Scrum Of Scrum

Scrum emphasizes not only self-organizing teams but also cross-functional team collaboration for better performance. Known as Scrum of Scrums, this practice is important for large, multidimensional projects which require  cross departments and teams to work in close collaboration so that the overall performance is as effective as in small projects involving smaller teams.  The key to this scalable element is the Scrum of Scrums, known in traditional parlance as “program management.”

Scrum of Scrums is a very good practice, but its success depends on two key factors – effective coordination and an efficient program manager. If either or both these conditions are not fulfilled, Scrum of Scrums proves to be the Waterloo of the entire project.

In projects involving a single team of few people, Scrum Master is the guide and the mentor who steers the team in the right direction. However, with multiple teams working together on the same project, there has to be a manager who can coordinate effectively across the teams. In such a scenario, each team has its own Scrum Master who in turn coordinates with the Scrum Masters of the other teams under the guidance and supervision of an overall program manager, known as Agile Program Manager.

In other words, an APM (Agile program manager) is a Scrum Master who manages a collection of small projects that might or might not be using Scrum (or be development-related at all). In a large organization, an APM might be coordinating efforts across various software development and operation teams, or across teams that include marketing, distribution, and offshore resource groups. The APM needs to acknowledge the fact that not all teams are running Scrum or using Agile practices and needs to coordinate expectations appropriately. The APM also needs to consider the fact that not all Agile teams are created equal or maintain the same values. Therefore, an APM’s responsibilities are much more than just being a coordinator across cross-functional teams.

So what are the APM’s responsibilities?

  1. Track and coordinate the program portfolio and its dependencies

  2. Ensure that each project has a direct responsible individual

  3. Manage collective activities, issues, and risks

  4. Keep everyone informed

  5. Advocate the process and protocols

It is a challenge to ensure that large distributed teams are self-organized and need a structural set-up that enables communication across teams.

The second important factor in the Scrum of Scrums is communication and collaboration across the teams. Now, an important fact to be kept in mind is that the teams working on a project might be of various sizes and different functional nature. It is very important to facilitate open and effective communication across these teams so as to enhance collaboration. There are three basic practices to achieve an unfailing and an effective collaboration:


  1. Each team holds Daily Scrum as usual following which representatives from each team a higher level Scrum to coordinate across teams. In projects involving even more teams, representatives from the higher level Scrum attend an even higher level Scrum, and so on.

  2. No Scrum Master from the teams goes to the Scrum of Scrums. Representatives are chosen to attend a higher level Scrum where cross-team issues and interdependencies are identified, discussed, and prioritised.

  3. A cross-team impediment backlog is maintained. A Scrum Master is needed to facilitate this meeting

Benefits of effective utilization of Scrum boards

The Scrum board is an integral part of the Scrum methodology. An ideal Scrum board consists of rows and columns. Each row is a user story which functions as a unit of work that the scrum team uses for their product backlog. Using the scrum board effectively helps to make sprint backlog clearly visible to the team. Throughout the sprint the team members keep updating the scrum board. Updating the scrum board helps the team to make any new task visible to everyone. For example, if someone comes up with a new work, it is written on a new card on the scrum board. During the daily scrum meeting, changes are made and the cards are moved around the scrum board.
The scrum board functions like an organizer. During sprint planning meeting, the team picks the product backlog items that they feel can be completed during the upcoming sprint. Each PBI is further broken down into many sprint backlog items. Each of these items are represented by a task card and placed on the scrum board; each of these cards start on the ‘To do’ column on the Scrum board.
The scrum board helps the team to be clear about the priority sequence of tasks. The product backlog items are arranged according to their importance in a descending order on the scrum board. The team is expected to select the items from top of the column and work on them on a priority basis.
Let us look at the columns usually used on a scrum board:

·        Story: The story description shown on that row.

·        To Do: Place for all cards that are not in the “Done” or “In Process” columns for the current sprint.

·        Work In Process: Any card being worked on goes here. The programmer who chooses to work on it moves it over when he is ready to start the task. Often this happens during the Daily Scrum.

·        To Verify: A lot of tasks have corresponding test task cards. Some task cards don’t often get corresponding test cards (“Fix Bug #243”), so those are placed in the “To Verify” column.

·        Done: Cards pile up over here when they’re done. They’re removed at the end of the sprint. Sometimes we remove some or all during a sprint if there are a lot of cards.

