Scrum is a project management philosophy invented by the Japanese to manage the development and maintenance of complex products. It is a buzzword that started off in the software development industry, but it is now taking over business speak. It is based on breaking down a firm’s human resources into cross-functional, self-organizing teams that regularly meet to plan short work sprints with clear goals, evaluate progress on a daily basis, inspect outcomes, adapt to changing business requirements and repeat the whole process again to deliver tangible and measurable products.
The CodePamoja’s Nairobi teams’ visit to the Dutch team’s offices was necessitated by a need to see and practice scrum first hand. Scrum, while relatively easy to learn, is very hard to implement and practice given that it’s a radically new approach to project management. It literally turns on its head the traditional waterfall process of gathering requirements, designing the entire product, developing all features, testing then deploying for client to use. While this process was fraught with all kinds of risks imaginable such as the product not meeting changing client needs or an error early in the process costing a lot to fix later on, most software development teams used and still use this black-box approach to manage their projects with disastrous results.
IT industry leaders in Europe adopted Scrum in the early 2000’s and so when Competa Ltd from the Netherlands partnered with Dew Cis Ltd and BTI Millman Ltd from Kenya to co-develop software products under the new Fair Trade Software model, the Kenya team had to undergo a crash course in Scrum and Agile methodologies of software development. Two members even went on to take the Professional Scrum Master 1 (PSM 1) certification which they passed with flying colors.
The two visiting members of the Nairobi team joined the Netherlands team for a one week sprint at Competa offices to setup the first truly collaborative,scrum managed, enterprise scale Fair Trade Software project: an online platform for The Hague University of Applied Sciences to automate the registration of foreign exchange students from around the globe and manage their courses and exams schedules for the duration of their study at the prestigious University. The university is located in The City of The Hague, Netherlands.
The team had a sprint planning on the first business day to identify the to-do items. The items were put up on a scrum board and responsibilities assigned to the various team members.
Once a working sprint backlog was established, the team embarked on fulfilling individual tasks such as proposing tentative questions for the client on the first requirements elicitation meeting,doing background research on the legacy system in use by the client, designing a buddy system for developers in Nairobi and Netherlands to collaborate online on this and future projects among others.
The second day kicked off with a scrum standup meeting where each team member took less than five minutes to say what they did the previous day, what they planned to do that day and any obstacles they foresaw that might prevent the team from achieving the set sprint goal.
Most items having been done to everyone’s satisfaction, the team’s scrum master marked them as done and new items were moved from the sprint backlog column to the in progress column. The day passed quickly as the entire team worked together in researching and proposing the best tools to use to collaborate online in virtual teams across the two continents. By the end of the day the team agreed on and adopted free to use teamwork apps on the internet such as www.slack.com for intuitive but unobtrusive chatting while working, www.trello.com for online management of the scrum process workflow, www.Google.com/apps for sharing documents and calendars and www.zoom.us for easy video conferencing.
The highly anticipated third day arrived when the team physically visited the client’s premises for a review of the legacy system in place and to put faces to names.We found the university staff busy with the traditional manual registration system of the students and they were very glad that we were there to automate the whole process and make their work easy.
Having gotten a good grasp of the scrum process, the Nairobi team then got a one-on-one interaction with five of the numerous scrum teams that Competa developers were working in for corporate and government clients around the City of The Hague. This was necessary to see in real life how to use the scrum process consistently to plan the project, implement set goals and regularly review progress for massively large projects with several cross-functional, multi-talented teams.
Most of these teams worked in different cities as such it took several days to cover them all before we finally met back at Competa’s head offices for the sprint review, retrospective and demo to the project’s product owner of what we had done, learnt, adopted or planned to implement for the CodePamoja program.
Everything we learnt cannot fit in these pages but to put it in a nutshell, here is a summary of the major scrum practices we saw in real life scenarios:
- It’s of utmost importance to hold regular and time-boxed sprint events as defined by scrum, otherwise the team cannot fully utilize its merits or optimize their common output due to lack of transparency or swift troubleshooting.
- It’s the team’s onus to point out any stumbling blocks they foresee that might keep them from delivering the sprint’s goal, even if it means letting go of a team member!
- The scrum process can be adopted across the corporate board not just in product development as it behooves everyone in a company to know what task everyone else is doing or problem they are facing
- Every team can modify their scrum process flow to suit their internal culture so long as the basic scrum rules, definitions and events are adhered to.
- It’s important for everyone in the team to have the same definition of done and constantly hold peer reviews of fellow team members work to enforce this definition
Ultimately the visit was a success having met and surpassed every set sprint goal and the Nairobi team arrived back in Kenya raring to start implementing everything we had taken with us.