The Pros and Cons of Scrum Methodology to Improve ProcessesEmma Harris
There are of course many, many ways to approach process improvement. A fairly new one is the Scrum methodology. This article explores some of the pros and cons of Scrum methodology to achieving process improvement and determines whether the cons outweigh the pros.
Firstly though, what is the Scrum methodology?
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The scrum methodology has been used for some time as a mechanism to implement the Agile approach to software development.
Which of course begs the question, what is the Agile approach to software development?
Agile Software Development:
Agile is an empirical approach to software development. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement - it also encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Agile is a movement (not a methodology) which seeks alternatives to traditional sequential software development, such as the waterfall approach.
The Agile Manifesto, written in 2001, sets out a better way of developing software (according to 17 software developers in Utah). This manifesto promoted the importance of:
• Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
• Working software over comprehensive documentation
• Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
• Responding to change over following a plan
Agile is iterative, taking a small scope and delivering a ‘Potentially Shippable Product’ within a short time frame - that will be further reviewed and refined in time.
Many methodologies have been used to apply the Agile approach to software development and one of the most popular is Scrum.
Back to Scrum:
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The concept of Scrum as a methodology was first introduced in 1986 in ‘The New New Product Development Game’ by Takeuchi and Nonaka:
“Stop running the relay race and take up rugby.”
It has since been refined and developed into a methodology or management approach to enable Agile working; to enable the implementation of a flexible, collaborative way of doing things. It is a way of achieving continuous improvement and encouraging rapid and flexible response to change.
No wonder it is now being used to implement process improvement!
Some Pros and Cons of Using the Scrum Methodology to Achieve Process Improvement:
Pro: The scrum methodology is very simple and flexible
The Scrum methodology is based on a Scrum framework, which sets out:
• Scrum Roles
• Scrum Ceremonies
• Scrum Artefacts
There are just three core roles in the Scrum framework. In reference to process improvement the responsibility of each of these roles is as follows:
• Product Owner
The Product Owner represents the stakeholders and the voice of the end customer; and is accountable for ensuring that the team delivers value to the business. The Product Owner is responsible for the vision.
• Scrum Master
Scrum is facilitated by a Scrum Master, who is accountable for removing impediments to the ability of the team to deliver on the project goals and deliverables. The Scrum Master facilitates the team by unblocking any impediments to their progress.
The Team is responsible for delivering on the project goals within the Sprint period.
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The Sprint is the period of time chosen for each Scrum cycle. Each Sprint is marked by the four Scrum ceremonies.
Sprints are between 1-4 weeks in length but most usually last approximately 2 weeks.
The word ceremony sounds rather fancy, but in fact each ceremony just defines the purpose, attendees and structure of a meeting. These meetings are:
• Sprint Planning
• Sprint Review
• Sprint Retrospective
• Daily Stand-up
So for example, a Sprint Planning meeting starts each Sprint cycle and the Daily Stand up is no more than a 15 minute meeting held at the beginning of each day. Both are attended by the whole team (including the product owner and scrum master) and the structure of each meeting is clearly defined.
During the Daily Stand-up for example, three questions are asked of each of the team:
• What did you do yesterday?
• What are you doing today?
• Are there any impediments to you doing that?
The Scrum artefacts are designed to keep the team focused on value delivering objectives. The artefacts are:
• Sprint Backlog
• Burndown Chart
• Product Backlog
The Sprint Backlog sets out the scope of the Sprint – what the team is aiming to deliver with that Sprint.
Burndown is a mechanism to help the team see if they are on track during the Sprint.
The Product Backlog lists potential areas for focus.
And whilst this description is high level, it does cover the full Scrum framework. Very uncomplicated when compared with Prince2 for example and very flexible. It’s meant to work for you and your organisation and can be adjusted as required.
However, its flexibility often leads to one of the major cons.
Con: The Scrum methodology is often not properly implemented.
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Implementing Scrum as its actually defined, usually comes into conflict with existing habits at established non-Agile organisations. This means that although teams may decide to use the Scrum methodology to adopt an Agile approach to Process Improvement, they can easily end up just using the Scrum terms and not actually properly implementing it.
This is because using Scrum requires a complete mind-set shift and culture change and as we know, this is one of the hardest things to do.
Pro: Scrum engrains continuous improvement within the organisation.
Scrum is structured to deliver continuous improvement. For example, at the end of every Sprint a Sprint Retrospective is held. The purpose of this meeting is for the whole team to ask three questions:
• What went well?
• What didn’t go so well?
• What can we do better?
The focus of the meeting is on agreeing actionable items which are adopted for the next Sprint.
A Sprint Retrospective is held at the end of each sprint, building continuous improvement into the methodology.
Con: Without Scrum values being whole heartedly adopted, Scrum team members can feel overly criticised.
This is a potential downside of the Scrum methodology, wherever it is applied – be it for software development or process improvement.
It is of course also a potential problem with any continuous improvement methodology. What didn’t go so well, or isn’t going quite so well, continually needing to be identified in order to be improved.
Pro: Adopting Scrum values benefits any team.
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There are however five Scrum values which if fully and truly adopted will ensure that Sprint Retrospectives and the Scrum methodology are only viewed positively.
These values are:
Pro: Scrum improves the collaboration between the process improvement team and the stakeholders
The Agile approach puts customers at the heart of what’s being done and requires frequent interactions between all those involved in process improvement, including the customer. Scrum supports this absolutely.
The Product Owner’s role is to represent the stakeholders and the voice of the end customer, thereby involving the customers of process improvement much more in the change process, than any "traditional" process improvement approach.
Pro: Using Scrum helps the improvement team to deliver quickly, and deliver maximum value with a limited budget
With time boxed Sprints, Scrum helps the improvement team to focus on improvement of processes, instead of developing process documentation. This not only delivers more value to the business, but makes that value visible and supports discussions of what value has been delivered already, and what value can be expected from process improvement.
I hope that you have found this article both interesting and informative. It certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all the pros and cons of using the Scrum methodology to achieve process improvement, but it does capture the headlines.
As you may have seen, there are more pros than cons. The cons, whilst fewer, do require some serious work to overcome; in my opinion though, it’s worth it.
Written by Emma Harris
Emma was Operations Director for Triaster for nearly 20 years, during which time as well as learning and perfecting her BPM and process improvement skills, she honed her inbound marketing expertise. She now runs D2e - Designed to engage - which designs and develops bespoke, engaging, HubSpot CMS websites, that help your entire company to grow and scale. She is delighted to still be delivering Triaster's marketing, whilst also helping other companies turn their websites into their hardest working asset.