What is a SCRUM and why do all the startups ask freelancers if they do it?
Continuing on a recent theme, we are going to look at new trends in workplace thought and strategy modelling. Many startups are now in need of freelancers and gig-economy workers due to the Coronavirus, and what is trending is a desire to have contractors, freelancers and self-employed people experienced in things like ‘’scrum’’ and ‘’agile’’.
In line with things like monetising your skillset, this is becoming a new staple of the gig economy, so, what is it and should you know more about it?
A definition of agile project management
What is agile project management? The first - and probably the most concise - definition of agile project management comes from the agile manifest itself:
- Individuals and interactions are above processes and tools
- Working software is above a comprehensive documentation
- Cooperation with the customer is above the contract negotiation
- Responding to change is about following a plan
From this somewhat opaque summary, we can derive a more precise definition: agile project management is an iterative development concept that places great value on interpersonal communication and feedback, the reaction to changes and the creation of functioning results. Let’s take a closer look at that.
Agile project management is iterative, which means it happens in phases (sprints), with each sprint building on and improving what was achieved and learned in the previous sprint. This is where the Scrum concept comes into play. Gartner Research Director Nathan Wilson said at the 2017 Gartner PPM Summit: "Scrum is a way to organize work to create agility."
Agile is a concept and a way of thinking. It is not a textbook, a list of instructions, or a certification. Turning agile project management methods into black and white formulated templates would even contradict everything that defines agile. It would be like giving someone detailed, step-by-step instructions for being cool or playing jazz. Nonetheless, there is project management software that was created to ensure agility.
Agile project management is all about efficient communication instead of documentation, nested email threads and constant meetings. The 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto say, "The most efficient and effective way to convey information to and within a development team is face-to-face."
Well, in fairness, this was created pre-Corona. Ha! But the point is, if you can communicate something through a ten-second conversation instead of an e-mail, you should do it. This is where Daily Scrum comes in. Agile is about producing tangible, working results with every iteration.
What is SCRUM?
The Scrum method is an agile project management method and was developed so that product teams can work together more effectively. The main feature of Scrum is that it is a simple framework that helps teams work better together on complex projects. The method focuses on collaboration, self-management and organization, flexibility and adaptation.
Scrum uses the idea of empirical process control, for example, the actual progress is observed and not only a forecast is made to plan and schedule a project. The schedules are divided into short events, also called “sprints”, and after completing a sprint, the completed tasks and activities are evaluated and the Scrum team can make necessary changes to the project goals.
The Scrum method is popular with managers and software developers, for example, because it has a simple set of rules that defines the roles and responsibilities of the Scrum team. It is very effective because instead of giving team members specific tasks, they are given a set of goals so that they can decide for themselves and develop their own tactics on how to achieve the goals most effectively.
The constant progress monitoring in short intervals enables a quick reaction to necessary changes and helps the team to see what it has already achieved in this time.
The Scrum method was developed for teams to cope with complex product development tasks and offers them a simple set of rules to cope with the complexity of the process: the three Scrum roles and the Scrum events (sprints). Let’s take a closer look at those roles:
Product owners know exactly what the requirements and necessary steps of the process are and they decide what to do and make the goals available to the development team. You are also responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the value of the team's work. The Product Owner has exclusive decision-making authority, for example, changes must be approved by him or her or them.
Scrum masters do not take on the role of "project manager", because in Scrum the idea of self-management is important. Scrum Masters ensure that the entire process runs smoothly and help to optimize and improve it and the productivity of the team. It is her job to remove all obstacles that could jeopardize the achievement of the specific sprint goals and the overall goal.
A team ideally consists of 3 to 9 employees with cross-functional skills. This guide is important because fewer than 3 members mean there may not be enough interaction and members may not have all the skills necessary to complete the sprint. Too many members would need too much coordination, which would increase the complexity of the process. The task of the development team is to build the product and to organize and complete the work through self-management and to achieve the goals of the sprints within the specified time frame.
Scrum Activities: The Sprint
A sprint is an event or project that lasts no more than 1 month (typically 1 or 2 weeks). The time frame is so specific to keep complexity and risks low. In addition, the duration of a sprint that has started is fixed and cannot be changed. At the end of each sprint, a finished product must be presented, which means that one could publish this product design. This increases the predictability of the project since after each sprint the progress is assessed in a team meeting with the product owner, who can then plan and adapt the next steps accordingly. A sprint consists of the following steps that structure the product creation process:
- Sprint planning
- Daily Scrums
- Sprint review
- Sprint retrospective
- Product backlog refinement
Scrum founders believe that the production of some software is too complex to be broken down and planned into individual work packages. The Scrum advocates are not entirely wrong with this, because the future is uncertain, and with some projects, one has next to no idea whether and if so, how exactly something should be implemented (but the error may already be in the project initialization to see where procedures could have been tested?).
What would it look like now if you wanted to build an airplane with Scrum? The team would come to the daily scrum every day for a maximum of 15 minutes and ask themselves what was stopping them and what they had done. Obviously, some team members could not even work here, because to build the aircraft, you first need a design that is reflected in the material, the technical requirements, etc.
Only when this is available can material procurement be started. And only when the material is there, can the plane be built. Sounds like a typical waterfall process, which results from someone not being able to start until someone else has completed something. The situation is similar to the construction of a bridge.
Does that mean that Scrum would be absolutely senseless for areas other than software?
No, because Scrum is actually inspired by another area: Lean Production, which was introduced by Japanese car manufacturers and which, for example, has brought about semi-autonomous group work. The fact that a group had acquired the necessary skills to make decisions and thus enabled them to work autonomously made the workforce much more flexible and divided in terms of added value.
This is a factor that should not be underestimated. But one thing is wrong here. Car production is not a project at all! Because only the first car that is redesigned and built comes from a real project, the production car after that comes from operational work. Of course, one can act more flexibly in such a context, after all, the end product and the steps there are known.
If you were to approach the "Design and build a new car" project with the Scrum approach, no automaker would probably be satisfied if you told them that it was such a complex undertaking that you couldn't say exactly when it would be finished. After all, there are experiences (lessons learned), and well-trained project managers have learned to take the right path full of uncertainties, even in unknown terrain, and to arrive at their destination on time.
No, Scrum should not be discussed here. Scrum is a great approach, and it makes perfect sense for some projects. But not for everyone. When it comes to project management, it is important to always choose the right tool for the task, and sometimes it could be Scrum, sometimes a classic waterfall model.
Even though you could say it was just a trend in software development or even with Corona you do not have the time, we can see the rising need for those experienced with scrum and perhaps it applies to you and your industry, and this very well could be so if you’re working in Germany’s ever-growing startup scene.