Every morning, the team gets together at a stand-up meeting, talks about where the project is at and reformulates a plan to get everything done. This occurs every morning and it would drive old-school leaders crazy.
In rugby, a scrum is a battle between the two teams as they get down into a huddle and restart the game. That’s exactly what a scrum in project management is: all of the teams working in a project get together every morning and restart the project.
There are three things that every morning scrum needs to ask:
- What did everyone do yesterday?
- What’s stopping us from doing what we need to?
- What are we doing today?
These three simple questions can change the entire trajectory of a project.
Clearly, any project on the scale of Three Gorges Dam isn’t going to change everything each morning, but individual teams can get together and make changes.
Where are we at right now? The example we can use is a software development team. Each morning the team can consult on how much of the project was completed the day before. This gives everyone a sense of forwarding progress.
What’s stopping us? On most lists, this question appears after “what we are doing today?” That seems a bit out of place. The beauty of placing this question here is that the team can address yesterday’s problems before planning the day’s activities. Another powerful reason that this system works is that the team knows that they can set aside roadblocks until the following morning. Unless they’ve encountered something that completely stops the work, it can wait until tomorrow. So for a software team, sections that aren’t working, coding issues, or problems with third-party integrations can all be discussed and addressed in the morning scrum. Time isn’t wasted during the workday fixing issues that aren’t emergencies.
What are we doing today? The team can sit together and discuss everything that everyone else is doing each day. This creates a dynamic that lets the entire team work as a unit by keeping everyone informed about everyone else’s actions.
How scrums differ from traditional management
Scrums allow for more movement and agility of the team than traditional top-down management.
In the traditional model, each team or team leader would report to the project manager their status, challenges, and plans. If team A’s activities might slow down team B, the manager will need to communicate this information and look for ways to smooth out the problems.
This has its problems.
- It relies on a single person to find solutions. While team members might supply input, the manager is really the only person who has all the information. That makes it difficult to use the wisdom of the crowd to solve problems.
- The entire operation runs the risk of becoming a cult of personality. The manager is the only leader and they are able to control the entire team’s actions, for better or worse.
- The leader’s weaknesses become the team’s weaknesses. If, in our earlier example, the project manager is not proficient with a specific computer language or integration, she may not convey the problems clearly and completely.
By using a scrum technique, everyone can get share their concerns, wisdom, and solutions. This will allow the entire to move quickly to resolutions.
Using technology for larger teams
One major key to the evolution of project management is technology. You can put together a morning scrum via an online group, like a Google Hangout or Skype, and be able to move a project forward every day.
From the other side of the planet, people can join the scrum and share their information.
If your project spans time zones, you might find it helpful to hold a couple of scrums each day. That way, everyone has a chance to be in a scrum. The leaders of the teams can share what was said in the last scrum if needed.
How to be a Scrum Master
The key to being a scrum master is to set an expectation for the team that scrums will be productive, open, and short. Here are a few simple rules to remember when doing a scrum management system:
- Short – Anything over 15 minutes is too long. The only questions are what did you do and what are you going to do. Any problems can be put on the table and the interested parties can work it out after the scrum has ended. By putting it out where everyone can see, other members can give input if they have it.
- Openness – Everyone needs to know that everything is acceptable in the scrum. There may be times when the leadership is the issue. If that’s not stated and maintained, problems that might be distasteful to the boss will never be discussed. Invariably, these problems will resurface at just the wrong time and suddenly the boss is sitting at his desk wondering why no one ever told him.
- Productive – The leader will help to keep the team on track. The key here is to make sure that she always keeps everyone on point throughout the very short meeting. If something needs to move to a smaller subset, she can push it over to the teams that need to handle it. If something is major or needs her direct involvement, she can let the team know what she’s doing and make changes. If there is something so major that all work must stop, she can give the team other projects to do while the problem gets fixed.
Knowledge is doubling almost every day
We hear this phrase a lot, “Human knowledge doubles every day.” Well, there are a few things to say about that.
The definition of knowledge is a little amorphous. I’m not sure that all of it is useful information.
Also, I don’t see us getting a lot smarter about how we use the knowledge that we have.
Nonetheless, the one thing that that statement does is that the world is moving ever faster. The only way to keep up is to be Agile. You need to be able to move around obstacles, solve problems on the fly, and make things happen even if it seems overwhelming.
The only way that a project management team, or indeed the whole human race, can handle how much the world is changing and how fast is through Agile.
Scrum Masters will end up being the great leaders of tomorrow because they will be the ones that keep everyone moving in the same direction without causing anyone to feel left behind.
Yada is not just the leader of the Project Management Training Institute (PMTI). He helped to write significant portions of the project management standards worldwide. He is helping PMI right now in reviewing, directing, and leading the development of the 7th edition of the PMBOK(r) Guide to incorporate the most monumental changes to project management standards in 35 years. He shares his wisdom with readers via the PMTI blog.