Thoughts on Scrum

Posted on: January 17th, 2013 by admin

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently took a class on Scrum Master certification. As such, I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper while they were still fresh in my mind. And I figured if I was doing that, I might as well post something on it to my blog. Now, a two-day class hardly makes me an expert on the subject. I confess that I have exactly zero experience in Agile and don’t even know if I’ll get to work on an Agile project. I hope to have a colleague with experience in this write a post for me in the future. So consider these posts to be almost as if you ran into me coming out of class, bought me a beer and said, “Tell me your impressions of what you just learned.” So that’s what these posts will be. Impressions of Agile based on what I’ve learned and read.

I knew going into this class that I would write this series. And I had every intention of writing it from the perspective of a comparison to traditional project management. And so I knew (from pre-reading) that Agile had a product owner, a scrum master and a team. What I didn’t know was how hard it would be to make direct one-for-one analogies of these roles to traditional project management. So what I’ll do is not only give you my impressions of Agile but I will also try, in my own labored way, to relate it back to what I already know. The comparisons will be flawed and they are not really the stated opinion of the Scrum Alliance. But they are my opinions and I find that they help me relate back to what I’ve been doing for years.

The first thing I think it’s important to know is that there is an organization called The Scrum Alliance. They are a “not-for-profit professional membership organization created to share the Scrum framework and transform the world of work. Their mission is “to increase awareness and understanding of Scrum, provide resources to individuals and organizations using Scrum, and promote the iterative improvement necessary to succeed with Scrum. The Scrum Alliance hosts Scrum Gatherings and supports Scrum User Groups, providing a forum for interactive learning throughout the world.”

So, what is Scrum and how does it relate to Agile? Again, from their web site:

“Scrum is an agile framework for completing complex projects. Scrum originally was formalized for software development projects, but works well for any complex, innovative scope of work.

The Scrum Framework in 30 Seconds

  • A product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.
  • During sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of that wishlist, a sprint backlog, and decides how to implement those pieces.
  • The team has a certain amount of time, a sprint, to complete its work – usually two to four weeks – but meets each day to assess its progress (daily scrum).
  • Along the way, the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal.
  • At the end of the sprint, the work should be potentially shippable, as in ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or show to a stakeholder.
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective.
  • As the next sprint begins, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins working again.

The cycle repeats until enough items in the product backlog have been completed, the budget is depleted, or a deadline arrives. Which of these milestones marks the end of the work is entirely specific to the project. No matter which impetus stops work, Scrum ensures that the most valuable work has been completed when the project ends.”

Does that sound like anything you know or are familiar with? Me neither. In 30 Seconds, the Scrum Alliance takes traditional project management and turns it on its head. A backlog? The team chooses work? They manage themselves? And have two to four weeks to complete this work? Really?

I confess that most of this post came from their site. But I felt it was important to – using their words – set the stage. BTW, if you’re a PMP or strongly aligned with PMI, you can (sort of) think of the Scrum Alliance as being very roughly analogous to PMI. They’re both non-profit, they both have certification tests, and they both maintain standards. But there are some very real differences.

For one thing, Scrum Alliance certifies not only Scrum Masters but also instructors. So there are a fairly limited (I think 114) number of Scrum instructors in the world. It is a very select group, many being called, few chosen. And those instructors are not only an elite group but they are fairly well tied into the Alliance in the sense that they can make recommendations and the Alliance will listen to them. PMI? No such certification for instructors nor do instructors have any special pipeline to PMI. Anyone can hang their shingle out and say they are a PMP instructor. The only factor that weeds out the good from the bad instructors in PMP are the evaluations we get, by which we live and die.

As to certifications, getting the PMP is MUCH harder than getting the Scrum Master cert. So for the PMP you must master nine knowledge areas (soon to be ten) and take a 4-hour, closed book multiple choice test at a center where they may wand you to make sure you’re not bringing in any materials. Scrum? An online 50-question multiple choice open book test which you can take from home and don’t have to spend a lot of time studying for. I work for neither organization so I can’t say why they’ve chosen these particular paths. I will say that Scrum Master certification is entry level, just showing that you understand the concepts. And that the Alliance has other certs which are more rigorous to get. (They have a Certified Scrum Professional that seems much more analogous to PMP). But at the entry level, PMI’s tests (PMP, CAPM), raise a much higher bar than Scrum.

Comments are closed.