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Scrum by Jeff Sutherland


What can a man who has been a fighter pilot, helped communities out of poverty, influenced Dutch Chemistry student classes, and helped lasso the FBI out of a software crisis, tell us about how to run effective projects? Quite a lot it transpires. Here’s our take-outs from Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum.

1. Transparency breeds positive team vibes

Making ‘significant aspects of the process visible to those responsible for the outcome’ is a core Scrum principle. The easiest way for all team members to be aware of what everyone else is doing and their responsibilities is to make it apparent to see.

Maybe your tasks need to be on a wall? Perhaps everyone’s tasks can live on a Trello board? Whatever the method, transparency leads to empathy and respect among team members, and good team vibes – and they can only lead to positive outcomes.

2. Prioritise – 80% of the value is in 20% of the features

Sutherland mentions the idea of creating a backlog, that should have everything that could possibly be included in the product. It may be that you never end up delivering half of those tasks, but if you have everything in one backlog, the process of prioritising tasks according to what will allow you to deliver your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) becomes much easier.

Establishing what your true MVP is allows you to focus on smaller iterative deliveries that prioritise aspects of the project that will deliver the most value in the least amount of time. Too often we find ourselves attempting to deliver an enormous scope of work in one long delivery. But if 80% of the resultant value of a project can be delivered in just 20% of the scope, why not strip delivery back to focus on your MVP?

3. Be more team-focused

As a team, you have the opportunity to improve by a much greater degree than as individuals. Incremental improvement on an individual level has a much smaller impact than when teams improve holistically.

Sitting together physically is important – people learn through osmosis.

Ensuring you have a cross functional team working together is also important – you collectively have the tools to complete the project to hand, so there are no impediments to progress.

Have a backlog of tasks that the whole team work on collectively. This puts the power of progress into the hands of those who are expected to deliver it. It removes top-down management as the team become self-managing and motivated.

4. Know your velocity

Sutherland encourages the use of a points system in lieu of estimating tasks in actual hours. Why? We’re all rubbish as estimating, but we’re good at measuring the size of tasks relatively. Scrum methodology provides the following points-based estimation method:

• Create a backlog of tasks
• Play planning poker – each member of the team presents the number that best represents the level of effort they feel is required for a task. The team members chat through their rationale, and collectively decide on a number to allocate to that task
Select the tasks you think you can achieve within a sprint based on total number of points.

Initially you may be over or under on your selection of points, that’s ok! The idea is that as the team engages in sprint planning and retrospectives they will get better at gauging the number of tasks and speed at which they’re capable of delivering them as a team.

If knowing your velocity allows you to eventually do ‘twice the work in half the time’, we can choose what we do with that extra time – whether it’s taking on more new business, or allowing more time for ourselves to learn and further our skillsets.

5. Continuous self-improvement

Holding sprint retrospectives helps the team identify what went wrong the week before, and how you can collectively improve on it in the next sprint. Also, what wins did you see and why? What would make you happier next sprint?

Humans fundamentally ‘want to be great. People want to do something purposeful’. By constantly reviewing what you have done, allowing a forum to discuss impediments, and identifying what would make team members happier next time, the team will feel closer and happier as a unit, and velocity should increase over time.

So, will we be adopting ‘Scrum’ as our methodology of choice? We don’t know yet. But we do know we can make incremental improvements based on Scrum throughout the business, and if that improves overall productivity and happiness, it’s a no-brainer.

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