A New Way of Thinking: the Scrum Approach

Written by JJ Sutherland Tuesday 04 February 2020
All managers need to be good project managers. So how do the most efficient organisations do project management? World-leading expert jj sutherland explains the value of the scrum approach
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Anyone in a management or team leader role will need to manage projects. As Dana Brownless writes on Forbes, “Project management has been a critical business discipline for decades and with the fast-paced societal, environmental, economic and technological changes on the horizon, it’s important to consider how these changes will impact how organizations manage and execute projects. More importantly, enterprising professionals should consider what they can do proactively to be prepared to ride the wave!”

With that in mind, we look to JJ Sutherland’s Scrum Approach to see how we can stay agile in a changing world.

“In recent years, Scrum, often under the banner of Agile, has become ubiquitous,” writes JJ Sutherland in his newest book, The Scrum Approach. “It’s no longer just the way software and technology companies work, but the way large companies increasingly work in almost every domain.”

This is a framework that companies looking to scale-up or expand, or restructure their teams and workload can adopt. It’s a way of streamlining internal processes on a project-by-project nature. The best part? Any and all sectors can implement it. Sutherland says that organisations from Bosch to Coca-Cola to Lockheed Martin now adopt Agile and Scrum techniques to deliver the speed, value and quality that their customers are looking for.

So how does Scrum work? We’ll leave it up to JJ to explain, in a (lightly edited) excerpt from his excellent new book.

“First, you need to understand that there are three, and only three, roles in Scrum: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Team Member. There’s no business analyst, there’s no tech lead, there’s no senior Scrum Master – only these three roles. They make up a Scrum Team that is able to independently deliver value. The Team is the smallest organisational unit in Scrum. These Teams rapidly deliver the value to customers in short cycles called Sprints.

“The Product Owner, or PO, owns the ‘what’. What the Team is going to build or create or service to deliver or process to write or put out. The PO takes input from customers, stakeholders, the Team itself, and whoever is going to get value from whatever the Team is doing... The PO has to take all of that input, some of which may be contradictory, and create a vision of what the Team will do. Then – and this is often the hard part – after getting all those ideas, the Product Owner (PO) has to rank them in order from the most valuable to the least. There are no top priorities in Scrum – there is only one priority at a time. This is often hard to settle on. But that’s the way Scrum works.

“So the PO prioritizes all the stuff that has to be done, from the most valuable to the least valuable, creating what is called the Product Backlog. This Product Backlog is a potentially infinite list of all the possible things that could be tackled by this Team. It is also a living document, constantly changing, based on feedback from customers, changing market conditions, insights, management, whatever. It is designed to make change easy.

“Then the Product Owner presents that backlog to the Team in an event called the Sprint Planning. At this event, the Team looks at the Product Backlog and decides what to tackle and how much they think they can get done during the next Sprint. Note that the Team decides, not the PO or management. They pull the top items of the Product Backlog into what is called the Sprint Backlog...

“Then they are off to the races. They execute a Sprint of one to four weeks – whatever rhythm works best for the Team. Most companies do two-week Sprints these days, but I always recommend one-week Sprints to my clients. The reason for that is the Scrum process has built-in feedback loops. I like these loops to be short so that we can learn really quickly. This is especially critical to Teams that work in areas like sales, customer support, or finance, where responsiveness is crucial.

“The next event is the Daily Scrum, often called the Standup. This event only lasts fifteen minutes. In it the Team shares what they have been doing to work toward the goal of that Sprint, what they will be doing in the next twenty-four hours, and anything that they see that might get in the way of the Team meeting their goal. The Daily Scrum is not a status meeting. It’s like a mini re-planning session.

“Now enters the Scrum Master. That’s a weird job title, isn’t it? I actually lobbied my father, the co-creator of Scrum, to change it to something else, like “coach”. He told me it was already too baked into the culture. Too late. Ah, well. Now, the Scrum Master role is a new thing to most companies. Their entire job is to help the Teams go faster. Speed is the altar they worship at.”

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