Have you ever seen a rugby game? Then you surely have seen how the players face each other, their heads interlocked, they cling together and push forward with all their might. They are trying to gain possession of the ball thrown in from the side. In English this is called the ‘scrum’.
One of the most popular methodologies of the agile method was given the same name, presumably suggesting that the (developer) team members are fighting for success shoulder to shoulder. Everyone has to work together – and that’s what provides the benefits of scrum: the continuous conversations, iterations, help customers to review and modify the project every few weeks. They can see the results not just when the project ends, but throughout its development.
However, despite the obvious advantages of the scrum method, many companies want to see if their budget can be reduced in the process due to the reviews they see.
How costs can be controlled.
A given specification – which is called the backlog (BL) by the agile method – is made-up of subtasks i.e. stories. It is important that these stories are short and straightforward, thus, developers will have a great deal of freedom in its execution. The time requirements of the stories are estimated by the members of the 5-8-member team, and based on this, story points are ordered into subtasks. Cost estimation can also be based on these.
Let’s look at an example of a webshop. BL notes that the website should include all the features the client wants. It should have an administrative interface where you can upload the products, and a customer interface too. It should allow the customers to pay and to decide how they would like to receive the product. Here, registration is the first story, login is the second, the purchase is the third, and so on. The team estimates – in a thoroughly regulated backlog refinement meeting – the worth of each function in story points, then they make a calculation for an amount per point. Registration is relatively simple, it is typically worth two points. The price per point is therefore doubled, let’s say it’s two hundred thousand forints. Maybe the customer wants a cheaper solution – it is possible with this methodology, unlike with the Waterfall model. For example, the client can decide that they allow purchasing in their webshop without registration, or they can decide there is really no need for registration at all. In this case, the team re-estimates the number of story points therefore changing the cost.
The customer has already saved an unnecessary function and possibly even a fair amount of money.
In scrum methodology everything, including roles, is precisely defined. The Product Owner (PO) writes stories with the customer. He is the “master” of BL. He connects the team and the customer. However, it’s not him, but the team who decides how many tasks they can complete in the next few weeks. The project approach is based on commitment and responsibility.
The scram master knows the methodology thoroughly. They are the one who is responsible for the fulfilment of processes and commitments. They also carry out project management tasks: they are responsible for the team’s cooperation, they deal with problems that arise. They run the daily 15-minute stand-up meetings precisely regulated by the scrum guide, where team members discuss what they did the day before, what tasks they expect to do that day, and what obstacles that might have arisen. These three topics should be discussed every morning by team members.
The guide also makes retrospective discussions mandatory: at two-week meetings, developers look back on the work done in the past iteration, draw lessons, and lay out further directions of development.
The client’s only requirement is to sit in a room once every a few weeks and see how the development is going. If it is necessary, they can intervene.
This used to be unthinkable before.
In my experience, customers are demanding more and more transparency, and it is important to them to have a say. The agile contract includes unit costs, and the development team makes sure that they always prepare what’s important for the client. At fortnightly meetings, they can keep track of where the work is going, or sometimes they can meet the developers – whilst earlier they could only contact them indirectly through the project manager.
These days, a whole industry has been built on teaching scrum. You can attend training sessions and workshops to learn how to put the method into practice. However, the essence of scrum can be summed up in three words: flexibility, commitment and real teamwork.
Just like in rugby games.