In the fast paced world of technology, project success relies heavily on flexibility. Project requirements can change at a moment’s notice and challenges can surface without warning. It falls to the team to find ways to overcome the challenges and there are many ways to do that. “Agile” is a mindset and philosophical approach toward work that embraces real-time change. The concept of “continuous planning” allows a team to quickly make adjustments as information is learned while also adapting to ever-present project challenges. Continuous planning utilizes short feedback loops for gathering and acting upon new information. Additionally, agile methods allow teams to collaborate and solve problems faster than traditional project management styles.
I saw an example of this level of adaptation when watching a show on Netflix,“Chef’s Table”, where they follow a restaurant in New York that embraces the concept of farm-to-table. This concept focuses on creating an environment where food can be grown and then taken directly to the consumer with minimal processing in between. This style of restaurant is susceptible to challenges; such as: seasonality, geographic availability, dramatic changes in weather, etc…. Just like in technology projects, the restaurant has to adapt to real-time changes in their environment that will directly affect the outcome of the day’s work.
In order to combat these challenges, the owner of the restaurant, Dan Barber, holds daily meetings with his team to help prepare them both for the day’s work. The “Daily Chef Meeting” is a chance to sit down with the other chefs and brainstorm what ingredients are going to be used, based on whatever has been harvested from the previous week(s). This meeting takes place before the day’s work begins and is a forum for the team members to discuss ideas on how to achieve the goal of serving fresh food to guests that evening.
Similar to the challenges faced by the “farm-to-table” concept, IT projects face hurdles such as: power outages, natural disasters and overzealous management. The idea of getting the team together on a daily basis and discuss the work necessary for the day is a natural way to help build stronger and more efficient teams.
There are multiple ways to practice an “agile” mindset for projects and one of the more popular methods is the Scrum framework. According to the official Scrum guide, Scrum is: “a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value” (1). Scrum creates an environment where the individual team member’s voices are heard and the work reflects both the capability of the team on a given day and the priority from various stakeholders.
To get more specific, Scrum uses multiple ceremonies to help create an agile work environment. The work is broken down into “sprints” which are set timeframes where work is completed by the team. At the beginning, there is a planning session used to level-set the work with the team and make sure everyone knows their role and responsibility for that week. There are then daily meetings that happen throughout the sprint to make sure the highest priority work is getting completed first. The daily meetings also serve as a forum for the team members to bring up any challenges they might need help with from other members of the team. At the end of the project, there is a retrospective or (post-mortem) meeting where the team talks through what went well, what they could improve on, and end by taking some actionable items to work on for the next project. (2)
Benefits for the Business
Organizations that utilize Scrum receive tangible project benefits. Project requirements may change due to internal dynamics and market conditions and Scrum helps reduce reaction time to uncertainty. This efficient reaction creates a more tailored solution, reduces project waste from changes, and ultimately saves cost. Scrum also helps firms be faster to market by delivering value in project increments as compared to “big bang” deliveries at the end.
Benefits for the Team
Along with organizations, individual teams experience positive results from Scrum too. The Scrum framework promotes empowerment and a self-directed mindset. Empowered teams have greater latitude in determining “how” the project is approached and in setting realistic workloads. This creates greater “buy-in” and robust commitment toward the goal. Stronger “buy-in” creates confidence and ownership while deeper commitment creates increased accountability. These benefits lead to more productive, self-driven and stress-free project teams.
Why does this matter?
Change is constant. IT projects are dynamic. Just like the restaurant managing seasonal ingredients, an IT project team must adapt to evolving conditions and uncertainty. Scrum allows a team to be adaptive to the environment and rapidly solve problems collaboratively. It is important to remember that “teams” are people. Scrum empowers a team to become self-organized and self-directed, which increases efficiency, productivity, ownership, and commitment. Ultimately, Scrum provides team benefits while delivering faster value and a more complete project tailored to the latest situation with less cost.
- Schwaber, Ken (2009). Scrum Guide.
- “Learn About Scrum.” Scrum Alliance
- “Chef’s Table: Dan Barber” Netflix.com