Thursday, 24 July 2014
Is Agile Scrum suitable For Software Development?
The scope of development in the software/IT field
While explaining Agile in a simple and straightforward manner, it can be best understood as a collection of project development methodologies and frameworks, of which any framework or methodology can be used in a successful manner to dynamically develop projects of almost any type and nature, including software development projects. The framework is based upon iterative and incremental development, in which self-organised and self-managing development teams understand, plan, and develop projects under the supervision of a project leader, and offer productivity in the form of short bursts of development cycles (iterative development) known as sprints. A unique feature of all Agile frameworks is that the development carried out by the team is “shippable” in nature i.e. the code developed during the product development cycle is independent, testable, verifiable, documentable, and ready for deployment after it is stringently checked for any “manufacturing” defects.
A second, highly important feature of Agile development is that individuals “owning” the project are closely linked with the approval of development carried out by the team. A particular “code” or “piece” of functionality is checked for regression after it is developed, and subsequently presented to the stakeholders and project owners. They ascertain the development carried out, and clear it as “OK” for future integration into the actual product. This leads to a successful development of software projects, since the management is always aware about what functionality is currently being developed by the team, and up to what extent it satisfies the project objectives. If the project owners feel the productivity offered by the team is not up-to-the-mark, or fails to satisfies them in terms of business value (how much important the code or functionality is from the market point of view, and how much it is worth from the financial point of view) offered by the functionality, they can reject the entire functionality and instruct the project manager to redevelop the particular script or code, based upon a new set of inputs and requirements recommended by them. This ensures that the software project always “maintains” its business value at all times, even while the product is being currently developed.
A third important feature of Agile framework is that all activities in the project are “time boxed”, and therefore, have to be completed within a predetermined time period. In an Agile project, each activity is time bound. All development related activities are “configured” to suit the unique project needs, and a duration “affixed” to them so they can be completed within a stipulated time. This ensures that the project does not “drag-on” and extend indefinitely. The development costs incurred while the project is being developed can be properly and “profitably” controlled, so that the project does not become “too” expensive and difficult to afford financially.
Agile framework differs drastically when compared to traditional linear or Waterfall methodology. In Agile, project development is carried out in short bursts of activities rather than in stages that have to be “completed” one after the other.
The main Agile features include:
· Cross-functional development teams consisting of developers, programmers, testers, QA personnel, technical writers, system analysts, etc. all work together as a single composite team through collaborative efforts, offer and share ideas, and help each other during the development process.
· Working in short, fast-paced development cycles, with focused objectives – Iterative development.
· Shippable productivity at the end of iterative development cycles – Incremental development. The functionality keeps on “growing” through development cycles until the entire application, system, or product is developed.
· Human communications and involvement takes precedence over management authority and delegation of work.
· Total transparency and visibility of the team progress to project owners, stakeholders, and end users.
· Feedback and suggestions help to self-correct and offer new ways and means to carry out quicker, more efficient, and reliable development.
An important feature of all Agile frameworks is that the frameworks are independent of the nature of project to be developed i.e. the framework is not dependent upon the platform or environment used to develop the particular software project. The architecture or design can vary, and could be anything. The important aspect is that an Agile framework has to be implemented in the project first, and its benefits availed subsequently. Please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development.
Scrum, briefly, is a “light weight” Agile framework, used extensively for developing and delivering “workable” software products, very often, and on a consistent basis. The software products can range from the development of new web processes and systems, gaming solutions, plugins, mobile apps, ecommerce websites, corporate portals, development of WordPress themes, RAD (Rapid Application Development) projects, OOPs (Object Oriented Programming) projects, CAD/CAM drafting solutions, port programming and configuration utilities, web development and platform interfacing solutions, etc. Scrum adheres to all Agile principles and features discussed above since the framework is “inherited” from Agile itself.
Scrum offers a new, and a better way of managing software projects. There are many technical reasons why Scrum is popular and why many Fortune 500 companies prefer to use the framework for their project development purposes. While being introduced to Agile Scrum, a question that inadvertently comes to one’s mind is why is Scrum so popular? Why is there so much “hype” about Scrum? Does Scrum offer a magic formula, which can work wonders for your project and software development? Why should an organisation that has been following a particular development methodology, and feels comfortable doing so, should change over to Scrum? There is a separate article which deals entirely with why you should opt for Scrum. The point is, this article focus upon explaining Scrum to individuals who are new to the topic, and have absolutely no idea what the framework is all about, and what it can “do” for you. Efforts have been made to explain that Agile Scrum is applicable to almost any kind of software development, and possesses certain features which make the framework very popular as well as “powerful”.
The actual Scrum process can prove to be difficult to understand, at first, for Scrum beginners. Even though Scrum implementation is not difficult, people need to understand and familiarize themselves about what is product increment, and how it actually occurs during the Scrum process. The second aspect is getting to know about Scrum events. The special meetings, known as “events” are important for monitoring the development activity, and analysing the reliability and effectiveness of the functionality developed by the team. They also help to solicit feedback from the team members as well as the project owners so that the business value of the project is not affected, and maintained at all times – even while the product is being developed. It is worthwhile to get an “overview” of the process first.
1. Project conception - An idea!
All projects, whether involving software development, or otherwise, start with an “idea”. Projects are developed out of needs. A project is planned to fulfil a particular requirement or achieve a certain objective. Moreover, each project results into “something” within a specific time frame – a project cannot extend indefinitely. It is important here to differentiate between a “project” and a “program”. Programs are generally long termed, and can even last for years, unlike projects which have a relatively short life span and last for a brief period, ranging from a couple of months to even a year.
