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First experience with Scrum

written by Robin Schubert on 2019-05-25 | Tags: miscellaneous

Scrum is an agile software development approach, that allows small teams to quickly adapt to changes in planning to reach a common goal. Long-term goals are broken down to smaller tasks which are handled in sprints of usually 2-4 weeks. This allows to reach goals in a flexible but target-oriented manner in small steps.

While this concept is not exactly new, I - working in a quite small and research oriented business - just learned about it a few months ago: dgplug is the Durgapur Linux User Group with a great IRC channel on freenode.net (#dgplug). Shakthi Kannan (alias @mbuf) is scrum master of the Operation Blue Moon (OBM), a project that uses scrum to organize participants' schedules with tasks related to learning and open source contribution.

In February this year I started to work along the scrum guidelines on my own and all by myself at work. Since this concept is designed for small teams of 3-9, I couldn't adapt everything from the start. As an emacs user, these templates and macros from github were very helpful to organise my sprints and track my progress. I also implemented the enhancements suggested by Shakthi on the OBM project.

Even if I could not follow the scrum pattern very strictly, working as a one-man-team, I quickly noticed some positive effects on my work. Particularly I learned that I do not do a very good job, estimating the time I need to finish a task. I frequently underestimate the effort it takes. At the same time, I found myself working much more focussed and less often distracted from my actual goals. The costs caused by task-switching are staggering. Before following these patterns, I was often interrupted by colleagues asking for favors, and often I did not return to my initial task very quickly.

Since April I have a new colleague who actually has some scrum experience from an earlier job in a software company. Having him on board, we also managed to convince two further colleagues to work together in scrum mode. Working in a 4-men team showed me another flavor of this technique - we're now planning our time together, harmonize our goals and discuss the order and priorities of tasks we need to accomplish to get there. We were working on projects together before, but it's never been very transparently reviewed what each of us was actually working on, or what problems and obstacles we were facing. With our regular meetings and planning sessions, it feels like we were reborn as a team that we've never really been before.

When we started our meetings, it was an unfamiliar feeling at first, to report about the last sprint and especially about failures or unforeseen delays. It took hours to plan the next steps and sprints. But we have improved quickly and got used to the procedures and the insight about the huge benefit of reporting openly to the colleagues and to plan next steps in collaboration came even quicker.

There are other popular agile frameworks, as of yet I did not try any of them. However, what I can say today is that - for me - working according to scrum is much better than working without guidance at all. Maybe many aspects of the concept come naturally for some good organised people, but I very much benefit from the framework to put me back on track and focus my energy in the right direction.

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