Five Common Questions When Introducing Scrum
Dealing with uncertainty in Agile adoption
14 June 2017
Having been involved in the first fleeting steps of several new Scrum teams, I've seen a pattern of questions emerge nearly every time a new team forms. In the hope of assisting you with your first Agile transformation, I've listed the most contentious of these questions, including their most effective answers.
How do you know if you'll hit the deadline?
This question is most often asked by people accustomed to Waterfall projects. Most of us write a list before shopping for groceries. By the mere number of items and our previous experience, we can guess with reasonable accuracy how much we'll spend in the store. Similar in kind, Waterfall presents a degree of certainty.
The honest answer to the deadline question is that we don't know exactly. However, we'll often have a functional, potentially viable, product long before a Waterfall execution would be able to deliver. What's more important is that we'll be able to tell you much sooner if we won't be able to hit the deadline.
What does the project manager do?
Assuming a scenario in which we're leveraging Scrum without any of the scaled frameworks, the project manager would ideally join the team. The project manager skill set is no less valuable in Scrum than it is anywhere else. As to whether the project manager could become a ScrumMaster comes down to the specific person. Anyone can become a ScrumMaster with the right mindset. It's critical that the project manager perceive the rest of the team as peers, or else they risk hampering the transformation.
Who is the best person to be the product owner?
Ideally someone who has the authority to make strategic decisions, is highly available, and has exceptional stakeholder engagement skills. Most product owners won't have all of these qualities from the outset. In fact, many will begin their journey as a disempowered proxy for another stakeholder. This is nothing to be disheartened about. As with the Scrum Team, the organization's trust in the product owner will grow over time. The biggest deciding factor in this will be the individual's enthusiasm for the product in question. You want a person who can advocate the value of that product and the problems of its users; that is the person who is the best product owner.
How do we pick the first team to move to Scrum?
Start with any cross-functional group of people who are currently or about to work on one of the organization's initiatives. This is an intentionally broad response; I'd add only that the organization must be willing to be patient with the team and support them as they begin sprinting. Scrum is a process for facilitating work, and there is no time like the present. The first team is likely to face the most doubt and scrutiny. It's normal, and generally the worst of it will pass within the first few sprints.
Are all these meetings necessary?
This question is often paired with, "When do we actually get any work done?" My personal experience tells me that it seems to come most often from people who like doing a lot of planning before building anything. If that's your scenario, don't give into the temptation to point out the irony to them. Scrum enables the team to avoid taking long shots at moving targets. What may seem like a series of excessive meetings actually takes a lot of the guessing from the delivery of the work. It ensures that the team remains accurate and predictable over time.
Chances are you'll field a lot of questions when introducing Scrum to a new area. I've seen that these tend to occur with extreme regularity. Change is often challenging, and implementing Scrum is no exception. Discussions become much less onerous when you're able to confidently educate those who are new to Agile.
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