Scrum is quickly becoming the best way to manage teamwork in the workplace. Part of the Agile school of project management, the name was inspired by the most intense formation in the sporting world – the rugby scrum.
While business isn’t a contact sport, the rugby reference works well. Bear with me. In a rugby scrum, both teams compete for the ball, and they physically arrange themselves in a specific structure to make the most of each position. For a team to be successful, they need coordinated strength and pressure and a burst of intense activity, but most importantly they need teamwork. The scrum will fail if each player isn’t playing his or her role.
Think of the rugby players as members of a small project team. No matter what each person’s job title is in the greater organization, within the scrum they’re all titleless and equal. There is no superior authority in the group. There are a couple of people responsible for making sure the team has what it needs, and that person also provides a single, consistent voice with the customer and executives, but they serve to keep the team’s focus on the project, not to supervise. This person changes with each new project.
In more traditional project management methods, the team maps out a long, drawn out process to get to a complicated end goal, and they do everything they need to do at once to make the finished product. But what if you do all that work and the customer doesn’t like certain aspects? What if the customer runs out of money before you can finish, and you’re left with a useless, half-finished product?
Scrum divides up the project into short “sprints,” ranging from a couple of days to no more than a month, and each sprint has a concrete output or “increment” to achieve. Each increment is complete in itself and can be used in its own right. This means no time is wasted backtracking to fix issues after the whole project is complete because the customer sees and approves each increment as it grows toward the end goal. During each sprint, the team uses very short daily meetings, charts and backlogs to keep them organized and on point.
To demonstrate the difference, imagine the team is tasked with making a live duck.
In the traditional method of managing a project, the adult-sized duck body is built in pieces and stitched together. Once the duck is complete, it’s tested to see if it walks, flies, and swims properly. If it doesn’t, the team has to take it apart and see what’s wrong, undoing months of work and expense. If the customer runs out of money or some other cause halts the project, the team may be left with a beak, a wing, and a pile of feathers, none of which is very useful.
If a scrum team is making the duck, it starts with the egg and lets it grow more intricate with each stage. At each landmark in its growth, you always have a whole and complete duck, it’s just gaining strength and abilities bit by bit. Because you’re watching it grow, if it suddenly starts swimming in circles, you know one of the legs needs attention before it affects the duck’s development.
Scrum was created with tech companies in mind to improve the process of building software; Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Amazon all use it, but universities, carmakers, and even the military have adapted it.
No matter what kind of business you operate, Scrum principles will get your ducks in a row. Even if you don’t want to adopt every aspect of Scrum project management, every business can incorporate some of its practices to make a stronger team and a happier customer.