do a lot to support each other by providing a clean environment for testing, and making time to answer questions and walk-through tests. Ultimately, the team will succeed or fail as one.
The Scrum framework tells you what to do, but not how to do it. This leaves lots of room for creativity, however, it can be hard sometimes to take the leap and try new things. When starting a new project, I find myself naturally wanting to do similar things to those I have done before. Each project is different and may require a different approach.
On a couple of recent projects, there has been a need to build DevOps pipelines to deploy code. This is not an area where I had experience, however, with support from the DevOps teams, I completed the pipeline through the various test environments into production. This greatly reduced the effort required from the IT team to support releases. So, it was definitely worth trying a new approach.
Scrum creates an environment where people have the confidence and courage to try new things, taking managed risks to find the best way to reach the goals for Sprints and the Product.
The Scrum values underpin the framework – without them, the benefits of using Scrum will be drastically reduced. To gain the most from Scrum, teams must understand these values and actively put them into practice in their day-to-day work. Triad’s emphasis on the Scrum values enables our development teams to deliver better results and achieve better productivity. Adopting these behaviours is likely to require cultural change both within the Scrum team and in the wider organisation.
David is a Senior Developer with over 20 years experience of application development for public, private and 3rd sector clients. His interest in Scrum began when using the framework on several recent projects. Having passed the PSMI and PSMII certifications, David is enthusiastic about the benefits that Scrum can bring and keen to apply the lessons he has learned to benefit current and future projects.
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