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What is Scrum In Agile?

Scrum is one of the most popular and widely used Agile methodologies. Developed by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the early 1990s, it is a highly structured yet adaptable way to develop complex projects. Like most Agile methodologies, Scrum relies on an empirical approach—one based on observation and experience—that creates products incrementally and puts the authority to make critical decisions directly in the hands of the development team. In contrast to many other forms of Agile, Scrum offers clear rules and guidelines within its framework, to create a shared sense of understanding and to provide guidance for team members.

Scrum is:

  • More management- and customer-focused than Extreme Programming (XP)
  • More product-centered than the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
  • Less process-focused, but more timebox-dependent than Lean Software Development

On his Web site, controlchaos.com, Ken Schwaber comments on Scrum’s wide applicability, noting that “Scrum has been used from simple projects to changing the way entire enterprises do their business.” Scrum methods have been adopted by many companies to simplify product development and produce tremendous impact in a very short period of time. The IT Imaging Solutions Group at GE Healthcare adopted Scrum for a successful pilot program and is now planning a global rollout of its methodology. Intel employed Scrum to reduce the cycle time in its microprocessor production development practices by 66%. High Moon Studios, a subsidiary of Activision, used Scrum to develop a highly successful video game series. And Yahoo earned a 100% return on investment by reducing development time in its Web application production.

Key Scrum Terms

The Scrum process mirrors the generic Agile cycle, but uses a different terminology.

The Scrum process begins with a product vision and detailed customer requirements, prioritized in the product backlog by the product owner. The product owner and team select those items they can accomplish in the sprint, and compile them into a sprint backlog. Team members begin their work, completing daily scrums as they move forward and relying on the scrum master to handle any process impediments or obstacles. Once a sprint is completed and sashimi is produced, the product owner, scrum master, and team present the product to key stakeholders for their review and assessment in a sprint review meeting. Upon completion of the sprint review, the scrum team undertakes a sprint retrospective to review their processes and prepare for the next sprint.

Agile TermScrum TermDefinition
Product managerProduct ownerThe person who represents the customer, user, or other stakeholders in a project. The product manager/owner manages the product backlog, answers the team’s questions, and works with the team to decide what each iteration (sprint) will entail.
IterationSprintA time-delineated development cycle that produces a complete product that could be marketed or released to the customer.
Task listSprint backlogA description of the tasks that the team will execute in an iteration (sprint) to create a potentially shippable product.
Daily stand-upDaily scrumA daily project meeting held to provide a status update to team members.
Agile project managerScrum masterThe person responsible for ensuring that the work process is being followed and that the team is working at the highest level possible.
Potentially shippable productSashimiThe result of an iteration that the customer must be able to use without any additional adjustments or corrections.
Iteration reviewSprint reviewAn informational meeting in which team members demonstrate to stakeholders which stories were completed in the just-concluded cycle and begin to prepare for the next cycle.
Iteration retrospectiveSprint retrospectiveA meeting at the end of each cycle in which the team discusses how well it worked together to create the product and what changes they could make to improve in subsequent cycles.

For larger projects that include multiple teams, Scrum practitioners employ an additional meeting—a scrum of scrums. This daily 15-minute team-progress meeting involves representatives from the independent scrum teams and coordinates activities across teams. Attendees collaborate and share team information by answering the same three questions that they answered in their team scrum meetings—what the team accomplished yesterday, what they will accomplish today, and what obstacles are impeding team progress—but add a fourth question—is the team creating impediments that will obstruct the work of other teams?—to the scrum-of-scrums discussion.

Scrum practitioners often describe project participants as either pigs or chickensPigs are individuals (like the product owner, scrum master, and team members) who are actively involved in the project—they are responsible for the day-to-day work of the project and are accountable for its success. Chickens are individuals (such as senior management, customers, and users) who have an interest in the project, but are not involved in the daily work and are not held accountable for the project’s results. The terminology originates from a classic joke about a chicken suggesting to a pig that they open a restaurant together and call it “Ham and Eggs.” The pig declines because, although the chicken would be involved in the project (laying eggs), the pig would have to be committed to the venture (sacrificing himself to provide the ham for the menu).

