Scrum & agile project management

The philosophy and method of Agile software development and project planning bring product owners, stakeholders, and team members together throughout the lifecycle of the development process. Dynamic self-organized teams focus on continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

Unlike waterfall and other development methods, the scrum produces iterations — working increments of the final product — for testing and review by stakeholders and team members. Essential to the work of agile teams, scrum is a building block of agile project management and product development.

What is the agile scrum?

Producing incremental releases for review and testing, the scrum process can mean fewer costly mistakes, the sort that occur late in the development process. Frequent iterations lead to a more quickly marketable end product.

As a part of agile methodology, the task of scrum is to determine what does and does not work — and how to fix it, fast, using the skills and full capacities of an able and dedicated development team. Daily meetings, called events, ensure good communication essential to this teamwork process.

So, let’s organize the scrum:

What do you know about your project at the start, and what do you want the end product to achieve? In a scrum project timeframe, start to finish, you’ll be able to track progress and make changes along the way, when necessary.

In the agile framework, the basic unit of the scrum is the sprint. Each sprint begins with the sprint planning meeting, an event that determines the sprint goal and the sprint backlog, the list of work to be accomplished. The teams are self-organizing and the work is fast-paced, but there are essential and well-defined roles to play in the scrum process:

Scrum roles

Development team

Self-organizing software development teams of no more than ten members segment the project into separate goals. The team completes an iteration of each goal in what’s called the sprint, a process that usually lasts two weeks. Because each sprint focuses on discrete functionalities, deliverables are kept in line with stakeholder needs and expectations.

This scrum process is active and focused, engaging the talents and strengths of a cross-functional team that includes the product owner and the scrum master. These scrum roles oversee scrum project management, as set forth in the scrum guide.

Product owner

The product owner has a crucial communication role in the scrum team, and their empathy is a necessary attribute in the interests of progress and peace. They act as the representative of stakeholders to the team, and act as team representative to the community of stakeholders.

The product owner will manage the work; control risk; define and announce product iterations; communicate delivery status and progress at meetings; and note RIDAs (risks, dependencies, and assumptions). They will also negotiate priorities and the scope of the project; keep track of funding and the schedule; and clarify the product backlog, a scrum artifact that includes user stories and bugs fixed or fixable.

Note that user stories included in the product backlog items are written from the perspective of the end user, which may include management, customers, and the development team. Complex tasks organized as user stories can help make difficult or complex projects more manageable.

Scrum master

The scrum master is not a traditional project manager. They are the facilitator of the scrum development process.  Their responsibilities are to work with the product owner on the product backlog, and to make sure that needs are understood and that the work gets done in each sprint.

The scrum master will see that both team and stakeholders honor the definition of done; maintain scrum principles and scrum methodology; help the scrum team avoid impediments to progress; promote self-organization and cross-functionality; and ensure team progress with regularly held scrum events.

The daily scrum

At stand-up daily scrums — time-box meetings that should be no more than 15 minutes — the team can assess progress toward the sprint goal and make any changes necessary. These meetings are best held in the same place and at the same time every day. They’re conducted however the team decides, and they always focus on identifying impediments to progress.

The daily scrum may or may not be facilitated by the scrum master, and they are not a forum for detailed discussions, nor for updating progress charts. After the daily scrum meeting individuals can discuss issues concerning current sprint progress in what’s called a breakout session.

Sprint review & sprint retrospective

In scrum software development, at the end of the sprint a functioning increment should be ready to go as a fully tested product to introduce in the final two meetings: At the sprint review, stakeholders give their feedback, and during the sprint retrospective, the scrum team discuss and reflect on what was learned and what needs to improve in the next sprint.

At this point, a publicly displayed burndown chart may emerge, with daily updates. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Technically, it’s not a part of the scrum framework, but it’s often used to provide a quick visualization of what has and has not been achieved in the sprint, helping the product owner to prioritize items in the product backlog, and for the development team to more completely assess methods and priorities.

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