Learn before you leap

In the Trenches Transitioning to Scrum requires more than unbridled eagerness, says Toby Lang, PMP.

When one of our IT directors returned from a business trip convinced of the virtues of Scrum, his excitement was contagious.

Before long, his enthusiasm for the agile development framework spread among the other IT directors at our grocery retailer. Soon, the chief technology officer commissioned four Scrum masters to introduce developers to the approach over a few lunchtime meetings.

Early adopters began achieving project deliverables more quickly, and buy-in for a department-wide transition to Scrum came swiftly.

The traditional project manager position was eliminated, the project management office was disbanded and Scrum became the new mandated approach.

The speed at which our organization transitioned to agile was impressive. In our exuberance, however, we failed to ready all stakeholders for the new standard.

Making the time crunch even more vexing: Scrum has no defined role for the project manager. So while business partners struggled to carve out enough time, project managers found themselves with too much of it.

Problem: A Wrinkle in Time

After the first few projects in which we used Scrum, we learned that to be successful, the new approach required a product owner to spend at least half of his or her work week focused on the project.

Because the role is designed to ensure the project delivers on business value, it seemed to make the most sense for our business partners to become product owners.

What we didn't immediately realize is that this time requirement far exceeded the few hours per week business partners had historically budgeted for status meetings. They were now tasked with attending daily meetings and prepping for grooming sessions with a backlog of tasks and feature requirements known as user stories.

No surprise, the business partners were unable to devote the necessary time alongside their existing commitments.

Making the time crunch even more vexing: Scrum has no defined role for the project manager. So while business partners struggled to carve out enough time, project managers found themselves with too much of it.

Solution: Redefine and Reassign

Most project managers paired with business partners as product owners to help them manage their new Scrum-related responsibilities.

Project managers now maintain the backlog populated with user stories, and our business partners check in with them weekly—a big time saver.

The match was ideal, considering that the project managers and business partners had worked together for years and already had an established line of trust and cooperation. And because our project managers had development backgrounds and a working knowledge of business needs, they could encourage the selection of technical implementations that both solved business problems and limited development time.

Problem: Individual Interpretations

To help everyone understand the transition and their new roles and tasks, all of the developers received the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. But differing interpretations of this document created problems.

For example, the manifesto recommends we choose “working software over comprehensive documentation.” Reading this, some team members concluded that documentation was no longer required.

The word “over” is at the root of the confusion here: The manifesto uses the word to represent the relationship between different activities. “A over B” does not mean we do not do B, only that we scrutinize the value of doing B before embarking on it.

Solution: Community Art

To bring teams to a common understanding of agile, we pasted the manifesto on the wall next to the cubicles of IT development team members. We also called a department-wide meeting and talked through each line of the manifesto as a group.

We return to the visual manifesto whenever a process needs clarification or a mistake is commonly occurring, and this continuous reinforcement helps mature our project management practices. PM



Toby Lang, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a project manager and business relations analyst at grocery retailer Overwaitea Food Group in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.




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