Teamwork is crucial in software development – possibly even more than in many other industries. After all, a group of specialists, who are used to work largely independently and on their own, must suddenly function as a team. And instead of being able to program quietly in their virtual bubble, tasks now have to be distributed, processes coordinated, and schedules agreed upon.
This is a challenge that has caused many projects to fail. One of the methods that help to master these difficulties is agile software development using the Scrum method.
In this article, you are going to learn what the biggest challenges are in a team of software developers – and how to apply the Scrum method in practice to ensure trouble-free teamwork. And as a result, a fast and successful project flow.
Table of Contents:
- What is Agile Software Development with Scrum?
- What are Agile Methods (for Software Development) – and their Respective Objectives?
- What does Scrum mean? (summary of the “method”)
- Key Project Elements and Terms of the Scrum Framework.
- Members (and their Respective Roles) of the Scrum Team.
- Project Flow of the Scrum Method.
- Tips for Practical Implementation and Best Practices of Agile Software Development with Scrum.
1. What is Agile Software Development with Scrum?
Agile methods were initially conceptualized in the early 1990s and have been continuously developed thereafter. Due to the short development cycle through an iterative and incremental process (approaching the optimal solution step by step in repeated work steps), agile methods are widely used especially in industries where requirements are relatively volatile.
In the following chapters, for a better understanding, we will first explain the differences between traditional and agile project management methods. In addition, we will go into more detail about the characteristics of one of the most popular of these: Scrum.
2. What are Agile Methods (for Software Development) – and their Respective Objectives?
This involves project management methods that are characterized by developing only products that fully meet the customer’s expectations. This is ensured by short, intensive, and repetitive work cycles that enable rapid development – and, if necessary, equally rapid editing.
For this purpose, the project is divided into several (short) phases before beginning, which are then worked through one after the other. In other words, in order to proceed to the next project phase, the previous one must always be completed first. And in order to complete a project phase, all participants (including the stakeholders) must give their approval. This means that they must be completely convinced of the results of the respective phase.
The key to achieving this goal lies in the constant exchange among team members, as well as the equally constant communication with the aforementioned stakeholders as external project participants.
Agile programming therefore refers to methods based on the idea of iterative development. With this, projects are carried out by self-organized, multidisciplinary teams. The biggest advantages of agile development are that it enables a team to deliver results faster, with higher quality and predictability, and to respond better to changes. This makes it one of the simplest and most effective processes for turning a theoretical idea into a practical software solution. The four core values of agile are:
- The interaction between team members is more important than strictly following processes and using tools.
- A working software is more important than overly detailed documentation.
- Responding quickly to changes is more important than blindly executing a pre-determined plan.
- Working harmoniously with the customer is more important than tough contract negotiations.
The foundation of agile software development was documented in written form in the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” in 2001. It represents a groundbreaking way of thinking about delivering services to and working with customers. For example, it starts with the customer describing how the end product should be used and what problem it should solve. This clarifies the client’s expectations for the final output for the project team even before the actual project work begins.
Once it starts, the team goes through a repetitive process of planning, executing, and evaluating. In the course of these development loops, the final product may undergo fundamental changes. In fact, it should: but only to better meet the needs of the customer (and, subsequently, the users). Continuous collaboration and communication – both between team members and all other project participants – is, as already mentioned, one of the foundations of agile processes.
Agile methods or concepts such as Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum guide software development in small, self-managed workgroups. Through this, great improvements in project processes can be achieved compared to traditional project management methods (such as the waterfall model or in a broader sense also the lean startup method). Three main problems that occur during the software development process – and which are significantly reduced with agile methods – are:
- Insufficient communication within the team.
- Inadequate planning of the development process.
- Insufficient software testing.
A concept of the agile methodology, which is widely used for the development of software, is as already mentioned Scrum. What it is exactly, how it works, and how it is applied in practice – you will learn in the following chapters.
3. What does Scrum Mean? (Summary of the “Method”)
In simple terms, Scrum is a framework (process model) that helps teams to collaborate. Much like a rugby team (hence the name) practicing for the next important game, the concept encourages teams,
- to learn through experience,
- to organize themselves while working on a problem,
- as well as to reflect on their wins and losses,
in order to continuously improve.
