Scrum for a successful project – Operating Manual

Only 39% of all projects in the banking industry are successful: They are delivered on time, budget on track, with all required features and functionalities. 43% are successful but encounter delivery delays or budget overruns, while 18% are either interrupted prematurely or delivered but never used1.

How can these figures be explained? The regulations surrounding banks and financial institutions push certain players to multiply the controls and validation stages at different levels of the project, in order to ensure compliance with the sector’s standards and obligations. This can explain why a classic « waterfall » or « V cycle » method may seem more comfortable. These so-called “rigid” methods are based on a validation at each stage before moving forward in the life of the project and to the next step. Total and comfortable control on one side, endless dependencies on the other.

So how do you ensure the success of your transformation project?

Scrum of course! Scrum is part of the « Agile » solutions which designate a stream of methods (Lean Software Development, eXtreme Programming…), aiming to produce a solution based on a short iterative mode, integrating and empowering the client at the heart of the implementation team throughout the project.

Agility is an attitude of reaction born from a rethinking of traditional processes and the way projects are managed, aiming to improve the adaptability of stakeholders in a ‘turbulent’ environment. It is the ability of an organization to provide user impacting services on an early and regular basis, while being flexible to changes in its environment. It aims to best respond to the constantly changing environment from both a technological and regulatory point of view.

Strengths of agile methods

  • A daily collaboration / communication with the customer allowing to avoid off-topic and to answer at best the expectations of customers even when these are moving
  • A functional version of the product or service is delivered because the result is visible and concrete as soon as possible
  • Continuous tests are carried out to guarantee the quality of the finished project throughout development.
  • A gain in productivity, a reduction in development risks and a reduction in production costs enabling meaningful projects to be obtained while motivating stakeholders

Agile allows a better visibility on the project as a whole, from its birth to its delivery through the different stages of development, which allows to put all the chances on its side as for its success.

What is Scrum exactly?

Today, we tend to assimilate the Agile and Scrum methods, the latter having defined before the Agile Manifesto. Scrum falls under the banner of Agile as it is a rather simple development framework for developing products, services, applications or systems.

It uses the values and spirit of Rugby, hence its name (« Melée » in French). A team united to achieve one goal, like the pack during a ruck! The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is similar to the scrum half, which manages the team members and reorganizes them to ensure the success of the project.

Scrum aims to enhance project management to continually improve the product, service, teams and work environment. Different processes and techniques can be used within this framework.

The scrum principle is to propose a minimal version of the product then to integrate additional functionalities to this base, by iterative processes. This approach is empirical with frequent feedbacks, incremental and based on a series of short iterations, called Sprints.

 The essential pillars of Scrum

  • Transparency: throughout the project, do not minimize problems to be able to defuse them quickly, make efforts to make monitoring understandable by all, share rules and language.
  • Inspection: frequently inspect artifacts and progress against iteration objective to identify discrepancies.
  • Adaptation: adjust the necessary elements at the appropriate times.
  • Self-management: teams have the power and authority to organize their work according to their objective.
  • Priority: during a sprint, efforts have to be focused on the things that bring the most value.
  • Emergence: free time in the planning to encourage the emergence of new ideas for the product / service.

The Scrum framework – The team at the heart of Scrum

The importance of people, the human side, is the main differentiator between Scrum and Agility.

The Scrum team is composed of the people who help to produce a result in each sprint. The key lies in good communication between the different stakeholders, everyone must understand the vision of the project.

The team has the power and authority to carry out the project in the way that is considered the most effective, based on the expertise of each member and their synergy.

The different roles within the Scrum team:

  • The Product Owner is responsible for the functionalities developed by the project team. He represents the business side, and must ensure compliance with the objectives of the client and end users. He is responsible for the final value of the product and the change management and must therefore be able to prioritize the needs.
  • The PO Proxy has emerged to fill the lack of availability of the Product Owner, with whom they form a team. The PO Proxy acts as an intermediary between the PO and the development team. The role is more operational, and leads to further involvement in the implementation of the project unlike the PO which carries more the vision of the product / service and takes the most important decisions
  • The Scrum Master aims to optimize the team’s production capacity. To do this, they helps the team apply the principles of Scrum to work independently and constantly improve.
  • The development team which qualifies assigns and carries out the tasks required for the implementation of the needs and challenges the requirements of the product owner as well. Its objective is to develop the need in an organized and autonomous way
  • The stakeholders who will use the product, who are dependent on the results but who are not part of the Scrum team (business, managers, other departments and teams impacted). Less involved, these stakeholders still have to attend a sprint event: the demo, to give feedback and help remove obstacles.
  • Functional and technical experts from outside the team who have the necessary skills to do a specific job during a sprint. They help the team on an ad hoc basis to produce a result because they have the skills that the Scrum team does not have.

