The Criteria for Choosing a Successful Scrum Pilot

[article]
Summary:
Ask any Scrum trainer and they'll tell you the same thing: Adopting Scrum is hard. There are many reasons for this. Chief among them is that Scrum is so dramatically different—in terms of practices and principles—from traditional project management paradigms that it requires team members to truly reorient their attitudes and working behaviors. One common way to initiate a Scrum transformation is through a pilot project. But even then, how does a team that's never used Scrum before tell if a project is a strong candidate for a successful pilot?

Ask any Scrum trainer and they'll tell you the same thing: Adopting Scrum is hard. There are many reasons for this. Chief among them is that Scrum is so dramatically different-in terms of practices and principles-from traditional project management paradigms that it requires team members to truly reorient their attitudes and working behaviors. It's innate to human psychology to resist change and organizational change of that order is no exception. So, once an organization makes the commitment to adopt Scrum, how does it go about it? What first steps should it take to begin its Scrum transformation? One common way to initiate a Scrum transformation is through a pilot project. But even then, how does a team that's never used Scrum before tell if a project is a strong candidate for a successful pilot?

Unfortunately, there are no black-and-white criteria for selecting a pilot, but there are some very important considerations to take into account. When an organization is ready to try Scrum, there's more at stake in that pilot than the success of the project itself. Namely, it's also an opportunity to illustrate the value of Scrum-in boosting quality, reducing costs, and slashing overall cycle time-to management and stakeholders. When management supports the initiative, it's much easier for organization-wide change to occur and the likelihood of Scrum spreading to additional teams increases.

Before we move on to examine which attributes the most successful pilot projects possess, it's worth considering what the effects of a poorly chosen pilot are. Quite simply, a haphazardly selected trial project will supply an organization with the proof that Scrum can't work there. Of course, that diagnosis would likely have as much to do with the project itself as Scrum-or any other management paradigm for that matter. Remember: Scrum isn't a silver bullet. If a project is floundering, whether from an incommunicative or unavailable manager or code that is irreversibly buggy, then Scrum can't be expected to revive it. Instead, a Scrum pilot requires as much of a "blank slate" as the organization can provide. Only those projects with few pre-existing impediments have the potential to showcase how Scrum can radically impact collaboration and productivity and, from a business perspective, costs and release forecasting.

So what attributes of a project make it a good pilot from a business perspective? A project with high visibility for managers and stakeholders is a good place to start. Of course, the best way to ensure that management will be paying close attention to a project is to choose one that has a direct impact on the bottom line. After all, no testimonial of Scrum's potential can speak as loudly or as convincingly as the facts of finishing on-time and under budget. Pilots with the potential to contribute significant business value are ideal because, when they succeed, they generate a buzz around the new paradigm that starts at the top and spreads organically throughout the organization.

Of course, what kind of project the pilot is also plays a crucial role in its prospects for success. For example, is the work to be done new development or is the project already underway? Given a choice between those two options, we'd always recommend that organizations use greenfield projects as pilots because it gives developers a carte blanche for Scrum to succeed. When a team inherits a migration project, it must navigate existing code, which, when added to the task of acclimating to Scrum, can be a distracting burden.

Similarly, an ideal pilot has a single business customer or, in Scrum parlance, Product Owner. In fact, this single factor is likely the most

User Comments

1 comment
T. Pot's picture

"...an opportunity to illustrate the value of Scrum-in boosting quality,"  In my experience, SCRUM, most definitely, does not increase software quality.  It helps to "test in" quality (we'll fix it in the next release), a known worst-practice.

If done right, Agile can produce quality software.  Make sure there is heavy Product Owner (end-user SME) involvement.  If the stories don't pan out at demo time, drop them from the iteration, so only quality code is released.

January 2, 2014 - 3:59pm

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