A Beginner’s Guide to Agile Scrum for software development teams
Agile software development has become well-received for its capability of meeting increasing demands in time and budget.
9 years ago, Forrester Research found Scrum was already the most-practiced agile framework (Scrum Inc, 2012). The latest Scrum Alliance’s 2017 State of Scrum survey of more than 2,000 Scrum Alliance members from 91 countries reported almost everyone working in the IT industry (94%) used Scrum in their daily Agile practice. Lately, the 12th annual State of Agile report shows, in general, the number of exclusive Scrum users was 70% (both in and outside IT industry) in 2018.
So what is Scrum? And how does Scrum work basically? Let’s find out together.
JULY 25, 2019 | Reading time: 10 mins
Reproduced from: Collabnet VersionOne (2018)
Reproduced from: Scrum Alliance (2017)
The Scrum framework
Scrum allows development teams to effectively develop, deliver, and maintain complex products that are of the highest possible quality and value for customers. As a matter of fact, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber invented and introduced Scrum in 1995. Scrum has been treated as a framework “within which you can employ various processes and techniques” to manage workflow of increasingly-demanding and complex products nowadays.
It’s important to note that Scrum is an effective framework to create and manage products rather than projects. According to Arif Harbott (2017), products evolve over an infinite time span and continually create values for customers by Scrum teams’ effective solving of their problems. Meanwhile, projects create values for customers in only a certain period of time because of their limited time length and work definition.
The Scrum circle
Sprints and Increments in Scrum
- Sprint is a product development cycle, which lasts at most 4 weeks. This is the time box where the team focuses on developing and delivering a potentially-releasable product increment that provides value after each Sprint. It depends on the types of products and software under consideration. For example, for mobile app development, a typical Sprint lasts in 2 to 3 weeks.
- Increment is the total sum of delivered work done that functions in useable conditions. A study on four internally-developed projects at four companies using traditional engineering approaches conducted in 1996 by The Standish Group and reported in the Modernization Clearing a Pathway to Success has found that among the functions and features studied, only 7% were always used while 45% were never used. However, it’s important in Scrum to help the team focus their time and effort developing and delivering the most valuable features of a product incrementally and iteratively, and get shorter Sprints so that the feedback loops can happen more frequently. Once feedback loops happen on a regular basis, defects and wrong directions are detected and addressed early on. Scrum team can then reduce waste by focusing on value-rich features, and continuously improve and enhance the product’s quality.
The Scrum framework is defined by:
- 3 roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team
- 3 artifacts: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Product Increment
- 4 events: Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective
Scrum events include Sprint Planning I, Sprint Planning II, Daily Meeting, Sprint Review, and Retrospective.
Three Scrum team roles
A Scrum Team is made up of 3 roles:
- A Product Owner (PO)
- A Scrum Master (SM)
- Development Team (DT) members
with team membership unchanged during a Sprint. The roles are well-defined and made sure they’re mutually-exclusive so no one’s work clashes with anyone else’s. It clears the way for maximized individual job leadership and team performances.
Besides drawing the lines for different roles:
- Scrum teams are cross-functional: team members have all the skills and competencies needed to complete a requirement independent of outsiders’ help.
- Scrum teams are also self-organizing: members decide how to work on their tasks so that creativity, productivity, and flexibility to changes shine through their work.
Generally, to aid the working process and transparency, Scrum teams often make use of a board which:
- Visualizes the workflow
- Limits the number of open and unfinished tasks
- Steers the team’s focus on only one job at a time
A software outsourcing team in Axon Active uses team board to enhance visualization of workflow
Product Owner is a single individual who holds the big picture (vision) of what’s most important to a product and ensures the right things are built. He/she balances different preferences and requirements of a committee (normally the customers, users, stakeholders, investors) for a product and makes sure the end-product is packed with values significant to the users. For Scrum in software development, POs will answer the question of Why (build such products with such features). They:
- Own the Product Backlog (PBL) Artifact (a growing and changing list of customers’ order of requirements), respected by all involved (however, Scrum team members can contribute their items to the PBL)
- Make decisions on whether or not to accept a change inquiry from the committee
- Change and adapt the order of PBL frequently
- Break down jobs to the granularity level that fit the team’s capacities and capabilities of handling
- Make sure the requirements are clearly defined and well-understood to the level needed by the development team
Before the start of every Sprint, POs will handle Sprint Planning Event, which is time-boxed in 8 hours for a typical 4-week Sprint. In a Sprint Planning Event with PO, DT will pull work-items from PBL artifact to Sprint Backlog (SBL) Artifact (to-do list for a Sprint) based on the sprint goal (please see Development Team below to learn how PO and DT work in a Sprint Planning Event).
Learning materials from a Scrum Alliance’s Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) training course provided by Axon Active
Privileges of Axon Active product owners
Offshore software outsourcing company Axon Active works with POs around the world based on respect and mutual understanding.
