This post outlines the essentials of the agile scrum process. It then delves a little deeper into the most important element of the process – the sprint. It then looks at implications of the agile scrum process for project management and strategy.
A Basic Agile Scrum Process Diagram
The diagram above provides a basic structure for organizing a scrum process. It consists of the following key elements or steps:
- Organization strategy – This is apart from the scrum process itself, but is a necessary input. It is important to maintain a continuing link back to the organization’s strategy, or at least the business drivers that are closely connected.
- Project vision – At initiation of the project, there is a vision for what the project is to accomplish and produce. What is the “product of the project”?
- Product backlog – The project, with a focus on producing the envisioned product, is disaggregated into digestible piece parts that can be accomplished in a sprint.
- Sprint planning – This is the process of identifying items from the products backlog to be built during the sprint.
- Daily scrum – This is a short stand up meeting of the team – often daily, but not necessarily – to assess status. A popular format is for each team member to state what they have worked on, what they will be working on, and blockers.
- Product delivery– At the end of the sprint, a “product” is delivered. It consists of the chosen product elements that were completed during the sprint.
- Sprint Review – This entails testing the sub-products developed, demonstrating completion to the team and customer, and adjusting the backlog based on the outcome of the sprint.
- Sprint Retrospective – In this final step, the team steps back and reviews what went well, and perhaps not so well during the sprint, and discussion of improvements to undertake for the next sprint.
The diagram shows a return to organization strategy each sprint cycle. This does not necessarily have to happen each cycle. However, it is important to have the link in place so that the communication can take place when needed.
The flow also does not necessarily have to go back to the product vision each cycle, although that might happen.
It is important that the process returns each cycle to the product backlog, to update the backlog based on work completed and adding any new work products that might be required.
Sprints and the Team
Sprints set a cadence for the team. They provide a structure to organize around. They add discipline and order to a potentially chaotic set of activities.
Sprints also provide flexibility. Because they are short in duration (1-4 weeks in length – 2 weeks common and has worked well in my experience), they allow for near term communications that is beneficial in a number of ways:
- Delivery to customer – Credibility is boosted with providing regular deliverables to customers.
- Feedback from customer – Necessary feedback can be obtained from the customer, keeping the product aligned with what the customer wants. Ideally this goes all the way to end users.
- Adjustment of priorities – The short duration of planning and execution cycles, combined with feedback loops, produces a great opportunity to re prioritize along the way.
- Continuous improvement – Teams have an opportunity to find their individual and collective sweet spots to work most efficiently and effectively.
- Pivoting if necessary – Short time frames allow for frequent evaluation of whether the project is delivering what is necessary, or if a pivot or even abandonment is necessary. This is why the strategic link is important.
Sprints also create a sense of urgency about what is to be done – something that can be lacking in projects with long time frames.
Project Management Impact
Implementing a good agile scrum process has numerous impacts on the overall management of projects within the organization. Here are some thoughts on impact to the various facets of project management:
- Project management – The scrum approach provides a structured framework and process for organizing teams. Practices can be standardized across projects, but at the same time flexible to be adapted to the situation.
- Program management – Programs often have longer range goals that need to be progressively elaborated over time. The agile scrum approach can provide a structured way to progressively elaborate across projects as the program evolves. In addition, program management is strategically driven, so the link back to organizational strategy needs to be clear and regularly reviewed.
- Portfolio management – Selecting projects is a little like managing the sprint backlog. However, it is on a larger scale and for longer time frames. Portfolio management needs to be mindful to size projects appropriately so that they can be adjusted when necessary, especially when strategic variables change. Portfolio management also needs to help provide the strategic link back to organizational strategy.
I recommend these PM templates (paid link):
Projects may be agile or waterfall, but more often are a hybrid of the two. Most projects will benefit by implementing some aspect of the scrum process.
Impact to Strategy
Using agile scrum as a process is an organizational capability. This has strategic implications – here are a some examples:
- Value chain – Segments of the value chain in a business contain areas that are ideal for applying an agile scrum approach. These segments of the value chain can become better understood, improved, reworked, or even eliminated with some attention. The agile scrum approach is flexible enough to be open to any outcome.
- Process improvement – Process improvements, one of the two types of projects outlined by Michael Porter, fits perfectly with the agile scrum approach. Agile scrum can provide the framework for delivering incremental improvements on a continuous basis.
- Strategic projects – Strategically driven initiatives, the second of the two types of projects outlined by Michael Porter, also fits well with the agile scrum approach. Strategic changes can be introduced and tried incrementally, and adjusted accordingly. Often strategic direction is unclear, and trying things systematically can help identify the best paths forward.
- Customer-focused – The agile scrum process requires a clear link back to the customer. Scrum teams typically have a business analyst role – someone who works directly with the customer and with developers at the same time. This builds a highly effective customer-centric approach.
I recommend these strategy resources (paid link):
Just as project management and the ability to change are organizational capabilities, excelling at the agile scrum process is also an organization capability that can impact choice of strategy.
Conclusion and further resources
The agile scrum process is a capability that has implications for project management and strategy. While it grew out of the process of software development, it is applicable, at leas in part, to nearly any project situation.
What is your experience with the agile scrum process? Do you follow a different variation of the agile scrum process diagram?
For a short (< 10 min) overview of scrum, I recommend the following video. It covers things included within the agile scrum process diagram outlined in the post, but shows much more detail of what happens within the process.