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Your First 10 Scrum Steps

Irrespective of your positivity and excitement about the prospect of implementing Scrum, the question of where to start can dampen your mood. Ilan Goldstein, author of Scrum Shortcuts Without Cutting Corners, shares 10 tried-and-tested steps to help new practitioners get their Scrum show on the road.
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As a teacher, I find nothing more satisfying than "watching the penny drop" in other people. The moment when a student suddenly realizes that there's a "better way" is always evident, and these epiphanies bring a new, exciting energy into any classroom. As a Certified Scrum Trainer at AxisAgile, I'm lucky enough to experience these "Aha!" moments on a regular basis, and nothing pleases me more than the passion that I see from newly minted ScrumMasters as they leave the training ground to tackle the real world.

Many of my students have non-trivial hurdles to overcome when attempting to transform their particular world of work through the implementation of Scrum; and, irrespective of their classroom positivity, the thought of what happens "the day after" can be extremely daunting. "Where do I start?" is the typical overwhelming thought that can flood the mind and dampen all momentum. For this reason, I established the following 10-step plan to assist anyone struggling to decide on a starting point. While these steps are by no means the only way forward, they offer a firm foundation from which to inspect and adapt.

Step 1: Stop, Look, and Listen

After leaving a dynamic training session, you might be awfully tempted to just jump right in and immediately start introducing Scrum holus-bolus! And why not? Scrum is proven, popular, and it just makes sense—right? True, but unless you have an identifiable problem to fix, instigating change can be next to impossible.

Instead, start off by simply listening. Be a fly on as many walls as possible. Ask various stakeholders and team members what their perceived issues are with the incumbent development process. Pay attention to the overlapping issues and the collective pain points.

Step 2: Talk Up the Benefits

With any transformation, it's crucial to promote the specific benefits that the new initiative will bring to the table, especially in relation to addressing the pain points collected in step 1. You also need to take the benefit/promotion game a step further: Don't just promote the general organization-wide benefits of Scrum, but make sure that all key players and stakeholders understand the targeted, specific benefits that will help to make their individual roles easier and more effective.

Step 3: Start a Pilot Project

Scrum has worked in countless situations, but it hasn't necessarily been proven to work in your particular organization. Remember that Scrum is a framework. As a change-agent, you need to determine the various approaches that you'll take to implement that framework, taking into account the culture, environment, maturity, and various other nuances of your organization.

A pilot project establishes a small, controlled microcosm from which you can determine the tactics and techniques that work best. A successful pilot project can become the case study for internal promotion, and it will inherently contain answers to some of the potential questions and concerns expressed by the broader business.

Step 4: Create a Scrum-Friendly Environment

Scrum requires a conducive environment in which to operate. The working environment is multifaceted, with a range of elements to consider; including, but not limited to culture, communication, and tools. To this end, it's important to co-locate each individual Scrum team, as much as is practical. Scrum can certainly work in a distributed environment, but a co-located team that can frequently communicate face-to-face will always be more effective.

Step 5: Skill Up!

In addition to learning as much as possible about the Scrum process itself, it's important to support a path to proficiency for ancillary technical practices such as test automation. If you're utilizing Scrum to build software products, life becomes a lot more difficult if you don't also implement automation tests. If your team still relies on manual regression testing, start exploring and learning about test automation, to avoid slipping back into waterfall development.

Step 6: Build an Initial Backlog

Simply put, without an initial, refined Product Backlog, you really can't start Sprinting. The first cut of the Product Backlog doesn't need to be an exhaustive list, but it needs to be at least one Sprint's worth of work (ideally, two or three). Spend time with the new Product Owner to establish this first rolling wave of requirements.

Step 7: Benchmark Your Agility

Getting a solid appreciation of the status quo can be helpful in ascertaining progress as your Scrum adoption gets off the ground. The free Comparative Agility website created by Mike Cohn and Kenny Rubin provides a very useful survey to gauge where your team (or broader organization) sits on the Agile spectrum. Periodically retaking the survey and then comparing your new results to the previous ones can shine some light on your relative improvement.

Step 8: Just Start Sprinting

It's not necessary to wait for all the stars to align perfectly before starting your first Sprint. Continuous improvement is the name of the game, and your first few Sprints no doubt will be riddled with issues. This shouldn't be cause for concern, but rather seen as an opportunity to learn and improve, using regular Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives as key vehicles to help your team inspect and adapt.

Step 9: Fix the System

Once the team is humming along, it's time to look outward. Identifying and resolving team impediments is good, but indirect systemic impediments often can stop a team from reaching its full potential. Areas of concern could be broad and far-reaching, such as how individual performance reviews are conducted or how signoff procedures need to work. Often such areas can't be changed overnight, but someone needs to start challenging the status quo and at least questioning why things are the way they are.

Step 10: Spread the Word

Don't be shy! If you're starting to see victories, no matter how small, celebrate them! Let other people know about them. Successful organizational adoption can only occur once enough momentum has been accumulated, so start rolling that snowball as soon as possible.

No matter how daunting a mission may appear at the onset, every journey starts with a single step. The first step is always the hardest; but, trust me, the subsequent steps become easier.

Finally, remember that Scrum's three pillars of empirical process control—transparency, inspection, and adaptation—don't apply only to building great products. They also apply to the process of implementing Scrum in the first place!

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