Once becoming a partner with Axon Active, you – as Product Owners, will receive support along the way to build up your own productive team and join in the annual PO reunions. PO reunions are the golden opportunity for POs around the world to meet, share, and discuss ways of growing effective agile development teams that best suit their project needs.
Though playing a critical role in Scrum, Scrum Master stands behind the Scrum Team as a servant leader. This is a new responsibility not excitingly welcomed in traditional environments. A common misunderstanding is that the scrum master is a team leader or project manager.
This servant-leader is accountable for:
- Coaching and helping DT learn how to work cross-functionally and self-organizing together – especially in environments learning to adopt Scrum
- Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed
- Increasing Scrum Team’s productivity by removing impediments
- Serving the organization to improve Scrum practices
- Serving the POs by helping them understand their leading role in building the right things and optimizing ROI
- Ensuring that everybody will follow the Scrum framework
Team Social Contract of a software outsourcing team at Axon Active.
To help DT build things fast, SM will make sure that DT will conduct Daily Scrum Event but he/she can choose not to join because this is a planning meeting for the development team. Occurring same time same place every day, the Daily Scrum Event’s purpose is for DT to find out what they need to do next to achieve the Sprint goal. DT members will stand in semi-circle in front of the often used Scrum board, while SM may stand nearby to observe and learn about the team, to discuss and support if need be with commonly-asked questions:
- “What I did yesterday”
- “What I will do today”
- “What challenges I am facing”
Summary of Scrum Master’s roles.
At Axon Active, most (if not all) Scrum Masters are promoted from team-member positions. Observing the good examples of preceding Scrum Masters in their teams, these Scrum Masters also get professional training, equipping them with everything they need to become experts in the field and drive agile performance in Scrum teams.
Development team consists of 3 members at least and 9 members at most (excluding PO and SM) (Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland 2017). In the Sprint Planning Event, with the PBL in mind, DT will answer the How (to create such a product with such features), What (should we do now), and make sure they’ll build the things right. At this point, the DT will explain the PO how they would develop to reach the Sprint goal. They also make sure to deliver an always-potentially-useable increment of product each Sprint continuously and at a steady pace, and that the delivered items are working.
An offshore software development team works hard and plays hard
Once a product increment is delivered, the Scrum Team in collaboration with users/ stakeholders will inspect the working software through a Sprint Review Event, a 4-hour informal meeting to get feedback where they will discuss questions like:
- “Is this the product we want to build?”
- “How would the end-users think of the product?
- “What is end-users feedback?”
- “Is it still the product we have been requested?”
- “Are there any changes or new ideas?”
According to Kyle and Demi Aretae (2016), “building the wrong software is a much bigger problem than building the (right) software (in the) wrong (way)”.
After each Sprint, the Scrum Team will also run a 3-hour Sprint Retrospective Event, so that the whole Scrum Team can spend some time to reflect, learn, and adapt for the next Sprint around. The whole purpose of Sprint Retrospective Event is to help achieve the continuous improvement or the continuous growth for the Scrum Team.
Your development teams at Axon Active
Axon Active’s offshore software development company offers dedicated engineer teams, infrastructures, and facilities to accomplish your long-term business objectives. The starter package includes a minimum of 5 software engineers with skills and expertise tailored to your specific requirements. Work stations and necessary tools will be supplied to your offshore development team besides a well-designed working process, to get your project started in the shortest time.
Scrum is an Agile software development framework. As mentioned early, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber were the people behind Scrum, they have co-invented and introduced the framework in 1995 at the OOPSLA Conference, after much experiments and refinement at Individual Inc., Newspage, Fidelity Investments, and IDX (currently GE Medical) before it’s got its shape as we know it today. You can download and use the Scrum Guide (https://scrumguides.org/) as your official “gauge” to Scrum’s way of working.
Scrum is found on empiricism, or empirical process control. It emphasizes (1) knowledge is accumulated from experience and (2) decisions are made based on knowledge. Scrum’s incremental, iterative approach helps increase predictability, reduce complexity and uncertainty, and lower risks. Empiricism is based on observation and experimental learning, supported by 3 factors:
- Transparency: A shared understanding and constant updates of the process, the product and its features’ requirements, and the responsibilities of each team member are necessary to allow them to work in harmony.
- Inspection: the Scrum Team inspects Scrum artifacts and progress on regular basis to detect factors that undesirably affect the expected performances.
- Adaptation: Once the inspection shows unwholesome trends in work progress, it is best to adapt as soon as possible to avoid further development of such misleading performance or unacceptable product. Adaption will happen always in all Scrum events, to continuously adjust the direction
Scrum framework centers on 5 core values, which strengthen the Agile mindset and Scrum team’s self-organizing workflow. If lived by Scrum team, these 5 values allow 3 factors of Scrum theory to “come to life”. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (2017) said it is the way team members embody these values that decides a successful use of Scrum.