Definition of the Scrum method: Scrum is a simple framework that helps individuals, teams, and organizations to create value through customized solutions to complex problems.
While the Scrum model is most widely used in software development, its principles and theories can be applied to all types of teamwork. This is one of the reasons why it is so popular. Scrum is basically a part of agile project management methods – but as mentioned earlier, it is not a method in its own right, but merely a framework that describes a set of meetings, tools and roles. These all work together to help teams structure and manage their collective efforts.
In doing so, Scrum is simple to implement. The framework is intentionally incomplete, defining only the parts that are absolutely necessary to apply the theory. It furthermore relies on the collective intelligence of its users. Instead of giving them detailed (and therefore rigid) instructions, Scrum’s rules guide only the relationships and interactions between them. Therefore, they give the freedom to independently adapt the approach to solving challenges that unexpectedly emerge during the process.
Within the given framework, various processes, techniques, and methods can be applied. Scrum thus merely envelops existing practices – or makes them redundant – but does not represent one of its own. In summary, Scrum does nothing more than visualize the relative effectiveness of the current management, work environment, and techniques, allowing structural improvements to be made to them.
To better understand the Scrum concept, it is important to understand the main terms used in it. For this reason, we have compiled them for you in a clear and concise manner in the following list.
4. Key Project Elements and Terms of the Scrum Framework
- The Product Backlog is a checklist that contains all the requirements of the final software to be created.
- The path to the final product is divided into individual sections (project phases), which are referred to as Scrum Sprints. These in turn have the same structure and the same goal: To complete individual functionalities of the final product. The typical duration for such a sprint is between 1-2 weeks and one month.
- In order to measure the completion of a phase (Scrum Sprint), a Definition of Done is created for it. This is the clear definition of which sub-functions of the final product must be completed in this phase.
- During each Sprint, the most important User Stories are selected from the Product Backlog and transferred to the respective Sprint Backlog.
- A User Story describes a desired feature (functional requirement) in narrative form. User Stories are usually written by the Product Owner and are his responsibility.
- The Sprint Backlog, in turn, is the checklist for the respective repetition/project phase, which is assigned a Definition of Done.
- The project work to be done in a Sprint is called Scope.
- And its result as an Increment: The software available after a Sprint, checked and released according to the Definition of Done.
- The team works on the defined Sprint Backlog and reviews the work is done (progress made) daily in a short Scrum Meeting, in which the entire team meets to exchange ideas.
- A Scrum Team works with three process documents – the so-called Scrum Artifacts: These are the aforementioned Sprint Backlog, Product Backlog, and the Increment.
- And includes three roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team. The latter works directly on the development of the product and is committed to the stakeholders to complete it.
But more about the individual roles of a Scrum Team – as well as their most important tasks – in the next chapter.
5. Members (and their Respective Roles) of the Scrum Team
A Scrum team needs three specific roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team. And since Scrum teams are cross-functional, the development team also includes testers, designers, UX specialists, and OPS engineers in addition to software developers. We would like to present the most important roles of a Scrum Team in more detail in the following.
1. Product Owner:
Is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team. The way this is done can vary greatly depending on the organization, the workgroup’ s composition, and the person of the Product Owner himself. He is also responsible for the effective management of the Product Backlog, which is a tutorial containing all the requirements for the product to be created (in this case, the software to be programmed). This task includes the following activities:
- Conceptualizing and clearly defining the goal of the project,
- preparing, clearly communicating, and arranging the Product Backlog elements,
- as well as ensuring that the Product Backlog is understandable, accessible and comprehensible.
The above tasks can either be carried out by the Product Owner himself or delegated to others. Regardless, the Product Owner always remains accountable as the final instance.
For him to be successful, his decisions must be accepted by all other individuals involved in the project. These decisions are visible in the content and order of the Product Backlog, as well as through the accessible Increment (the software available after a Sprint, reviewed and released according to the Definition of Done), at the Sprint Review.
The Product Owner is an individual – not a committee – and can therefore represent the needs of various stakeholders. These are external entities, groups or organizations that are actively involved in the project or are influenced by the project’s progress and/or outcome. Those who want to change the Product Backlog can do so by trying to convince the Product Owner of the changes they want to implement.