Effective utilization of the scrum board helps to detect concerns before they become a huge problem for the project. The points below help to identify issues visually:

·        Stuck tasks: These are tasks that do not seem to move on the scrum board thereby indicating a possible impediment.

·        Wrong order of tasks: It becomes clear from the scrum board whether the team is following the correct order of tasks and focussing on the most important tasks or not.

·        If there are too many WIP cards, it shows that no work is being done

·        Unplanned items: An increase in unplanned items can be a deterrent for the sprint and can jeopardize it.

The best part about a scrum board is that it is not dependent on expensive technology. An experienced Scrum master can emulate the scrum board in an excel sheet and understand and identify progress and roadblocks of the project. It is also possible to get the product owners themselves to manage the backlog on the board itself.

Agile Marketing

The world of marketing has registered a sudden revolution with the adoption of Agile software development philosophy. In June 2012, marketers influenced by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, got together to initiate the task of incorporating Agile methodology of project management into their marketing practices. Known as ‘SprintZero’, this one daylong event was organized with the aim to discuss and evaluate the best known principles and principles of agile marketing so as to adopt this philosophy for the benefit of marketers across the globe.

            Deriving closely from the Agile Manifesto, Agile marketers adopted a manifesto that clearly delineates the fundamental principles and core values of Agile Marketing. The Agile Marketing Manifesto makes it explicit that the highest priority of Agile Marketers is customer satisfaction through early and constant delivery of marketing that is focused at both creating value and solving problems. This can be achieved by being flexible and open to change. Marketing is not only a complex but also a highly dynamic activity, so it is bound to be fraught with sudden changes and alterations owing to market scenarios, economic fluctuations, ever-changing and evolving customer preferences, and many other factors. Earlier marketing, however, operated on fixed and unchanging pegs. But with the adoption of Agile Marketing, marketers acknowledged that change is a strategic advantage since projects and business are dynamic in nature. So, the marketers must be open to as well as ready for any sort of change. In fact, the agility to respond to change in order to deliver client-valued functionalities in the shortest-possible time span is the founding block of Agile Marketing. To this end, Agile Marketing attempts to deliver marketing in iterations, that is, in numerous small experiments rather than in few large attempts.  Brinker, one of the most popular Agile Marketing proponents, defines Agile Marketing as an amalgamation of ‘intended’ and ‘emergent’ strategies.

            Also, Agile Marketing Manifesto emphasizes open and fluid communication between the development team and the client. Earlier, the development team as well as the marketing team used to operate in isolation with respect to the real customer base. Agile Marketing has, however, highlighted the importance of interaction with the individual customers. With the intrusion of technology into each and every aspect of human life, customers have become more vigilant and clearer about their requirements.  This has produced deep impact on the dynamics of business and marketing. So, the marketers today have to be more sensitive and need to address customer requirement as well as the fluctuating market and economic scenarios.

            Not only this, the Manifesto also recognizes the need of close alignment and transparency among business owners, sales staff, and development team in order to enhance positive communication and to increase the momentum of meaningful marketing. Some of the practices that Agile Marketing Manifesto preaches are iterative marketing conducted in short marketing experiments, frequent feedback, and provision to react to ever-changing market conditions.

            Another important aspect of Agile Marketing is that Agile emphasizes the use of data and testing. Data is a concrete and a reliable tool to analyze performance, reveal new opportunities, predict emerging trends, organize market facts, and understand customer experiences. Data is also an important feedback tool as it can be analyzed time and again in order to study various factors affecting and aspects concerning customer requirements and satisfaction. Also, data is an important source of learning. As in Agile software development methodology, development is an evolving process in which development and learning occur simultaneously. Learning is, therefore, a necessary aspect of good Marketing, and Agile marketing uses data as a means to measure current marketing campaigns against predefined success metrics as well as a knowledge base for future references.

 To sum it up, Agile Marketing can be defined by the following key words: Client-valued, transparent, Iterative, and Measured. In other words, Agile Marketing believes in

Responding to change over following a plan

Testing and data over opinions and conventions

Numerous small experiments over a few large bets

Engagement and transparency over official posturing

Collaboration over silos and hierarchy.


Is Agile useful only for the IT industry?

A project underdevelopment is bound to experience numerous unforeseen and unexpected changes due to turbulent environment, unsteady requirements, changing requirements of the customers, , and technologies and development processes becoming outdated or redundant. In other ways, project development is a dynamic activity in which both the development process as well as related environmental factors experience constant evolution. As a result of this, the project managers as well as the developers have to constantly adapt and evolve. –This happens in all development projects  irrespective of the industry or the clientele. It is precisely because of this constantly changing and evolving nature of project management that Agile techniques are highly useful. However, the vital question is whether Agile is restricted to IT projects only or is it as successful in non IT projects as it is in IT projects.

