Maximizing the Benefits of Scrum
30 August 2017
Scrum is, as we know, a deceptively simple framework. To a newcomer to Scrum and Agile, the framework can give the impression that it requires certain ceremonies to be conducted in a cyclic cadence to reap the benefits. This is what I would call "doing" Scrum. However, to derive the real benefits of Agile, the practitioner needs to delve deeper and understand the more fundamental drivers that are critical to maximizing the benefit.
In this article, I would like to articulate my understanding and appreciation of the more fundamental things that lead to the benefits of Agile. This is what I call "being" Agile. The foundations for these lie in the three pillars of the empirical process of Agile: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. These pillars, together with the Scrum values of commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect, lead to the true benefits of using Scrum or Agile. If there are deficits in the Scrum team behavior against the pillars and values, then the benefits are going to be compromised. So this is an area that needs to be watched closely.
For deriving the maximum benefits of Agile, I like to keep the following three things at back of my mind while we run the Scrum events (the ceremonies of sprint planning, the Daily Scrum, the sprint review, and sprint retrospectives). These three focus areas are: value, collaboration, and adaptability. In the following paragraphs, I will expand on these.
Focus on value
All things that are done with the "Agile" mindset, from the first step to the last step, focus on value. If there is value, then it should be done. If there is no value, then don’t do it.
During the early stage of a feasibility study, the go/no-go decisions for projects are based on the value offered by the project. In the visioning phase, the vision itself is an articulation of the most valuable aspects of the project. During the release planning, the value is reemphasized once again, with the highest-value items being a package that falls into the first release (or the MVP). During the iteration planning, value is revisited, and items that remain valuable are taken into the iteration while items with lower value are pushed down the backlog. Further during the iteration planning, the Definition of Done (or conformance criteria) for the stories is captured and aligned with value to ensure that the development is focused. During the sprint execution there are practices such as automation testing, continuous integration, refactoring, etc., which focus on minimum human effort and thus generating a reliable and adaptable product.
The concept of stories, where the focus is on documenting the Definition of Done (DoD) and carrying out the conversation makes things faster and more flexible.
Agile focuses on generalizing specialists, which also implies that the team members can pick up tasks outside their primary specialization, and thus this focus helps improves throughput and makes things move faster.
Agile also focuses on product increment reviews to capture feedback and adapt the feedback to the product at the earliest possible time, thereby reducing risks and increasing value.
Scrum focuses on retrospectives, which are process reviews, call-outs for improvement areas, and action plans for the same. Thus improved processes help increase the value.
Agile focuses on technical excellence (reliability for functionality and adaptability for long-term product improvements), which is again focused on providing short-term and long-term value.
Another key approach of Agile is to do things incrementally, thus giving the option for using incremental feedback on an ongoing basis to ensure that the direction is aligned with the need, while leaving an option for moving ahead with the product increment for production at any point, if needed.
Focus on collaboration
Agile focuses on getting the people with the right skills (technical) and the right mindset for creative collaboration. Agile also provides the right environment to foster collaboration. There is a focus on trust, and openness for mistakes and learning from mistakes. There is a focus on respect for each other and on approaching things with an open mind.
Agile further focuses on deep interactions, as these are essential to generate valuable products. This means interactions not just within the development team but also with the customers.
Agile also focuses on discipline and behaviors, which implies meeting commitments, and deep involvement and fusion on thinking of the team to generate superior products.
Focus on embracing change and being adaptive
Agile focuses on continuously scanning the context of the project that is being undertaken to assess the value of what is being done. If the context changes, then there is no harm in reprioritizing or dropping existing work the moment it is realized that it is not valuable. Also, when the product is being developed, it is important to follow good development practices, so that the product can be easily adapted to the changed context. As an example, if there is a major change in the tax laws by the government, is your product designed in such a way that it can be easily adapted to the new laws rapidly and with limited investment? Is your product designed for adaptation to the new?
It is the responsibility of the Scrum team to carry out the product development. But it is in the interest of the Scrum team to continuously stay focused on value, collaboration, and adaptability to maximize the value generated from the effort.
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