Don’t Forget To Play: An Introduction to Scrum

A simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex products

Since a few weeks, I have been reading quite a lot about the Scrum framework and its characteristics. My fellow students and I at the Content Strategy master’s degree programme at FH JOANNEUM also got in touch with it during a session by Stefan Pollach on Agile Project Management. Find out about the aspects and roles of Scrum and how it affects collaboration within a team in this article. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences!

Imagine this situation: Projects have been planned and times are set that unfortunately cannot be kept. This leads to frustration on every side. One approach is: If conventional methods don’t work, why not try something different? The Scrum method is such a process model and it originally comes from software development.

How It Began

The English term scrum is not an abbreviation, but comes from rugby and means something like “tight crowd”. This happens when the players gather around the ball in rugby.

The Scrum method originally comes from software development, but is now used as a method in agile project management.

The role of rugby is not unimportant. The idea behind this is that product development with lone fighters doesn’t fit today’s demands for speed and flexibility. On the other hand, if a team tries to proceed as one single unit and plays the ball back and forth, it could lead to success.

Although the beginnings of the Scrum method can be traced back to the two economic theorists Ikujirō Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi until the 1980s, it were Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland who first provided a definition of Scrum at the 1995 OOPSLA, an annual research conference (now known as Splash). So:

Scrum is a framework within which people can tackle complex adaptive tasks and which enable them to deliver productive and creative products with the highest possible value. —

Self-Organization Instead Of Rules

There are only a few rules in the Scrum method. The core thing is that the team can organize itself and is interdisciplinary. As many skills as possible are covered,. In addition, Scrum is structured in activities whic are divided into three roles and three deliverables.

Scrum works empirically, incrementally and iteratively. This means that the implementation of the method is based on experience, made in small steps and happens in repetitive stages. The project duration of the Scrum process is divided into sprints, which can last between two and a maximum of four weeks.

Each sprint consists of:

  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Scrums or Daily Standup
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

At the end of each sprint, a functional product (“done”) is presented to the client. The feedback on this deliverable is the basis for further revisions.

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The Three Roles In Scrum

Product Owner

The Product Owner represents the users of the product or the stakeholders of the project. In the case of software, these would be the users who expect a seamless process. In the case of a product, they are the product managers who represent their customers.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master acts as a moderator. This means that the Scrum Master makes sure that the theory, practices and rules of the Scrum method are followed by the team. She or he is also the point of contact for external contributors by clarifying which interactions with the team are beneficial and which are not.

Team Members

The Team Members organize themselves; due to the team’s small size (two to nine team members), it doesn’t need a traditional project manager. Therefore, the team member don’t receive any instructions on how to proceed. Due to the team’s interdisciplinary structure, software architects can be found there as well as designers, programmers, quality assurance staff and testers.

The Events In Scrum

Sprint Planning

In Sprint Planning, the team plans the next sprint. The requirements are broken down into specific tasks. These should be able to getting done within a day. Efficient communication is very important here; this is practiced “face-to-face” and in no case by handing over documents. The result of sprint planning is the sprint backlog.

Daily Scrum or Daily Standups

At the beginning of each working day, the team meets for a maximum of 15 minutes, the Daily Scrum. It is preferably held standing, as this is intended to promote concentration on important points. The exchange with all team members is guaranteed once a day. Each team member briefly explains their current state of affairs:

  • What has been done since the last meeting?
  • What is planned until the next meeting?
  • Which obstacles/problems hinder progress?

Problems that cannot be solved within a quarter of an hour are passed on to the Scrum Master. Daily Scrum is an essential tool for team reflection and self-organization.

Sprint Review

At the end of each sprint there is a Sprint Review. Here the development team presents the product increment (in the sense of “done”). The product is checked and the Product Backlog adjusted if necessary. The Product Owner as well as the stakeholders can provide input, however the final decision on whether requirements are changed is the Product Owner’s.

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Sprint Retrospective

The Sprint Retrospective is about reviewing the work of the project team in order to continuously improve it. Key questions here include:

  • What hindered the collaboration?
  • What was particularly beneficial for the collaboration?
  • Which new approaches should be considered?

The Three Artifacts in Scrum

Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is a to-do list with requirements. It is constantly being developed furthher and managed by the product owner. Since the product backlog is dynamic, it’s never complete — the product owner constantly adapts it to the product.

Sprint Backlog

From the requirements of the Product Backlog is a selection of requirements made, which the team works on within a sprint. The individual tasks in the Sprint Backlog are called tickets. Each team member takes responsibility for their own ticket. The Sprint Backlog provides a prediction of the extent to which the next increment will be functional or which work is still required to be able to deliver a functioning done. A Kanban board is often used here for better visualization.

Product Increment

At the end of each sprint there is a functional intermediate product — the Product Increment. It must also be operational if the product owner does not want to deliver it yet.

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A Quick Wrap-up

The great advantage of the Scrum method is that it can be operated with little tools and little effort. Methods and their processes should be easy to implement and to maintain. With Scrum, it’s also easy to introduce a playful but yet effective way to work on projects — from small to large-scale ones.

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