This is a technique that was developed to radically reduce the time it took to write new software applications.  It recognized that teams in very intense work periods do not always function properly.

Scrum (an Agile technique) – started off as a rethink of project management by Jeff Sutherland,  a fighter pilot in Vietnam.  He saw that combat fighter planes and big projects had a lot in common.  They had to avoid being shot down. He noticed that large projects were:

  • typically late with lots of pressure and no fun
  • run even later as more resources were applied to help speed them up. Typically the new staff were “tripping over each other” and having long dysfunctional meetings, going nowhere quickly
  • frequented with duplication of effort
  • often over planned only to find the “game had changed”
  • constantly hitting a road block which the team members frequently were unable to surmount as they did not have the skills or internal respect within the organisation.

Sutherland had a challenge to produce a new product in six months.  He discovered:

  • a 1986 HBR study “The New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka that noted best teams looked like sports teams, all linked together, overcoming obstacles with intensity
  • discovered a company called Borland who thrived on – communication saturation –  a daily meeting
  • developed SCRUM and was successful.

The features of SCRUM are best illustrated in Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1:  How SCRUM works

Instead of over planning one needs to have a clear vision of what you are after.  With this shared vision you take a small chunk of work, saying, if we deliver this feature we will progress the project.  We thus do not need a massive project schedule befitting an Apollo space programme.

The key is that this chunk is about two weeks of effort and is an isolated standalone part of the project that can be signed off by the customer as “yes that is what I want”. This chunk is called a sprint.

Each day the team’s members delivering the sprint meet in a stand-up meeting.  They are asked to talk about:

  • what they did yesterday
  • what are they doing today
  • what are your road blocks which are barriers to progress

Their debrief is to take no more than a minute or so and some teams even have a dumb bell to be held out with the rule you can only talk as long as you can hold it up.  The team leader, renamed the “scrum master” notes all the road blocks and immediately sets about removing them with an appropriate phone call or walkabout “Pat, please will you make time this morning to see my corporate accountant.  I understand Sam has being trying, for the last few days, to meet you.  This is now holding up the year-end and the CEO and auditors will soon be on mine and your back shortly if we cannot resolve the issue today”.

At the end of the session the group end the session touching fists, a homage to the source of this technique.

This scrum does many things, it replaces loads of emails, as the team members get to know what has been done and going to be done and by whom. It makes everyone accountable.  There is no place for a cruiser.

Visit Jeff Sutherland’s YouTube presentation to understand more details.  The following presentations will help you to understand more about this great technique.