2. Scrum Master
Scrum Master: Is responsible for establishing the framework as defined in the Scrum Guide. He does this by helping everyone understand both the theory and the practice of the model. And not just within the Scrum Team, but throughout the entire organization. The Scrum Master is also primarily responsible for the performance and effectiveness of the entire team. He achieves this by enabling the team to critically review and improve its procedures and working methods within the given framework. Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve both the team and the parent organization.
3. Development Team:
Are the individuals on the Scrum Team who are actively involved in creating a specific aspect of the targeted end product during each Sprint (a repeatable fixed time box in which a “finished” product of the highest possible value is created).
The specific skills required by the development team in a given case are broad and vary with the scope of work. However, the developers are always responsible for:
- Creating the plan for each sprint (the Sprint Backlogs),
- ensuring quality by adhering to the Definition of Done (checklist of activities that must be completed for each feature of the product),
- adjust their plan each day towards the sprint goal – and,
- hold each other professionally accountable to reliably achieve the goals set.
In addition to the three roles of the Scrum team, there are the stakeholders. As already mentioned, these are entities, groups, or organizations that are actively involved in the project or are influenced by the course and/or outcome of it. This however is a very broad term that can refer to an equally large group of people. For example:
- Customers (clients),
- Users (of the final product),
- as well as middlemen and resellers,
- up to other Scrum Teams within the same organization.
Generally, though, the stakeholders are the client or customer (as well as any investors). With input from the stakeholders, the development team creates the desired software. This is done with the support of the product owner. The Product Owner is in contact with the stakeholders and ensures that the Development Team is always fully informed about their ideas, requirements, and comments.
6. Project Flow of the Scrum Method
In agile software development with Scrum, the following phases are passed through. Some of them only once – usually at the beginning or at the end of the Scrum – others are repeated in every Sprint.
- Organization of the Product Backlog: Sometimes known as Backlog Grooming, this process is the sole responsibility of the Product Owner. The main tasks of this person are, as already mentioned, to push the product in the direction of its vision, as well as to keep constant contact with the market and the customers. Therefore, he maintains this checklist with the help of feedback from users and the development team to keep it clean and organized. Finally, based on it, not only the priorities in the project are set, but also tasks are created and distributed.
- Sprint Planning: In this meeting, the work to be done in the current Sprint (Scope) is planned under the presence of the entire Development Team. It is led by the Scrum Master and is the place where the respective Sprint Goal is jointly decided. From the Product Backlog, the User Stories that match the goal are subsequently added to the Sprint. These not only match the goal but are also considered realistic by the entire team. After this planning meeting, it must be clear to every team member which functions must be delivered at the end of the Sprint – and how they themselves can contribute to achieving them.
- Sprint: Is the actual period of time that the Scrum Team works on completing an additional functionality of the software to be developed. Two weeks is a typical length for a sprint. However, some teams feel a week is more appropriate to keep the scope of work manageable. Others a month to enable serious progress on the product. Dave West of Scrum.org advises that the more complex the project and the more uncertainties, the shorter a sprint should be. In the end, the sprint duration is always a team decision, based primarily on practical project experience. This is ultimately the core of the empirical nature of agile methods like Scrum.
- Daily Scrum or Stand Up: This is a super-short meeting that takes place every day at the same time (usually in the morning) and place. Many teams try to complete the meeting in 15 minutes – but this is only a rough guide. This meeting is also called the “Daily Stand Up” to emphasize that it needs to be as short as possible. The goal of it is to make sure everyone on the team is on the same page, aligned with the sprint goal, and has a plan for the next 24 hours. The Stand Up is also the time to express any concerns about meeting the Sprint Goal or to discuss any issues that arose during the last day of work. A common way to conduct a Stand Up is for each team member to answer the same three questions that are:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What do I plan to do today?
- Are there any new obstacles or problems that have arisen?
