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From Scream to Scrum

On Wednesday, Patrick Weiss, Director of eBusiness Solutions for Publiconnect, came to the Scrum Breakfast in Zurich to talk about his experiences as Customer / Product-Owner of two large projects which were managed using Scrum. As his talk was in German, I will summarize here.

He didn't start out to do Scrum. A change was necessary due to serious problems in the progress of his projects. Unhappiness was widespread and trust was down to zero. Without going in to detail, the problems were ascribed to "communications issues", which were corrected by changing the Project Leader and introducing Scrum.

Scrum was a suggestion of the contractor (well, my suggestion actually), and so it met with initial skeptisicm. Can it really be "agile" if we can only change our mind every three weeks? Will creativity and design suffer? It felt very limiting to only be able to react to changes at the beginning of a sprint.

The advantages soon became clear. Problems stopped accumulating, The coordination effort declined substantially. Within the months, trust between customer and supplier was reestablished.

Challenges

"Scrum changes a lot!" So a lot of practices are affected and people need time to adapt to the new framework.
  • Budgeting (particularly working with Management) presents new challenges because it is not clear exactly what will be provided (I can tell you exactly what it will cost, but not what it will do!).
  • Because of the uncertainty in the deliverables, rollout planing with sales is difficult, because they want to know what the product will do.
  • Teams that extend over corporate boundaries are a challenge, particulary if the rolls compete with one another (2 architects, 2 designers, 2 project leaders, etc.).
  • Not everybody likes transparency.
  • The team becomes more important than the individual.
  • Interdisiciplinary thinking is not something everybody wants to do.
  • "Chicken Management" - how to deal with management and other stakeholders.
  • "Ken Schwaber vs. Commen Sense"
Highlights

The management and coordination effort for the customer declined substantially. The playing rules defined expectations, provided predictability and gave everyone a sense of security. A constant, relatively high level yet sustainable level of pressure kept everybody focussed. Teamwork encouraged thinking about the whole (before everyone was a specialist and integration was a problem). More trial and error, less reading of tea leaves. Problems don't accumulate. Easier to react quickly to changes in Market, Customer Requirements, and Management Directives.

Focus on Results ("Output") and rapid feedback move the project forward, rapidly and in the right direction. Frequent releases give marketing lots to talk to the customers about.

Summary

The results of Scrum were rather different than the fears about Scrum. Motivated people work better together. Collective wisdom of the team is better than the individual wisdom of an expert. Stable teams can handle changes (e.g. staff changes) better than collections of individuals. The flexibility in design and concept was better. And "transparency" (bringing all issues out into the open as quickly as possible) encourages trust and promotes rapid solutions, even of difficult problems.

(end of summary)

You can download his presentation. Thank you Patrick for a very interesting and thoughtful retrospective on realizing large projects from the customer's point of view.

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