Entertaining introduction to Scrum. Supported by stories from how different companies have implemented the framework. Liked that the author explains the why behind the framework, not just the how, and that he’s doing it in an accessible and easy way. Gave me a more meaningful understanding of how Scrum can be integrated in projects.
What is Scrum?
The term Scrum comes from the game of rugby, it’s the way a team works together to move the ball down the field.
- Every project involves discovery of problems and bursts of inspiration.
- Trying to restrict change, and trying to know the unknowable is a waste.
- Scrum embraces uncertainty and creativity.
- Scrum uses what’s called an “Inspect and Adapt” cycle.
- “What will bring the most value to the project?” Do those things first.
- Scrum is akin to evolutionary, adaptive, and self-correcting systems.
- Scrum was invented in 1993 by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber.
Why do we use Gantt charts?
- The Gantt chart was invented around 1910 and were first used in World War I.
- Why a World War I artifact has become the de facto tool used in twenty-first-century project management is still a mystery.
- The problem with the Gantt chart is once that beautifully elegant plan meets reality, it falls apart.
The term agile dates back to 2001 and was first mentioned in the Agile Manifesto. It declares a set of values:
- People over processes.
- Products that actually work over documenting what that product is supposed to do.
- Collaborating with customers over negotiating with them.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
Scrum is the framework for putting those values into practice.
- One of the key tasks in Scrum is to identify and remove impediments so that the process can flow and accelerate.
- “Eliminating waste must be a business’s first objective.”
Scrum works by setting sequential goals that must be completed in a fixed length of time. At the end of each cycle, there should be a finished increment of product. Something should be working that can be shown to anyone who wants to look. This methodology allows teams to get near real-time feedback on their work.
- Planning is useful. Blindly following plans is stupid.
- Scrum comes out of the techniques used in Japanese manufacturing.
- Scrum requires practice and attention, but also a continuous effort to reach a new state—a state where things just flow and happen.
Shu Ha Ri
Shu Ha Ri is a concept in Japanese martial art which points to different levels of expertise.
- In the Shu state you know all the forms and rules. You repeat them until you’ve absorbed them.
- In the Ha state you start making innovations, adding an extra layer on the rules you’ve mastered.
- In the Ri state you’re able to be creative in an unhindered way. You can discard the forms because you’ve truly mastered practice. The art is embedded in you.
Hesitation keeps you standing still
- Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
- Know where you are, assess your options, make a decision, and act.
One of the key concepts in Scrum is that the team members decide themselves how they’re going to do the work. They’re self-organizing.
“Whenever there are handoffs between teams, there is the opportunity for disaster.”
If you have more than nine people on a team, their velocity actually slows down. More resources make the team go slower.
Your brain can hold four items in Short-Term Memory
The brain can retain four items in the short-term memory. If you’re able to link things from your short-term memory to long-term memory associations you can hold more. But the conscious part of the brain, the one that handles focus, can only hold about four items.
- Brook’s law—“Adding more manpower to a late software project makes it later.”
- Keep your teams small.
It’s the system that surrounds us, rather than any intrinsic quality, that accounts for the vast majority of our behavior.
Sprints are what are often called “time boxes.” They’re of a set duration. You can’t do a one-week sprint and then a three-week sprint. You have to be consistent.
- After engaging in sprints and stand-ups for a while you start seeing time as something fundamentally cyclical.
- Each sprint is an opportunity to do something totally new, each day a chance to improve.
- At the end of each sprint, you should have something that’s done, something that can be used.
Taiichi Ohno at Toyota talked about three different types of waste:
- Muri—waste through unreasonableness.
- Mura—waste through inconsistency.
- Muda—waste through outcomes.
Avoid context switching
Be conscious of the cost of context switching. Every time you’re switching context, you lose 20% of your focus that goes to waste. If you have one project you can dedicate 100% of your time to it. When you have two projects you have 40% available for each, 20% is loss to context switching.
Create something that works
- In Lean manufacturing, the idea is to minimize the amount of half-built stuff lying around.
- ”If some thing is half done at the end of the sprint, you’re worse off than if you hadn’t started at all.”
- It’s better to create something smaller—something that really works.
Fix it now
When you’re working on a project, there’s a whole mind space that you create around it. You’re holding a complicated construct in your head. Recreating that construct a week later is hard. Fixing a problem when you first discover it is much more efficient than solving it a week later. It can take as much as 24 times as long.
Working more is not the answer
- Working more hours stops producing more output.
- The peak of productivity falls a little bit less than 40 hours a week.
- Working late isn’t a sign of commitment—it’s a sign of failure.
- Working less helps you get more done with higher quality.
