Mark Pearl

I recently had the experience of being involved in a “test” scrum implementation in a large organization that was used to a traditional project management approach. Here are some lessons that I learnt from it.

Don’t let the Project Manager be the Product Owner First lesson learnt is to identify the correct product owner – in this instance the product manager assumed the role of the product owner which was a mistake. The product owner is the one who has the most to loose if the project fails. With a methodology that advocates removing the role of the project manager from the process then it is not in the interests of the person who is employed as a project manager to be the product owner – in fact they have the most to gain should the project fail.

Know the time commitments of team members to the Project Second lesson learnt is to get a firm time commitment of the members on a team for the sprint and to hold them to it. In this project instance many of the issues we faced were with team members having to double up on supporting existing projects/systems and the scrum project. In many situations they just didn’t get round to doing any work on the scrum project for several days while they tried to meet other commitments. Initially this was not made transparent to the team – in stand up team members would say that had done some work but would be very vague on how much time they had actually spent using the blackhole of their other legacy projects as an excuse – putting up a time burn down chart made time allocations transparent and easy to hold the team to.

In addition, how can you plan for a sprint without knowing the actual time available of the members – when I mean actual time, the exercise of getting them to go through all their appointments and lunch times and breaks and removing them from their time commitment helps get you to a realistic time that they can dedicate.

Make sure you meet your minimum team sizes In a recent post I wrote about the difference between a partnership and a team. If you are going to do scrum in a large organization make sure you have a minimum team size of at least 3 developers. My experience with larger organizations is that people have a tendency to be sick more, take more leave and generally not be around – if you have a team size of two it is so easy to loose momentum on the project – the more people you have in the team (up to about 9) the more the momentum the project will have when people are not around.

Swapping from one methodology to another can seem as waste to the customer It sounds bad, but most customers don’t care what methodology you use. Often they have bought into the “big plan upfront”. If you can, avoid taking a project on midstream from a traditional approach unless the customer has not bought into the process – with this particular project they had a detailed upfront planning breakaway with the customer using the traditional approach and then before the project started we moved onto a scrum implementation – this seemed as waste to the customer. We should have managed the customers expectation properly.

Don’t play the role of the scrum master if you can’t be the scrum master With this particular implementation I was the “scrum master”. But all I did was go through the process of the formal meetings of scrum – I attended stand up, retrospectives and planning – but I was not hands on the ground. I was not performing the most important role of removing blockages – and by the end of the project there were a number of blockages “cropping up”. What could have been a better approach was to take someone on the team and train them to be the scrum master and be present to coach them. Alternatively actually be on the team on a fulltime basis and be the scrum master. By just going through the meetings of scrum didn’t mean we were doing scrum.

So we failed with this one, if you fail look at it from an agile perspective As this particular project drew to a close and it became more and more apparent that it was not going to succeed the failure of it became depressing. Emotions were expressed by various people on the team that we not encouraging and enforced the failure.

Embracing the failure and looking at it for what it is instead of taking it as the end of the world can change how you grow from the experience. Acknowledging that it failed and then focussing on learning from why and how to avoid the failure in the future can change how you feel emotionally about the team, the project and the organization.

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