In answer to this question, let us consider Lean Thinking .Lean Thinking, one of most popularly implemented Agile process tools, has its inception in an automobile manufacturing company – Toyota. And, it is a well-recorded fact that the majority of the PMPs undergoing Agile Certification across the globe are those working on non-IT projects. This certainly brings up the question as to whether Agile has scope beyond IT centric industries. The answer to this is – Yes!! Agile is useful for any type of project, but its application requires extra creativity and customization. Hence, Agile, being a management philosophy is all about a set of principles that have to be adopted, practised, emulated, and advocated  in the true letter and spirit. The opponents of the above concept argue that Agile relies heavily on certain distinct characteristics of software, such as automated testing, ability to make rapid incremental changes at low cost, object technologies that isolate change etc. And, as most of the non-IT projects do not enjoy the benefits of these characteristics, so Agile cannot be applied as such. This is partly true as any philosophy or process tool when applied to a different environment has to be altered in order to suit the requirements of the new environment. So, Agile methodology has to be adapted to suit the requirements of the project in question.

The catch, however, is not the suitability of Agile methodology but the confusion and ignorance about its real nature and scope. Many a time, Agile is not applied to non IT projects because people are not aware about its suitability to and benefits in a particular project. Most of the practitioners consider Agile to be a set of practices, and forget that Agile is rather an idea supported by values and beliefs. This myopic view leads to failure in applying it successfully to non IT projects. It is important for the organizations to note that being Agile requires them to make considerable alterations in work culture and processes rather than blindly implementing  Agile methodology.

Also, people are hesitant to apply Agile philosophy to non-IT projects because they feel that it is the outcome of the experiences related to development of IT projects. . Thus, Agile  values and principles are considered to be effective only for software development projects. But a few practitioners such as Scott Duncan suggest a few modifications to its core values and principles to make it suitable for projects other than that of IT industry. One of them being substituting the term “product” for “software” where product could also include “services”. Thus, the Manifesto for ‘Agile Software Development’ can be tweaked to make it suitable for ‘Agile Community Development’.

In short, it is ideal to have Agile Certification address Agile in a “domain-agnostic” way; thus, making Agile useful to the entire project management community, and, not restricting it to to the IT industry only.


What are the ideal Skill sets for a Scrum Master?

The process of developing software is quite a complex process and therefore it is obvious that some of the most creative and intelligent people are involved in this process; and such people are often free minded and do not want to be led or managed. So the main responsibility of a Scrum Master is to guide these professionals and not really manage them. This aspect of a Scrum Master’s profile makes it a challenging job. An ideal Scrum Master’s job role is primarily oriented towards leadership. He needs to excite and motivate the team by elucidating the advantages of achieving team goals despite constraints.
A person designated as the Scrum master needs to have a certain set of qualities or skills in order to deliver his role successfully. These qualities are listed below:

1. Excellent communication and decision making skills

·        The Scrum master should be able to spread information quickly and clearly

·        He should be able to take a decision without too much fuss

2. The capability to adhere the team to work together

·        The scrum master needs to be able to understand team dynamics and foster teamwork.

·        Consistently reviews the progress of a project as a team and provides necessary guidance wherever needed.

3. Be a source of inspiration and motivation

·        The Scrum master should motivate and recognize the best work of individuals in his team.

·        He should inspire the team to reach their highest potential.

·        He should exhibit a positive working attitude. Always tries to make changes work rather than identifying why changes can’t be implemented.

4. Emotionally composed under stressful situations

·        It is important for a Scrum master to be emotionally stable and be able to get work done under stressful conditions.

5. Effective Conflict resolution

·        A scrum master encourages helpful debates to enable better decisions and shared visions within the team

·        He resolves disagreements and conflicts in a constructive way.

·        Shows emotional maturity (discretion, objectivity, integrity, confidentiality) in all interactions.

Apart from these basic skill sets, the scrum master needs to have some inherent personality traits to be a good leader guiding the team towards progress; he should ensure that the obstacles faced by the team are removed; he should be responsible to make sure that the core focus of the team is on creating the product/service for the customer under optimal conditions.

In order to be successful as a Scrum master, a person needs to be focused and meticulous, a team player, well organized, trustworthy and accessible to others instead of being high handed.