- Work too many hours and you start making mistakes—which take more effort to fix than to create.
- Any choice involves an energy cost. Your capacity to make good decisions diminishes with each choice.
- Whatever resource is burned up by making decisions is also used up in self-regulation.
- By not working so much, you’ll get more and better work done.
The very act of planning can be so alluring that the planning itself becomes more important than the actual plan. And the plan becomes more important than reality.
Definition of Done
Everyone must know when something is done or not. There should be clear standards that any piece of work has to meet.
You do need a plan but the key is to refine the plan throughout the project, rather than do it all up front.
People are terrible at estimation, but what we are good at is relative sizing, comparing one size to another.
The Fibonacci sequence
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. Each number in the series is the sum of the two previous numbers. The sequence is how nature lays itself out. it’s everywhere. In the shell of a nautilus, in the petals of a pine cone, the bumps on a pineapple. This is where the “Golden Ratio” comes from. Humans are programmed to find the ratios attractive.
Someone comes up with an idea and everyone starts talking about it. Even if you disagree with it initially, you go along because the group is going along. This is called “groupthink”, even if someone has reservations about an idea or solution they go along because everyone else is excited.
The Halo effect
When one characteristic of something influences how people perceive other, unrelated characteristics. For example, if someone is good-looking, everyone assumes that he’s also smart and trustworthy.
By using planning poker in your estimates you avoid any kind of anchoring behavior such as the bandwagon or halo effects. It allows the whole team to share knowledge on a particular task. It’s crucial that the team doing the actual work is also doing the estimations.
Think in stories
People think in narratives, in stories. That’s how we understand the world.
- When you’re considering a task, think about who this task is being done for. Whose lens on the world is the one we need to gaze through when we’re building this thing?
- Then think of the what—what do we need done in the first place?
- Finally, you need to think about motivation—why does this character need this thing?
Stories should be specific enough to be actionable but don’t prescribe how they’re going to be done. The team decides how the work will be accomplished.
Definition of Ready
When you’re writing a story use the INVEST criteria to check if your story is ready:
- Independent—the story must be actionable and “completable” on its own.
- Negotiable—until it’s actually being done, it needs to be able to be rewritten.
- Valuable—it actually delivers value to a customer, user, or stakeholder.
- Estimable—you have to be able to size it.
- Small—the story needs to be small enough to estimate and plan for it easily.
- Testable—the story must have a test it is supposed to pass in order to be complete.
For each story pursued there should be both a “Definition of Ready” and a “Definition of Done”.
Once you have your velocity, you can figure out the most important thing in Scrum: what’s keeping us from going faster? Getting rid of waste is the key to accelerating teams.
- Velocity × Time = Delivery
- Once you know how fast you’re going, you’ll know how how soon you’ll get there.
- Pursuits seem to be what makes us happy.
- If we get rewarded only for results, not processes, we’re going to be pretty miserable.
- True greatness is deeply rooted in joy.
- Happiness precedes success.
- People aren’t happy because they’re successful—they’re successful because they’re happy.
In Japanese the word for “improvement” is kaizen.
- “What is the little improvement that can be done right away that will make things better?”
- What are the thing that actually make people happy? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
In Scrum there are only three roles:
- You’re either part of the team doing the work.
- Or you’re the Scrum Master, helping the team figure out how to do the work better.
- Or you’re the Product Owner, deciding what the work should be.
The product owner is accountable for translating the team’s productivity into value.
The OODA Loop
Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
The combination of “observation” and “orientation” leads to a “decision,” which leads to “action.” Then the loop restarts itself with new results and input.
- The sooner you have some feedback, the quicker you can make a better product.
- The purpose of the MVP is to get feedback.
- Don’t focus on delivering a whole list of things, focus on delivering what’s valuable, what people actually want or need.
Every hour spent polishing the apple is lost opportunity for value.
People don’t really know what they want until they can try something. What the customer actually wants is rarely what the customer says she wants.
- Scrum has started being adopted in schools.
- Students form teams which are cross-functional.
- At every lesson there is a Scrum board for the material that should be learned.
- Students even define their own homework.
- After each set of lessons, the teams do a retrospective.
Just as work needs to be broken down into manageable chunks and time needs to be broken down into manageable pieces, improvement needs to be sliced to a step at a time.
When you’re surrounded by assholes, don’t look for bad people; look for bad systems that reward them for acting that way.
The customer is anyone who will get value from what you’re doing.
When you’re thinking about building something, don’t assume you can’t deliver something of value until the very end.
Scrum accelerates human effort—it doesn’t matter what that effort is.
One of the pillars of Scrum is that once the team has committed to what they think they can finish in one Sprint, that’s it. It cannot be changed, it cannot be added to.