Agile | 8 MIN READ

How to Use Agile and Scrum Effectively

There are plenty of differences between agile and Scrum. Unfortunately, many organizations (still) aren’t able to reconcile their various values and technical specifics to use both of them effectively.

Jump to the main takeaways:

 Immerse Yourself in Agile and Scrum
 Get Organizational Buy-In From the Beginning
 Agile Success Requires Strong Planning
 Balance Quality and Velocity During Development
 Build Information Bridges, Not Silos

 

According to the 2019 State of Agile Report, Scrum and Scrum hybrid frameworks are the most popular agile methodologies in use today. That said, only 48% of organizations said that their agile projects are at least mostly successful.

So what gives? Why is there a continuous disconnect between the core principles of agile and how they’re translated in a Scrum environment? How do businesses with middling success rates reach the upper echelon of agile and Scrum performance?

In this blog post, I’m going to take you through a list of some tips and tricks that will help you use both the agile and scrum methodologies more effectively. These adjustments all work towards enabling your organization to grow its operations into a model of agility and efficiency.

Let’s get started!

 

Immerse Yourself in Agile and Scrum

First, before you even get to implementing or customizing the titular framework, you must know the difference between agile and Scrum.

I’ve previously covered the differences between agile and Scrum on our blog. You can click the link to read the full, in-depth blog post.

To briefly summarize both concepts:

Agile is a set of values that software developers and business professionals alike have developed a love-hate relationship with. On the other hand, Scrum is a practical translation of agile that prioritizes collaboration, continuous learning, and iterative delivery.

If only it were as simple as that.

Ron Jeffries famously echoed murmurs in the IT and developer communities that, in reality, Scrum and agile are miles apart.

 

Jeffries clarifies this opinion in an accompanying blog post, saying:

“Scrum can be used in an Agile and agile fashion. It can be used in accord with the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto, and it can be used in a responsive and flexible fashion. It can also be used with truly terrible values and principles, and without being flexible and responsive. That would be bad.”

What we’re left with is a broad truth, but one that hasn’t reached a consensus online. Agile still holds value for developers and business professionals and, when executed well, Scrum can be an accurate reflection of those principles. However, as Jeffries pointed out, that’s not an automatic.

It’s important for agile project managers, scrum masters, and other stakeholders to immerse themselves in both agile and Scrum. Once that’s accomplished, you can decide which framework is the right one for your organization.

 

Get Organizational Buy-In From the Beginning

Assuming that you’re comfortable with agile and Scrum as concepts, and believe the latter is the best framework option for your organization, the next step is getting universal buy-in.

This step isn’t as easy as it may seem at first. It’s one of the most important parts of any successful digital transformation but it’s also one of the most difficult to get right. The secret sauce, just like any good marketing campaign, is clear communication about the benefits of agile.

As this Forbes article points out, more frontline employees (45%) than executives (37%) believe that people prefer the status quo. It’s a discrepancy that author Mark Murphy singles out as one of the defining reasons why agile change management fails:

“The data is pretty clear that frontline employees are going to be less excited by change than top executives. In fact, every role except managers is significantly less excited about change than the top executives [...] As you head down the organizational hierarchy, each subsequent level becomes more populous, customer-facing and responsible for executing change. That simple fact suggests that if executives are concerned about the success of their change management efforts, they should put considerably more time into persuading the people most likely to resist their efforts.”

Some easy ways to ensure that the importance of a shift to agile and/or Scrum is clearly understood include:

  • Ensuring employees that the change isn’t just necessary—it’s a good thing
  • Create a sense of urgency by extolling agile and Scrum’s virtues
  • Get everyone on the page by encouraging open, honest conversation and collaboration

If your organization is able to get buy-in from all the necessary stakeholders, then implementing a version of the agile methodology is a far easier task.

 

Successful Agile Implementation Requires Stronger Planning

Successful agile implementation is built on the idea of project flexibility.

However, flexibility often serves as a blanket excuse for “truly agile” teams or organizations who are instead just disorganized, directionless, and, as a result, operating with a certain kind of lawlessness.

How do smart, educated agile project managers arrive at this point? All roads typically lead back to poor planning, or even a lack thereof.

Recent studies indicate that more than a third (34%) of all agile projects don’t start with strong planning. As such, 30% of respondents believe their company’s projects are only occasionally completed on time or under-budget.

