Agile & Scrum: What Do They Mean
When it comes to project management and its evolution over the years, a lot of the discussions are centered around some of the most common methodologies: agile, scrum, and kanban. These words are often misused, especially in modern software development. In this article, I’ll try to define what these terms mean and clarify their usage.
If you’re like me, you have one of those colleagues who think they’re the smartest in the room because they use the word “agile” in every other sentence when discussing the work process. Sometimes, it’s without any regard for the subject. Talk about “thinking agile,” “agilely moving the needle,” and “building an agile mentality.” But have you ever stopped to ponder what agile really means?
Agile is a project management methodology that incorporates agile principles. What then are these principles? The 12 principles of Agile form the foundation on which the Agile Manifesto for software development is built. According to this Manifesto, the following are more valuable in the success of a project:
- Individuals and interactions
- Working software
- Customer collaboration
- Responding to change
In other words, working in an agile environment means maintaining close communication amongst team members, collaborating with customers to continuously deliver end products that meet customer needs, and adapting quickly to change when prompted. Being agile helps team members respond to unpredictability through incremental and iterative work processes. Let’s take a look at this illustration:
A seamstress wants to create the world’s best agile tux. He knows that the only way to make such a tux would be to get insights from customers on what this tux would look and feel like. The requirements are pretty flexible, and the seamstress wants to use short feedback loops with customers to quickly iterate on the tux and make it awesome. So he works with his team to produce the first tux; this is the first product iteration. The seamstress has delivered some value but needs feedback to iterate on the product and deliver more value next time. As a way of testing and learning, he asks for a customer’s opinion and gets a 5/10 rating plus additional feedback on what can be improved upon.
The seamstress then works to produce another tux, this time with the improvement from customer feedback; this is the second iteration. The testing and learning process is repeated, and the seamstress continues to iterate until customer satisfaction is attained and the product becomes the world’s best tux. The product increases in value through an iterative process, as it becomes more aligned to what customers really want.
An agile project management process is very much like the seamstress; it requires project teams to iterate through the project until they achieve the desired result.
Suppose you’d like to start a new project. Usually, you’d draw up a plan, make a schedule, find a project manager, hold endless meetings, and ultimately just hope you don’t stumble before you reach the finish line. But what does that usually deliver? Everything is more expensive than expected, you stress about your deadline, the result could have been better, and energy has drained from your team. These problems are solved with scrum. Here, you write fewer plans and do more in short cycles we call sprints. You don’t work on separate islands but as one dedicated team. Instead of working on a project with a distant deadline, you constantly deliver functioning products. You don’t use final evaluations, but you receive continuous feedback.
Scrum is a flexible way of working in a rapidly changing world. But how does it work? Let’s use a hypothetical marketing campaign for a new car as an example. In the first week, you take action right away; you share a glimpse of your design through social media. The feedback you receive is used in week two, where you attract media attention, which leads to new feedback for making improvements. We call these weeks “Sprints,” which are different sub-projects that each produce their own specific results. In other words, instead of knowing exactly where you want to end up, you take a step-by-step approach as you work towards your goal, for example, the successful launch of a new car.
A Scrum team has stand-up meetings, works transparently, feels a joint responsibility, is aware of the progress made every day, and has results to celebrate after each sprint. Scrum has three major players. First, the product owner, the key stakeholder with a vision, who provides direction to the team for each sprint. Then there are team members, usually five to nine professionals in various disciplines, who are jointly responsible for the results. Lastly, there’s the scrum master, a facilitator who focuses entirely on the process.
Another important component is the scrum lists, which involve the following:
- The product backlog is where you list your goals and define how you intend to achieve them.
- The sprint backlog; is the shopping list of products you want to produce in the next sprint.
- The definition of done, indicates, precisely, what needs to be done by the end of the sprint, and
- The scrum board shows all of the team members’ tasks which will change from “to do” to “busy” and then “done” during a sprint.
Scrum is focused on delivering the best possible value to the end-user. If you’re leveraging this project management framework, you need to ensure you provide value with every sprint. The value can be assessed and feedback incorporated to deliver more value in the next sprint.
To wrap it up!
You may start thinking about implementing Agile and Scrum to your own projects once you have a good knowledge of what they are and how they function together. It’s crucial to remember that the secret to a successful project isn’t only picking the proper methodology; it’s about executing it effectively. This requires a thorough understanding of the approach you finally choose, as well as other crucial project management skills.