Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Comfortably Scrum: Is your company ready to be agile?

As I have posted in previous blog posts, adoption of Scrum (or any agile process) cannot be a development only effort. If done right, Scrum will have an effect on almost every department in your company that is involved in developing software. And if your company (or even just key parts of it) do not get on board, it can make for a painful process. So if you are thinking about possibly adopting Scrum, ask yourself the following questions to see how open you company might be:

  1. Do key members of management buy-in to the agile concept? They do not need to understand it in its entirety, but they need to be open to the new (and sometimes radical) ideas it brings.
  2. Do the other departments show interest in the agile concept? I have seen the most push back from QA and BA departments when adopting Scrum. Some of them see it as the developers wanting to "take over" some of their territory. It is sometimes a hard task to convince them this is is not taking over anything but sharing the effort across all departments as part of a cross functional team.
  3. Does the nature of your business mandate processes that are counter to Scrum's? Many agile purists claim there is not such thing, but there are simply some businesses that would have a difficult time adopting Scrum because their way of doing business demands an approach in direct conflict with some of its ideals. Strict deadlines that cannot move, regulations that require comprehensive documentation, or a level of precision that requires a large amount of up front requirements gathering and system design are not impossible in Scrum, but might cause you to adapt it to the point of loosing the true benefits of the process.
  4. Do you have a team of disciplined developers? This is something I talked about in another blog post. Scrum (and agile in general) is misconstrued as allowing developers to do whatever they feel like. In fact it is the exact opposite. Many developers have struggled coming from very structured shops that gave them a process to hide in and basically told them what to do. Scrum requires a developer to be cross functional and the processes themselves are meant to expose inefficiencies.
  5. Does your infrastructure allow for cross functional teams? The best way to work in a Scrum team is to have them physically located together. I have worked in both situations where everyone was in the same room or a short distance away to having half the team in two other states. If you cannot be together physically, you will need some mechanisms to bridge the gap and allow easy collaboration between team members. Everyone knows I am a big TFS fan and I personally would not manage a diversely located team without it. Readily available conference calls, Live Meetings (WebEx or whatever), and instant messaging are a must for every member of the team. This does not just mean developers. BAs, QA resources, IT staff, and the users/stakeholders should all be as easy to collaborate with as the developer sitting next to me.

These are by far not all the questions to ask yourself, but they are some big ones that get the conversation started. I have heard agile experts even advise adopting agile practices without management knowing and slowly work up to involving them. In my experience that is a huge mistake. Moving to Scrum or any other agile methodology should be something the entire company works together on to make a clear and unanimous choice. There are definitely companies out there that are not yeat ready to adopt a process like Scrum and may never be able to. Scrum like any other software development process is not a silver bullet and is not meant for everyone.

Coming up next for the Comfortably Scrum series: Product Backlog Items.

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