SCRUM : A Beginner's Perspective

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Vanji Sekaran

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Apr 16, 2018

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15 mins

SCRUM : A Beginner's Perspective

A product development framework that is better suited to complex projects, where the team holds its collective responsibility and seeks to deliver it in some usable form in short cycles at regular intervals.

Scrum stands-out because:

  • It is Empirical: It consists of concurrent cycles of inspect and adapt which makes the process responsive to the customer and the market, thus inducing transparency.
  • It uses iterative and incremental approaches: The overall product is developed incrementally (small portions at a time) while it is inspected and adapted iteratively (through repeated cycles).
  • It is based on values that help in smoother governance: Values such as Focus, Openness, Respect, Courage and Commitment help promote greater collaboration within the team members.
  • No single point of control: The Development Team has NO designated leaders and NO specific silos. Even the Product Owner and Scrum Master seek to collaborate with or facilitate the Development team and not direct it per se.
  • Working environment is immune to interference: No one can direct or influence the work the Development Team has chosen to work upon. Any requests or feedback from the customer or higher management are asked to be communicated to the Product Owner who then may add them to the Product Backlog for future deliberation.
  • Reports are for the team and by the team: Charts, task boards are updated by the team to aid their own work, each member is aware of the overall progress and status-quo of each phase of work thus helping in better awareness and decision-making.
  • Planning is key: Sprint Planning and Backlog refinement go hand-in-hand. While the former is applicable for the current sprint, the latter aids the Sprint Planning of subsequent sprints. In Sprint Planning, the “WHAT” (product backlog, definition of done, team capacity and past performance, latest product increment) and “HOW” (Sprint Backlog, Sprint Goal, shared understanding of the “what”) are discussed and deliberated upon to reach a consensus.
  • Daily catch-up, Periodic Review and Reflection as important as Planning: The four scrum ceremonies (Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective) make time for not only planning for the work but also to keep all the development team members updated on what their counterparts did and intend on doing during Daily Scrum. Any blocks or impediments experienced by them are also communicated openly, which the Scrum Master aims to resolve/address.

The Sprint Review helps elicit stakeholder feedback on the product increment created which in turn makes the product in tune with its requirement.

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The Sprint Retrospective is all about reflecting on what went well, what did not and what could be initiated for future sprints with respect to process, tools, and people.

  • Set Time-boxes for all events: Set limits on time for all Scrum ceremonies help keep the efforts and deliberations relevant and specific along with greater accountability. For a 4-week sprint, the Sprint Review can last a maximum of 4 hours and Sprint Retrospective can last a maximum of 3 hours. For shorter sprints, the duration would shorten proportionately. Duration of Backlog Refinement (10% of Development Team capacity) and Daily Scrum (15 minutes) are set irrespective of the length of the Sprint.
  • Estimation is relative: It builds upon our inherent efficacy of estimating something in relation/comparison to another. And since at the beginning of the sprint, the information at hand may not be granular, relative estimation makes the best use of what is available. Techniques include T-shirt size estimation, Planning Poker, Affinity Sizing, Complexity Buckets etc.
  • Definition of done and Acceptance Criteria: To assess whether a work item has been “completed”, it is tested against the criteria set by the Scrum Team (Definition of Done) which is a technical checklist of all the activities that the Team commits to do for all the work items. It is thus in sync with the quality and design aspects that the Team decided upon during Sprint Planning and Backlog Refinement.

It is also evaluated against the criteria set by the customer/user on what features are needed, why they are needed and how to ensure whether the work item deemed to be “complete” contains them.

The Therapist: The Scrum Master focuses on people development rather than being results-driven. He/She is the “change agent” seeking to make things better going forward by facilitating Scrum events, resolving internal conflicts, protecting the Team from external disturbances and coaching them for better efficiency, making the organizational environment more amenable to Agile mindset. The “Gemba Walk” can be a friendly practice to get the Team to open up.

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