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SCRUM Teams and other Ideas in SCM Project Management

Scrum 256x256There are lots of project management resources available in the enterprise today, but which approach is right for your requirements? Choose the wrong project management methodology, and you can miss deadlines, overrun costs, incur the wrath of top management. Choose the right path, and projects will run smoothly, without delays, restarts or missed expectations.

What is SCRUM ?

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka wrote about a new approach to product development for the automotive industry. It aimed at increasing speed and flexibility. They called it the "rugby" approach because it was performed by one cross-functional team who kept passing the ball back and forth. From an automotive system it morphed into an agile software development approach. Somebody along the way knew that in rugby football scrum means how you restart the game after a minor infraction. So they renamed it. Sometimes scrum is all capital letters, sometimes not.

How Does SCRUM Work ?

The Scrum methodology emphasizes communication and collaboration. Scrum teams have anywhere from 5 to 9 cross-functional members :software engineers, architects, programmers, analysts, QA experts, testers, UI designers, etc. They usually work out of a team room. The team meets with the Product Owner in a "Sprint Planning Meeting". The Product Owner negotiates with the team as to how much work they take on and when it will be completed. This process provides a realistic goal for the team and allows the Product Owner to manage his customers.

The ScrumMaster reports to the Product Owner. Ideally, the ScrumMasters is a team player who facilitates everything for the team. It is a far different role than a project manager in a traditional project management setting.

The Product Owner must be available to the team, but cannot change what was agreed to in the Sprint Planning Meeting. Just as the development team must produce the negotiated work for the Product Owner, the Product Owner must deliver the product to the customer.

Big versus Small

The real trend we are following is not necessarily SCRUM versus traditional "waterfall" ; but that organizations want to get away from giant several-year projects. For example, in the recent hurricane Irene, a local power authority was unable to respond to customer queries about their electricity outages. The power company answered that they are building a new system and it will be ready in two years !

Lean versus Agile (and SCRUM)

Everybody wants to get into the agile and lean enterprise project management, but make sure you "look before you leap".

Agile project management is now used for a lot more than just software development. It is used for ERP implementation which is really not software development. Sometimes it is used where it shouldn't be too, like in marketing or logistics.

If you have problems that are unique to your organization, a lot of things have to happen. Start with the culture : employees must be able to bring up what might be wrong with the organization and have that criticism accepted. Look at a Toyota factory. They have a chord to pull that stops the assembly line if there is a problem. If it isn't pulled enough times, management wonders if either people don't feel comfortable pulling the chord when they should, or that they are not pushing themselves to improve.

People hear success stories about Agile and immediately want to apply it. Instead, they need to ask where are the problems that they are experiencing and how can they resolve them. Same thing with Lean. For example, Kanban (a project storyboard) doesn't always work for everybody. Another interesting thing is Kanban is used in Agile but came from Lean. Its intended purpose is to help with continous order to customer process.

Culture change starts by defining what it is that your company does. What value is your organization to your customers? Who are your customers, internal and external? What is the value that your department delivers, and how is that measured? Then look at what is hindering the delivery of that value. Start by, one by one, eliminating these roadblocks.

Back to SCRUM. To do it properly, you need 100% dedicated people and teams that are fully cross-functional . With Agile, you need a specializing generalist who can work on numerous project tasks. It still boils down to what is the problem and how do you solve it.

How about a combination of Agile and Lean? Agile is heavily influenced by Lean. We need to understand that most of what we think of as Lean was developed for manufacturing (creating a lot of the same things), while projects by nature are created to be one-off. Then too, Agile was designed for product management and not project management. Limited scope works for a project, but in product management you want to expand the scope and come up with new ideas without people yelling "scope creep." Are we going to see a new discipline emerge that takes the best of Agile and lean? It would take a culture change.
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