Keys to Effectively Implementing Scrum

by dhiram

Scrum is an agile development methodology that aims to make a complex (and potentially overwhelming) task easier to tackle and manage. This is accomplished by prioritizing items and focusing on only a small number of tasks over a period of 2 to 4 weeks (a timeframe known as a “sprint”).

But there is a difference between knowing what to do and knowing how to do it effectively. Scrum sounds deceptively simple with such a brief overview. “Sure,” you might be thinking, “my team prioritizes tasks. Are we employing Scrum?” Perhaps, but if your team is not working efficiently, then you’re certainly not using Scrum to its full potential.

Let’s take a look at some of the key ways to ensure Scrum helps bring out the best in your agile software development team.

Product Owner Understands Timeline
For Scrum to be a successful methodology, it’s important to have someone in the Product Owner role who understands the value of Scrum sprints. The Product Owner supplies the list of tasks that comprises the backlog. The more comprehensive this list, the better. The Product Owner should prioritize each item on the list to give the development team an idea of how to prioritize their own sprints.

Product Owners should be encouraged to regularly add ideas to the backlog, but should also understand that the development team has the sole responsibility to decide what they can accomplish during a sprint, and that once a sprint has started, there is no room to add new items to the sprint’s schedule.

It is crucial that the Product Owner also understand that any new requests must be added to the backlog and given a priority. Urgent, you-have-to-drop-everything-and-do-this requests completely disrupt the Scrum process by distracting developers and setting the team on edge. Such requests also throw everything else off schedule.

Team Chooses a Limited Number of Items from Backlog
The operant word here is “limited”! Sprints last only 2 to 4 weeks, so the development team needs to be careful to not bite off more than they can chew. Sprints exist to give developers a chance to focus solely on one or two projects without having to worry about urgent requests being hurled at them without advanced notice. It’s a slow-but-steady approach that also prevents burnout.

Encourage your team to be realistic when choosing items from the backlog for the next sprint. How much time will each item take to build and test? Keep it short and sweet, in bite-sized pieces that can easily be taken from start to finish within 2 to 4 weeks. A tool like CA Agile Central software comes in handy for capacity planning, making it less likely that items will be returned unfinished to the backlog or that developers feel utterly overwhelmed after a sprint.

Don’t Forget to Reflect!
At the end of each sprint, two things typically happen: the workable product is demonstrated to the product owner, and the development team takes the time to review and reflect on what did and did not work during the sprint. The Scrum Master then ensures that changes are implemented for the next iteration, making the process as smooth and efficient as possible.

Without unnecessary documentation, reports, meetings, etc. distracting developers from the primary focus of their job, more coding and development can be accomplished. So when distractions do inevitably crop up, it’s important for team members to speak up about it. The reflection stage may feel a little bit silly if there’s hardly anything negative to point out each week, but don’t skip it. Use it as an opportunity to boost morale by pointing out accomplishments, while always opening up the floor to suggestions for improvement.

Although there are guiding agile software development principles and a general outline for a Scrum process, nothing is written in stone. Remember, the key word is “agile”! Be flexible and find a methodology that works best for your team and your project by taking the “reflection” part of the process seriously.

Scrum is the most popular Agile methodology because it can be applied to many different projects and teams, but for it to be effective it must be understood and embraced. Nothing beats an experienced Scrum Master or Product Owner, but don’t overlook the value of Agile software tools to help you implement Scrum and other processes effectively.

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