As John Yorke notes that agile frameworks like Scrum too often serve as half-baked “solutions” for unsolved organizational issues:

“The term Agile is too often used as an excuse not to plan, it’s success and popularity have meant that the term is commonly used and often by those that don’t know what it means but are looking for a ‘framework’ to justify their disorganization, their failure to plan, or as an excuse for cutting corners.”

Yorke goes on to say that enforcing certain boundaries within an agile framework like Scrum can actually promote more innovation and productivity rather than inhibiting it:

“Adoption of Agile methodologies does not reduce work, it focuses you on doing the most important work first, and to do that work to a defined and consistent quality standard. It imposes control and restrictions, there are rules in all of the frameworks [...] Anyone that thinks adopting Agile will be easy, or that adopting Agile means they don’t have to plan, or document or design or prioritize, has missed the point entirely.”

 

Balance Quality and Velocity During Development

Another big misconception about agile and frameworks like Scrum is that they promote lightning-fast update delivery.

This was reflected in the 2019 State of Agile Report. 74% of respondents said their main reason for implementing agile was to accelerate software delivery. However, in reality, agile success is not all about speed.

You have to balance deliverable quality as well. Interestingly, only 43% of respondents said they implemented the agile methodology to enhance software quality. This priority gap can sabotage an organization’s efforts to bring an innovative product to consumers.

As this Harvard Business Review article illustrates, when executives value velocity at the expense of deliverable quality, they end up circumventing the true essence of agile:

“Executives launch countless initiatives with urgent deadlines rather than assign the highest priority to two or three. They spread themselves and their best people across too many projects. [...] With the best of intentions, they erode the benefits that agile innovation can deliver.”

This rings true for professionals in non-managerial roles as well. As per this PMI study, the biggest detractors to agile success are:

  • Taking on too many projects at once
  • Frequent changes in project scope
  • An insurmountable number of backlog items
  • An inconsistent approach to the team’s workload

Being able to accelerate agile software development timelines using a Scrum or Scrum hybrid system is valuable in itself. But, quicker upgrade or new feature delivery has its limits when the deliverables themselves are mediocre in quality.

After all, if speed completely overrides quality as an agile project management priority, your user experience will suffer as a result.

 

Build Information Bridges, Not Silos

Information silos occur when important data is not shared between teams or departments within the same organization. This can cause a variety of larger problems, including rampant miscommunication and misinformed performance metrics.

Most of all, information silos fly in the face of one of agile’s core values: individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Now, to be fair, processes and tools have their place, especially as a business grows and scales its operations. However, if clear communication and information transparency get lost in the shuffle, teams will only be working with part of the story and handicapping their work.

As Holly McGurgan notes in this Chron.com piece:

“If your research and development group selectively shares information with your marketing division, the marketing team will make decisions based on the limited information it has, which might not be accurate. For example, the marketing division might plan a major push for a current product because it is unaware that research and development plans to release a new version in nine months.”

It’s easy for these types of information silos to get political as well. Executives get passed from department to department, each one trying to avoid getting held responsible for the negative impact of this fragmentation.

Walter Scott elaborates in this Forbes article, saying:

“Each team uses its own data because they want to preserve the dataset that supports their point of view. In this pattern of behavior, if you control your own data, no one can hold you accountable. Silos defeat collaboration and stymie value creation.”

In both agile and Scrum environments, information silos run contrary to notions of collaborations, teamwork, iterative development, and continuous learning.

Instead of building higher silo walls, use that same data to construct bridges that can bring staff members and even entire departments closer together.

 

Recap

Using agile and Scrum effectively isn’t as difficult as some organizations may think. It’s all about knowledge, collaboration, transparency and, above all else, understanding the benefits and limits of an agile approach.

Once you unlock the secrets behind successful agile and Scrum processes, your business will be able to flourish in a digital-first age. That means boosting productivity, increasing your revenue and/or market share, and scaling your operations for future growth.

A more efficient way of working is out there for the taking. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.


There are tons of software options that can make the transition to a fully agile environment easier, especially on a developer-friendly platform like Jira. That said, Insight continues to stand above the competition for a reason.

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Originally published Feb 4, 2020 3:00:00 AM

Late 2019, we did a brand split. Mindville is the company behind the Insight products. Riada provides expert consultancy services on all things Atlassian. Riada can be found at riada.se. Mindville is an Atlassian Platinum Top Vendor and Riada is an Atlassian Platinum Solution Partner.

Topics: Agile