The Scrum method for beginners and basketball lovers – yes, Scrum and LA Lakers have a lot in common
(Please don’t tell me what you did last summer just yet)
The last couple of weeks in CROZ have been very exciting – our famous summer internship program has started and the company is now full of brilliant, bright-eyed, and hard-working students.
The students have been divided into teams with real project assignments to be completed by the end of the internship, following the Scrum framework.
For some, this has been the first encounter with Scrum – a framework for effective team collaboration on complex products. Although it may seem like a simple framework at first, it contains various instances and is pretty difficult to master.
The easiest way to illustrate the Scrum framework is to compare a Scrum team to a sports team competing in a championship. Just like a sports team, the Scrum team is a cross-functional team that consists of members with various positions or assignments. The goal is the same for all – winning the championship/finishing the software on time.
The comparisons between Scrum methodology and sports have long been introduced by professors Takeuchi and Nonaka and published in the “Harvard Business Review” in 1986 featuring rugby as a comparison sport. Since what I know about rugby can fit in the palm of my hand, I will (at least) try to draw the line between Scrum and basketball – hoping that Scrum/basketball fans will forgive me sometime in the future.
So let us start with the championship overview…
Defining the championship team:
THE OWNER (known as the Product owner) – in case of New York Yankees, this would be Harold Steinbrenner, for LA Lakers the PO is the Buss family trust. This is the person setting the objectives for the project and presenting the team with a list of what is required of them, what features we are expecting to see in the following championship, or a software making process. What type of a product owner a team has is purely a coincidence so don’t stress it if another team has a completely different PO experience. Your PO might be vacationing in Hawaii sending scarce requests or they can be all over you with ideas. Regardless of the type, his/her job is to make sure that the team is meeting the agreed requirements.
THE TEAM (known as the team) – this is a cross-functional set of individuals working together towards the same goal. It doesn’t matter if they are called power forward, a center and/or a linebacker or a full stack developer, UX designer and business analyst, the mission remains – complete synergy for creating measurable results. Each team member is a specialist and without their role, the team cannot achieve sequential progress. Sure, some small forwards are able to hit the 3-pointer from time to time, but they cannot win the game without the rest of the team. So, each team member has to play their role and then hand over the ball.
THE COACH (known as the Scrum master) – the person responsible for making sure that the team follows the agreed principles. The coach is the one to clear the obstacles and to establish an environment in which the team can thrive. The coach or the Scrum master is the one protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions, the one ensuring good team relations and good relations between the team and the Product owner. In other words – if you were a Laker, Frank Vogel would make sure you played your position with minimum interruptions.
The championship has started
Once the championship or the project starts, the team is to commit to all tasks that can be completed in a certain period of time. In sports, this can be a win in a game or several games, and in Scrum, this is called a Sprint. Both the sportsmen and the IT–men share the same goal when it comes to a sprint – sprint end date and deliverables do not change after being agreed upon. If you promise Frank to win all of the following matches in the next two weeks, it is expected you do precisely that. A sprint is usually a period of 1-4 weeks in which an instance of a product is being produced to functionality, but there is still a long way ahead to the championship crown.
Strategies fit for a winner
Team meeting (known as the Sprint planning) – this is the meeting where all the Lakers meet. This includes the owner and the coach as well. They discuss the objectives to achieve in the following (set) time period, like winning 100% of home games or winning any proportion of visiting games. The owner sets requirements and the team discusses what is achievable. The achievable things are then broken into tasks – gym, ball training, practice games, games, etc. Or, to translate it to the software language – homepage, database, etc. This is called a sprint backlog.
Keeping an eye on the prize
To make sure that the entire team is on the same page, it is necessary to have follow-up meetings or the so-called Scrum ceremonies. No, there is no special clothing and music, with people performing rituals (this was my first mental image after hearing the words “master” and “ceremonies”). Ceremonies are sets of status meetings designed to keep everyone on track. The shortest and most repetitive one is the daily scrum (aka “daily standup”, “standup meeting”, or just “daily” for close friends). This is a short, informative meeting taking place daily and each team member has only one assignment – to step up and answer three simple questions: What did I do yesterday? What I am doing today? What are my impediments? This is it. The daily scrum is not a meeting to talk about pets, how the Clippers played last night and no one wants to hear what you did last summer, not quite yet. Just answer those three simple questions. Period.
We won a set of games, what now?
So, the Lakers or our Scrum team had a really good sprint and now it is over. It is now time for a sprint review. You want to showcase what you did and discuss the improvements before you move to the following period/sprint. Time for the Lakers to meet again and do the sprint planning.
Honesty is the best policy
People tend to forget to congratulate themselves when they do good, so there is another ceremony following a sprint and it is called a retrospective. If we were to compare retrospectives to real life, we could do worse than compare them to therapeutic group sessions. This is the time to discuss what a team did well and should continue to do, what it should work on and what was so bad that everyone should stop doing it. For the Lakers, this is the time to agree that the first setup had been rather successful in that one play. This is the time for a small forward to admit that 1/5 is not a good three-pointer rate and that he should stop doing in the future. When the team arrives at such conclusions, the following sprint can only be even better.
Winning the championship
Teamwork can be difficult and the expectations are often high. Scrum is a great way for agile software development teams to make best practices with minimum effort, all the way to that final basket, and the win. And if anyone ever doubts that being a member of an agile software development team is a cool thing, just tell them “We’re doing it the same way the Lakers do.”