Sprint Review: At the end of the Sprint:
the team comes together once again for a detailed (but this time informal) meeting to watch a demonstration of the completed features or to review them themselves right away (agile testing). The Development Team presents the backlog items that are now “done” to stakeholders and teammates to get feedback. The Product Owner has the final word on whether these can be released – or not. This review meeting is also the time when the Product Owner revises the Product Backlog based on the results of the just-completed Sprint. This means that the experiences and conclusions from it can already be considered in the next Sprint Planning Meeting.
This is the time when the team comes together to discuss what worked – and what didn’t – in a Sprint. This can be (constructive) criticism of individual team members, communication with each other, tools, or specific processes. The idea is to create a place where the team can focus on what went well – and thus can be maintained. As well as what needs to be improved for the next cycle.
So much for the theory of the process of agile software development with Scrum. But because theory can rarely be applied seamlessly in practice at the first attempt, we would like to conclude by giving you some tips and best practices for its practical implementation.
7. Tips for Practical Implementation and Best Practices of Agile Software Development with Scrum
In this chapter, based on our practical experience, we have compiled some of the most common problems that can occur during teamwork with the Scrum method. As well as, of course, the best practices for solving them right away.
- Daily Scrum or Stand Up: We have often experienced that the meeting can quite quickly turn into a reading of the calendar entries of the previous and the next day. However, the theory behind the Stand Up is that the exchange within the team is limited to a daily meeting so that they can fully focus on their work for the rest of the day. So if the Stand-Up meeting turns into a reading session, don’t be afraid to address this openly to bring the focus back to a real exchange of information and experience.
- Documentation: The Scrum method – like other agile software development methods – significantly reduces the amount of documentation. In fact, agile methods postulate that the code itself should be the project documentation. For this reason, developers who used agile methods to leave more comments in the code. Inexperienced programmers working on areas of the system they had never worked on before often find this way of operating difficult. A solution to this challenge can be executable documentation. That is, its continuous creation while working on the project (developing the software). This executable documentation consists solely of the documentation that must be made available to the stakeholders at the end of the project as part of the product. This varies from project to project, of course, but it usually includes documents such as user operating and support manuals, training materials, and/or system overviews. However, it does not usually include requirements or design specifications – which reduces it to the essentials. On the one hand, this means that there is sufficient documentation to serve as a guide for inexperienced team members. On the other hand, the documentation effort is kept to a manageable level and thus does not unnecessarily cost the experienced developers valuable working time.
3. Involving the customer in the software development process: Close cooperation with the client is certainly of crucial importance for the success of the project. The agile methods themselves state that the customer should be part of the process from the first to the last steps. In practice, however, it is often seen that developers have difficulties working on a project collaboratively with the client. This is because the customer often does not know exactly what he really needs in his future software system and therefore wants to have it included in its programming. A circumstance, which can prevent him from being fully involved in the project. Just as it can be difficult for the team to determine what the next steps in the project development should be due to unclear customer requirements. In our practical experience, several approaches are suitable for improving communication with the customer. These include:
- Designate a single point of contact: As it can be difficult for the customer to work with a complete working group. Also, designate a person who understands the needs of the business (customer) and can communicate them effectively to the group.
- Plan strategically: Instead of scheduling meetings in a shared conference room, schedule them in the company representative’s office. He or she will feel at home there – and therefore safer.
- Use personas: To better understand business needs and drive collaboration. While this tool is imaginary, it can still be used very effectively to gain a more accurate understanding of the customer, and subsequently, more efficient communication.
- Test the software together: Host a lunch-and-learn session or workshop with real data instead of just a demo. This hands-on demonstration gives the customer a much clearer picture of the current state of their software solution. And what this might be missing to represent a real problem solution for its users.
- Highlight the importance of communication that works: Explain the importance of applicable customer feedback.
- Reward collaboration: Recognize the customer’s contribution by inviting them to team events or sending them a notification every time a major milestone is reached. Something like the 100th report generated by the system.
With these practical tips and best practices for agile software development with Scrum, we have already reached the end of our article. We hope that the information and examples listed in it will be helpful for your own software development project. In case you need any support, we invite you to contact us and use our experienced team for your software development – we are looking forward to your message. This way you save valuable time for your launch, which you can invest in building your own team. So that you can handle the next product development completely in-house!