 The course of a sprint

A light framework does not mean freeing the team from documents, tools, processes and rules. Scrum fixes various artefacts aimed initially at recording the needs expressed by customers, then translating them into user stories, prioritizing the functionalities to be developed, organizing sprints, measuring the evolution of planning or defining the state of a so-called « done » story. The duration of a sprint can vary from 2 to 4 weeks on average.

1 – Describe the work to be done & plan the sprint:

The Product Backlog:

It is the project’s repository, visible to the entire team and stakeholders. This document contains all the desired features for the product (in the form of stories) and their status. A clear definition of what has to be done to classify the story as “done” has to be defined in order to ensure guidelines for the project team and to avoid mismatch between clients’ expectations and development. Stories are placed in order of priority in the backlog, this one evolving throughout the life of the project, depending on the various variations in needs.

Story writing

During workshops, stakeholders express needs and ideas, requirements of the product or service to be developed. The product owner must clearly identify these needs and ideas and convert them into concrete stories that he will be recorded in the backlog. All Scrum team members and stakeholders can submit stories. These ideas stay in the « sandbox » until the PO qualifies them.

A good story is INVEST:

  • Independent: independent of the other stories.
  • Negotiable: negotiated during the estimation meetings (sprint planning).
  • Valuable: source of value for the end customer or user.
  • Estimated: by development teams. The estimate is relative to each other.
  • Small: it must be small enough to be processed in a single sprint.
  • Testable: it must be testable as its name indicates.

Stories are reviewed during the Sprint Planning. This sprint planning meeting takes place once the product backlog is complete enough. As a pre-requisite for this meeting, the Product Owner wrote the eligible stories for this sprint, and prioritize them through his exchanges with stakeholders.

The OP presents the objective of the Sprint and the definition of “Done”, explains the work to be made and the subjects on which the members of the scrum will have to pay attention. The stories are divided into tasks and integrated to The Sprint Backlog which contains the list of what will be done during the sprint. Every day, the estimated remaining working time is updated.

2 – Make sure the sprint runs smoothly

The Product Owner can measure the evolution of the project using a burndown chart, and see the evolution of the velocity. It is both a sprint and release indicator overall.

This graph shows:

  • Key milestones and holidays for everyone in order to have a global visibility of the planning
  • What is done at each iteration, the average of the stories processed on the different sprints to measure the velocity of the team
  • The work that remains to be done
  • Advancements that can be expected by a given time, allowing planning of the release of the product or service.

The burdown chart allows following the daily progress of the project and the sprint in progress during the Daily Scrum or Daily Meeting. This meeting takes place every morning at a given time, for a maximum of 15 minutes. Each participant has a few minutes to address 3 questions / points:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you going to do today?
  3. What are the obstacles encountered?

 Scrum relies on the continuous integration of finished tasks to avoid bugs, inconsistencies and integrate team work as they occur. This allows a solution to be deployed securely. To determine if the finished task integrates well with the solution, just:

  1. Prepare a test execution environment similar to the production environment.
  2. Define « done » for each story. The definition is written by the PO and the development team for a story but also for a sprint and release.
  3. Execute unit tests for each task. From there, two scenarios are possible:
    1. Errors or inconsistencies are encountered: the process stops and errors are solved. After each modification, it is necessary to test again to check that the behaviour is unchanged.
    2. Everything is going well: the task is integrated with the other components and the solution is being deployed.

3 – Improving with Feedbacks

The Sprint Review or Demo makes ensure it is possible to present the increment achieved during the sprint which ends and generally takes place at the end of the week.

The PO leads the presentation of the developed functionalities and all the participants give their feedback on the product and the functionalities presented. It is also the moment to anticipate the perimeter of the next sprints and adjust if necessary the release planning (number of remaining sprints).

Finally, the Sprint Retrospective is used to review positive and negative points of the sprint in order to improve the next one.

The atmosphere is essential here to allow the team to express openly, in all confidence. This introspective approach aims to gather information on the progress of the project: the positive points to keep and the negative points to change. The Sprint Retrospective is used to prioritize actions to be taken in the next sprints as well.

The main challenge of the Scrum lies above all in the optimization of the working framework of a project allowing answering a complex and moving problems, while delivering in a productive and creative way products and services with the greatest possible value.

Finally, running a Scrum project means optimizing its business value at every stage: the organization acquires the ability to launch a product very quickly which brings value to users and therefore to the company, within a limited and respected budget.