- Commitment: Each team member is committed to the Scrum team’s goals.
- Courage: Scrum team members are brave enough to do the right things and solve ‘scary’ problems happening along with a Sprint.
- Focus: Everyone shares the same level of concentration on their own tasks and on Scrum team’s goals.
- Openness: Team members are transparent by letting others know what tasks they are handling and welcome challenges with open mind when performing tasks.
- Respect: Everyone respects their teammates as competent individuals in handling their tasks.
Besides the 4 corporate core values (honesty, passion, reliability, and transparency), the 5 Scrum values (respect, focus, openness, commitment, and courage) are also inclusive in the vaster picture of Axon Active’s Swiss values.
Scrum uses in and outside software development
A theme of Scrum Breakfast Vietnam hosted by Axon Active.
In Google Corporation’s well-maintained list of companies using Scrum, names of big companies are observed, such as Google itself, Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Spotify, ANZ, Bank of America, BBC, CNN, Pearson Digital Learning, Roche Diagnostics, Siemens Austria, Xerox, and Yahoo, to name only a few.
Recommendation for Scrum learning resources
A giveaway package with printed and electronic manuals worth $100 for trainees at Scrum Alliance’s 3-day Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course at Axon Active, including a handbook, Planning Poker box, Scrum on a page, Scrum Roles and Events card.
Local events and training courses
A session of Agile and Scrum coaching by Axon Active
There’s no better way to learn than getting to know about and discuss Scrum with like-minded people at local events like Fit For Scrum and Scrum Breakfast Vietnam. Even better, you can equip yourself with a Scrum Master Certification through the Certified ScrumMaster courses provided by Scrum Alliance experts organized locally. Keep yourself abreast of when such an event happens near you through Facebook and MeetUp!
As Scrum is a journey of life-long learning, Scrum Alliance has a lot of certifications and professional training programs for those committed to diving deeper into Scrum, such as:
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
- Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (ACSM)
- Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)
- Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner (ACSPO)
- Certified Scrum Developer Track (CSDT)
- Certified Agile Leadership I (CAL I)
- Certified Agile Leadership II (CAL II) – Advanced Education and Validated Practice
- Certified Agile Leadership II (CAL II) – Peer Workshop
- Certified Scrum Professional – ScrumMaster
- Continuing Education
Trainees play with Lego bricks at Axon Active’s Fit For Scrum course to get Scrum hands-on.
- Scrum Guide: https://scrumguides.org/ – where you can download the free Scrum Guide in multiple languages.
- Scrum Alliance: https://www.scrumalliance.org/
- The Home of Scrum: https://www.scrum.org/
- ScrumLab Open by Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum Inc: https://www.scruminc.com/scrumlab-open/ – which is packed full of Scrum materials including texts, images, videos, and an interactive map of “How Scrum Works” that shows you through the Scrum journey.
We would recommend presentations and interviews on Agile frameworks and methodologies by and with Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, and Henrik Kniberg. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, please feel free to explore and see for yourself :).
|Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
By Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
|Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process
By Kenneth S. Rubin
|Software in 30 Days: How Agile Managers Beat the Odds, Delight Their Customers, and Leave Competitors in the Dust
By Ken Schwaber
|Agile Project Management with Scrum
By Ken Schwaber
Through this article, we hope you can now have a glimpse at what Scrum is, basic rules and values of Scrum, and how to learn more about Scrum.
Looking for an offshore software provider? Axon Active is a reliable offshore software development company that is well-versed in Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Having under its belt 10 years of experience in the offshore outsourcing field, Axon Active is working with companies of all shapes and sizes from various industries for successful agile adoption and agile transformation. If you are not sure where to start with, read our guide to software development outsourcing for more information. You can also opt for a pilot agile team at Axon Active in order to experience firsthand and see for yourself how agile works before going long-term with us.
- Agile42 & Scrum Inc. (2012). What is Agile? Agile42 & Scrum Inc.
- Arif Harbott. (2017). What’s the difference between a product and a project? Retrieved from Digital CIO
- Collabnet VersionOne. (2018). The 12th Annual State of Agile report. Retrieved from Collabnet VersionOne
- David Morris. (2017). Scrum: an ideal framework for agile projects. United Kingdom: In Easy Steps Limited.
- Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland . (2017). Scrum Guide – The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game. Retrieved from scrumguide.org
- Kyle and Demi Aretae. (2016). The Scrum Princess. USA: Amazon Fulfillment.
- Scrum Alliance. (2015). The 2015 State of Scrum Report. Retrieved from Scrum Alliance
- Scrum Alliance. (2018). State of Scrum 2017-2018. Retrieved from Scrum Alliance
- The Standish Group International, Inc. (2010). Modernization: Clearing A Pathway To Success. From The Standish Group International, Inc.