Agility – the ability to deliver projects quickly. That applies to new projects, as well as updates to existing projects. The agile software movement began when many smart people became frustrated with the classic model of development, where first the organization went through a complex process to develop requirements (which took months or years), and wrote software to address those requirements (which took months or years, or maybe never finished). By then, not only did the organization miss out on many opportunities, but perhaps the requirements were no longer valid – if they ever were.
With agile methodologies, the goal is to build software (or accomplish some complex task or action), in small incremental iterations. Each iteration delivers some immediate value, and after each iteration, there would be an evaluation of how well those who requested the project (the stakeholders) were satisfied, and what they wanted to do next. No laborious up-front requirements. No years of investment before there was any return on that investment.
One of the best-known agile frameworks is Scrum, developed by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the early 1990s. In my view, Scrum is noteworthy for several innovations, including:
- The Scrum framework is simple enough for everyone involved to understand.
- The Scrum framework is not a product.
- Scrum itself is not tied to specific vendor’s project-management tools.
- Work is performed in two-week increments, called Sprints.
- Every day there is a brief meeting called a Daily Scrum.
- Development is iterative, incremental, and outcomes are predictable.
- The work must be transparent, as much as possible, to everyone involved.
- The roles of participants in the project are defined extremely clearly.
- The relationship between people in the various roles is also clearly defined.
- A key participant is the Scrum Master, who helps everyone maximize the value of the team and the project.
- There is a clear, unambiguous definition of what “Done” means for every action item.
Scrum itself is refined every year or two by Sutherland and Schwaber. The most recent version (if you can call it a version) is Scrum 2017; before that, it was revised in 2016 and 2013. While there aren’t that many significant changes from the original vision unveiled in 1995, here are three recent changes that, in my view, make Scrum better than ever – enough that it might be called Scrum 2.0. Well, maybe Scrum 1.5. You decide:
- The latest version acknowledges more clearly that Scrum, like other agile methodologies, is used for all sorts of projects, not merely creating or enhancing software. While the Scrum Guide is still development-focused, Scrum can be used for market research, product development, developing cloud services, and even managing schools and governments.
- The Daily Scrum will be more focused on exploring how well the work is driving toward the goals planned for the biweekly Sprint Goal. For example – what work will be done today to drive to the goal? What impediments likely to prevent us from meeting the goal? (Previously, the Daily Scrum was often viewed as a glorified status report meeting.)
- Scrum has a set of values, and those are now spelled out: “When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts. Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living these five values… Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.”
The word “agile” is thrown around too often in business and technology, covering everything from planning a business acquisition to planning a network upgrade. Scrum is one of the best-known agile methodologies, and the framework is very well suited for all sorts of projects where it’s not feasible to determine a full set of requirements up front, and there’s a need to immediately begin delivering some functionality (or accomplish parts of the tasks). That Scrum continues to evolve will help ensure its value in the coming years… and decades.