Structure in Scrum Projects

Scrum projects contain a more-rigorous framework than other Agile projects—one that still allows practitioners to adapt to changing conditions but reduces some of the confusion or distractions that could derail progress. This increased structure can be seen in:

  • Well-defined roles: With Scrum, a product owner or scrum master can be a team member, but product owners can never be scrum masters and vice versa. Combining these roles can cause confusion and a conflict of priorities.
  • An increased reliance on timeboxes: Tasks in the sprint backlog must take no longer than one work-day to complete. Sprints are limited to two-to-four weeks in length. Sprint planning meetings are capped at eight hours—four hours to review the product backlog and four hours to plan the sprint. Sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives are each limited to one half-day in length. And, of course, daily scrums are limited to 15 minutes.
  • Restrictions on team size: Scrum teams should involve at least five members, but no more than nine members. Teams with fewer than five members may have difficulty completing all of the tasks in the sprint backlog on time; teams with more than nine members would require additional communication and integration activities that take the team’s focus away from completing project tasks.
  • Additional rules for team meetings: Sprint planning meetings involve only product owners, scrum masters, and team members; no other stakeholders are included. Daily scrums are held at the same time in the same location each day. All team members must attend and contribute to daily scrums but observers are not allowed to provide input. Team meetings end on time, no matter how much additional material could be covered by adding a few minutes.
  • Stricter enforcement of rules or guidelines: Only team members are allowed to change the sprint backlog, based on their review of their progress and understanding of the tasks in progress; scrum masters and product owners are not allowed to modify the tasks involved. Burndown charts are updated each day, after the daily scrum.

The Nokia Test for Scrum

In 2005, Nokia, a leading mobile phone and telecom network supplier, created “The Nokia Test.” This test included eight questions that determined if Nokia teams were using the Scrum methodology completely and correctly. In 2007, Jeff Sutherland modified the test by including a scoring system, adding a question, and renaming the test “The Scrum But Test.”

The test was designed to provide quick, clear answers to make sure that a team’s Agile practices were robust enough to be called Scrum, yet be simple enough to be understood by the people involved. The test does not cover all of the aspects of Scrum, but it does cover its core principles and has proven to be an effective indicator of the ability of Scrum teams to produce great products. If teams can pass the test, they are truly practicing Scrum, and are likely to produce extraordinary results. If they cannot pass the test, they can’t say that they have really been practicing Scrum.

To complete the test, each team member must rate each of the following on a scale of 1-10:

  • the length of project sprints
  • the testing done within each sprint
  • the quality of the requirements and customer stories
  • the role of the product owner
  • the quality of the product backlog
  • the estimates produced for the project
  • the burndown charts
  • the number of disruptions encountered by the team
  • the ability of the team to work together to complete its tasks

The team determines an average score from the nine questions; an average score of seven or below suggests that the team is not employing Scrum techniques to its best advantage. Team scores can be compared to other team scores, computed for the entire organization, or compared to previous tests to gauge progress.

Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented in this assignment, please choose the correct answer

1. Which of the following is not a Scrum-specific term?Choose only one answer below.

a. Sprint

b. Iteration

Correct. Iteration is not a Scrum-specific term; it is used in other Agile methodologies.

c. Product owner

d. Sashimi

2. Which of the following statements is true?Choose only one answer below.

a. A product owner can also act as a scrum master.

b. Sprint planning meetings are limited to eight hours in length, but sprint reviews can take as much time as needed.

c. Scrum teams should include no fewer than five members and no more than nine members.

Correct. Scrum teams with fewer than five members may have trouble completing the tasks in the sprint. Scrum teams with more than nine members will require additional administrative and communication work that could take the team’s focus away from their project tasks.

d. Sprint planning meetings are open forums in which any interested parties can participate.

3. The Scrum But Test ________.Choose only one answer below.

a. was used by a subsidiary of Activision to create a successful video game series

b. covers all aspect of the Scrum methodology

c. calculates an average score from nine questions to assess a team’s use of Scrum

Correct. The average score generated by the Scrum But Test can be used to determine if a team (or organization) is using Scrum correctly and completely.

d. reviews the team’s ability to timebox its meetings

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