As the global healthcare crisis moves closer to its second anniversary, there is a need for product development teams to understand that the so-called new normal is unlikely to change any time soon. And while continued collaboration and effective communication should be a given for companies of all sizes, the impact of a digitally distributed and remote workforce has raised the table stakes significantly.
Simply put, business leaders and decision makers are more than aware that the wheels of product development will keep turning if the right frameworks for success are in place throughout an organization. For that reason alone, understanding how Agile methodologies and Scrum principles can keep the development and delivery of complex products in motion is critical.
Whether your organization has already started to implement Scrum or you’re considering making a change, one of the biggest determinants of your success will be how you implement this iterative, Agile-based framework for product development.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, developers who use Scrum work in 1-4 week incremental runs called Sprints, repeating the same processes to refine each product chunk and adapt based on observed needs. With just three roles to fill – Scrum Master, Product Owner and Developers – Scrum teams are also small. As a result, the size of these teams reduce friction and maximizes the focus on each Sprint.
Scrum has been part of the tech lexicon since 1986, but the decision to integrate its principles may throw a few curveballs for the unprepared. In fact, what seems to be fairly straightforward can often be easier said than done.
With that in mind, here are three tips and tricks to both maximize your Scrum effectiveness and ensure that the process of adoption runs as smoothly as it can.
Tip 1: Scrum is Designed for Products, Not Projects
If you’re used to working on projects, it can be tempting to approach Scrum as a repackaged form of project management. But there is a key element to remember; Scrum is designed for product management, not project management.
So, what’s the difference?
Simply put, project teams have fixed delivery timelines, clearly defined end goals and can be slow to adapt to potential roadblocks. By contrast, product teams have flexible delivery timelines, an open-ended product shape and adapt constantly to whatever issues crop up.
Organizations adopting Scrum as part of their Agile transition sometimes appoint project managers as Scrum Masters, but their skills aren’t quite transferable to what can be considered as real Scrum.
Project managers are used to moving between budgeted projects over a period of time, with some being longer than others. Old projects don’t necessarily inform their approach to new ones. But Scrum requires Sprint iterations across an undefined product life cycle. In addition, sprints deliver value through cycles of reflection and adaptation.
Project managers are also used to directly supervising their team – spoiler alert, that isn’t how Scrum works.
The project management approach is flipped on its head in Scrum by making everyone responsible for what the project manager would normally do. And while Scrum Masters can coach the team to make sure they understand the framework, they never tell people what to do.
Tip 2: Empower Your Scrum Team’s Heavy Lifters
Much in the same way that an effective scrum in rugby (from where the principles got their name) requires teamwork, a successful Scrum workflow relies on its big hitters – in the majority of cases, the software developers are the backbone of the team.
The caveat is that a traditional top-down management style can keep teams from working well together. This style of leadership often prevents product owners from making informed decisions on what to build and can lead to what is fondly known as HIPPO – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. In a nutshell, management decides what needs to be built based on their vision, as opposed to letting the product owner leverage data from the field or end users to decide which direction to take.
Organizations learning how to implement Scrum correctly need to know that openness and transparency are core Scrum values. Without them, teams lose the communication-based adaptiveness that makes the framework and workflow process so powerful.
In traditional corporate hierarchies, those at the top are used to working in a way where they have a lot of control over their teams. Scrum, however, flattens that defined hierarchy. Everyone on a Scrum team is functionally an equal, and transparency between team members makes communication quick and effective.
To get the most out of Scrum, leaders must release some control over their devs. Conversely, these team members should be empowered to treat those leaders as equals. Not only should everyone on the team should understand what others are doing, but they should also feel comfortable asking questions and offering advice.
This horizontal approach to communication fosters a productive environment by
making it easier for teams to generate new ideas. And through constant collaboration, team members can identify product issues faster and adapt better to changing customer needs.
Tip 3: Understand the Limits of Scrum at Scale
With so many years of integration and adoption behind it, business leaders flipping through the official Scrum Guide might notice that there is no advice from the co-creators on how to implement Scrum at scale. These creators have defined their own versions of scaling, but we should note that there is no universally accepted framework for scalability.
For the most part, that’s where popular enterprise-level adaptations like the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) step in. The problem with SAFe, however, is that to maximize management effectiveness, it must compromise on core Scrum values.
As we are all aware, large organizations have a sprawling number of dependencies throughout their value chain. In a perfect world, each component needs to be well-oiled for efficient product delivery. This requirement draws heavily on more actively managed teams.
And, as we noted above, top-down management means less transparency and empowerment. A strict hierarchy just isn’t how Scrum works in practice. This flags up another potential pain point; Scrum may not mesh well with the company culture at traditional enterprises.
Workplace culture has an important role to play in product development, irrespective of company size or industry. This becomes even more relevant when you have hundreds or thousands of people in your workforce. SAFe, for example, facilitates large-scale teamwork in quarterly Program Increment (PI) Planning sessions.
Scrum’s principles, however, rely on small chunks of collaborative dev work – the aforementioned Sprints – and these are central to the framework. Unlike PI Planning sessions, Sprints happen every couple of weeks enabling progress and refinement at a sustainable pace. Sprint pacing also allows teams to respond faster to change.
To put it into context, enterprise-level adaptations like SAFe are a step up from the overly restrictive Waterfall framework, but they are still too restrictive for true agility.
Use Scrum, Meet Product Development Goals
Scrum has been a formal process for more than 25 years, but the need to move quickly and react to the inevitable changes that come with product development is a timeless requirement. An agile attitude is the first step, and companies or business leaders that understand that Scrum has the power to transform project management will benefit from increased visibility and, importantly, a faster time to market.
When you make Scrum work for your organization, your teams can more efficiently deliver product value and feel empowered to excel. If the transition is done right, you’ll see why Scrum is favored by tens of thousands of companies around the world.
That is not to say that making the decision to integrate Scum is a slam-dunk. Transitioning can be a difficult process, but also a rewarding one. The real beauty of bringing a lightweight, iterative and incremental framework into the mix is that the oft-cited Scrum Guide only provides a basic framework for what to do … the “how” is up to you.
Apexon’s digital engineers are well-equipped to solve the toughest challenges that companies face. With digital maturity already a differentiator for brands of all sizes, there is a defined need to ensure that business optimization strategies are aligned with customer expectations. To learn more about how we can answer your digital questions, contact us today.