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A Recipe for Enterprise Agile: Mixing Scrum and Smart

This approach of mixing best practices, techniques and tools from Scrum and Smart has proven to be very successful in a variety of projects and project types.

To cut to the chase, those of you who have worked on enterprise or service oriented projects before already know this. These types of projects are characterized by a large number of organizational, functional and technically complicating factors. Enterprise software development projects are surrounded by a large number of complicating characteristics and challenges:

  • Many different stakeholders. Projects have many different parties in the organization that are involved. Often such project realize goals for different departments or divisions in the organization. As an example I once coached a project that served 22 different departments. Quite often these departments or division try to achieve overlapping or even contradicting goals.

  • Business processes. In general enterprise projects (re-)implement (parts of) business processes that are key to the organizations success, rather than building a straightforward web application.
  • Complex software architectures. Most likely, enterprise projects implement business processes in a complex IT landscape or architectures. Think of landscapes that host many different applications all tied together.

  • Many external dependencies. Often, such complex IT landscapes contain components that are outside of the organization. Services that run outside the corporate firewall, with other parties. A well-known issue to agile projects is that of availability. We need the new version of the service in this iteration, but the other party runs a waterfall project that will not deliver this year.
  • Changing requirements. In enterprise projects, requirements change continuously. Either by changing insights during the project, but more often due to changing legislation or regulations.
  • Many different types of deliverables. Traditionally these projects count many different types of deliverables. Think of service description, user interface, process models, non-functional requirements, workflow, project plans, test plans and many, many others.
  • Multiple roles. Large organizations count many different roles that are involved in projects. There are business analysts, enterprise architects, information analysts, testers, release managers, SAP developers, web developers, SAP functional consultants,

Thus these projects often become a mission impossible, and fail in large numbers. Such projects are difficult to estimate, therefore hard to plan. For developers it’s tough to build the software, often with many new techniques and technologies, and even worse for testers, these projects are sheer impossible to test well. This is where a structured agile approach should come to the rescue.

Being agile in enterprise projects

Independent of the approach that is applied, or the agile process that is followed, being successful in agile projects follows a number of key principles:

  • Multi-disciplinary teams. Instead of different roles such as analysts, designers, developer and testers working in consecutive stages in a project, all roles collaborate in implementation individual work items from heads to tales.
  • Short iterations. Project work in short time boxes, in most cases 2, 3 or 4 weeks. During such an iteration, a number of work items is planned, completed and evaluated – with different terminology in use with different agile processes.
  • A small standardized unit of work. Projects require a small unit of work, to be able to deliver a number of them in a single iteration. Large work items such as traditional use cases therefore do not apply well.
  • Testing from day one. Testing is an important discipline during agile projects. Testers are involved from the very first iteration, when the first work items are realized. Note that testing in most projects goes way beyond the obvious unit testing – which is actually a developer technique.
  • Continuous measurement. Successful agile projects continuously measure their progress. Since they are always delivering individual work items, measurement in agile projects is easy.
  • Continuous (process) improvement. At the end of each iteration not only the realized work items are evaluated, but also the project approach itself is evaluated, leading to highly effective project approaches.

Scrum in a nutshell

When organizations first start with agile projects Scrum is often the process of choice. At this point in time, Scrum is by far the most popular and best known agile approach. Scrum is a straightforward lightweight agile process that offers a collection of highly applicable principles and techniques for short iterative projects and is easy to understand. It also specifies a remarkable terminology with scrums, sprints and user stories.

In a nutshell, Scrum is characterized as follows:

  • Sprints. Projects are divided into iterations, called sprints. In general these are 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Backlogs. Work items still to be done during a project reside in a so called project backlog. At the start of each sprint items from the backlog are placed in the sprint backlog. These are the worked items to be realized.
  • Sprint cycle. All iterations follow the same simple process, with an iteration kick-off, actual work and a retrospective workshop for evaluation.
  • User stories. The main unit of work is usually the user story, although this is not mandatory. This rather informal requirements technique is shared with the agile process extreme programming.
  • Planning. In general the project and sprint planning is visualized in task boards, which usually are put up on a wall using post-its. Progress is monitored by using burn down charts, a straightforward diagram that on a daily basis displays the number of points still to realize. A trend line in the burn down chart extrapolated from the points identifies the likely project end date. Again this technique is shared with a number of other agile processes, including Smart and extreme programming.
  • Delivery. Every iteration or sprint results in fully delivered products, software or otherwise.

Scrum has proven to be a successful approach in many (smaller scale) web projects. In larger, more complex, service or cloud oriented and enterprise projects, I think Scrum needs to be augmented to fit the project and its environment. Let me explain.

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