Typically, a person, or a group of individuals realise it is worthwhile to put in efforts and resources, and develop “something” so that “another thing” can be easily fulfilled or availed. The “something” is the product, and the “another thing” is the solution that the project is supposed to provide. This stage of project development involves a lot of discussion and brain storming sessions, where the product is envisioned and “though over”.
Scrum does not figure during this stage. However, the vision seen by the project owners, can, or may, affect the manner in which Scrum is implemented in theproject, in the future. This is because the nature of product to be developed may require Scrum to be configured in a certain manner to obtain positive results from the project.
2. Project release – Getting started with the software project
Once the project is “thought about” the next logical step is to work out the nitty-gritty concerning the project dynamics – the objective of the project, the product definition, how the project should ideally deliver the product, in what manner, what should be the “strength” of the team, how many team members, etc.
Scrum development process does not come into the picture even during this stage. The documentation pertaining to the project is created and “everything” concerning the product to be developed is finalised – in black and white. Scrum does not advocate extensive documentation. You do not have to prepare detailed system flow diagrams and extensive design structures to get started with Scrum development. A basic idea will suffice, and you should only spend that much time and efforts which can get you “started” with the actual development activity. Just enough information and specifications to develop some of the most important product features.
The project release is attended by the “Product Owner” – the person who functions as a project manager in the Scrum project, the Scrum Master who overseas that Scrum is properly implemented and followed by the team while the project is being developed, and the stakeholders or project owners who actually sponsor the project.
3. Creating the product backlog (Product Features List) – Defining the product features and functionality
The Scrum development process starts with the creation of a master list containing all features and functionality required to create the product in totality. In simple terms, the entire product, currently existing on paper as “imagined” by the stakeholders and project owners, is “broken down” into its constituent parts, consisting of individual features and functionality. The product is thoughtfully, and systematically, broken down such that each individual component can be individually developed, tested, and eventually integrated with other software components or functionality developed by the team over the days. Individually developed features and functionality can eventually “give birth” to a working product when integrated or assembled later on.
Each individual feature or list item is known as a “Product Backlog Item” or a “user story” in simple language. Therefore, the product backlog or the master list is fundamentally composed of product backlog items or user stories. The user story represents a product feature, and is individually developed by the team members during the development process – the daily sprints. Each story can be minutely defined. The description, acceptance criteria (Points which need to be “fulfilled” or satisfied before which the story can be considered as successfully developed), its importance in the project, and the manner in which it is supposed to be integrated into the final product, etc. are mentioned for each user story.
Once the feature list is created, it is arranged depending upon the importance of each user story in the product backlog. Important user stories are arranged in the “top” portion of the list, lesser important stories in the middle, and the least important features and functionality in the bottom portion.
4. Sprint planning meeting – Planning how to develop the product features
The product backlog functions as the main “backbone” of all development related activities in Scrum. Once it is “developed” by the product owner and the stakeholders, the actual development activity can start. A special meeting known as a “Sprint Planning” meeting is held to initiate the development activity. The meeting is attended by the entire development team, in addition to the product owner “PO” and the scrum master “SM”.
The meeting is held in two parts. In the first part, the product owner selects some of the most important user stories or product features from the top of the product backlog, and transfers them to a temporary list known as a “Sprint Backlog” for development purpose. During the meeting, the product owner takes the opportunity to explain each user story in details to the team members – how user stories should be ideally developed, and what activities the team should carry out so that each story can be marked as successfully completed.
During the second half of the meeting, the development team analyses the sprint backlog and distributes each story to individual team members. In practise, the team members unanimously decide as to who should take up which story depending upon their development skills and experience levels. Simple and easily developable items are given to less experienced or “fresher” while difficult, or more complex stories are taken up for development by more experienced and senior programmers or developers.
5. The daily sprints – Developing the product features
This is the main area of activity in Scrum. The entire product is developed in “bits” and “pieces” through the daily sprint cycles. A sprint cycle is nothing but a collection of working or “development” days during which the team members actually sit in front of a PC and develop the functionality or product features. The sprint cycle is time boxed and should not extend its deadline.
Each item included in the sprint backlog during the sprint planning meeting should be developed while the sprint is currently underway. A brief meeting known as a “Daily Scrum Meeting” is held for a maximum of 15 minutes each day before the team members start with their work. The purpose of the meeting is to get an idea regarding how much work has been completed by each member the day before, and what each member proposes to do “today”. If a team member is facing any issues or problems, it can be mentioned during the meeting, and the scrum master will ensure that the issue is quickly resolved.
In Scrum, the daily sprints can typically last from 2 weeks up to a maximum of one month. The duration of the sprint is decided during the second stage - the project release - and it should not be extended under any circumstances - even if any of the user stories in the sprint backlog have not been developed, or whose development is incomplete.
6. Sprint review – Checking and verifying productivity (Is the development OK?)
Scrum emphasises upon the development of “shippable” functionality at the end of daily sprint cycle. Each user story developed during the daily sprint is checked by the product owner and verified for its reliability, acceptance levels, and whether it is “bug free”. In Scrum, it is very important to deliver error free features – each user story should be properly tested for any regression, and whether it satisfies the acceptance criteria linked with its development.
Just after the daily sprint cycle ends, a meeting is immediately held to review the development carried out by the team. It is important to differentiate between the daily sprints and the sprint cycle. The daily sprint is the development activity carried out by the entire team on one particular working day. Many such “daily sprints” combine to form the “Daily Sprint Cycle”, also known as the “product incremental cycle” in Agile. The meeting is held at the end of the product incremental cycle – the daily sprint cycle. It is primarily attended by the product owner, the scrum master, and the team members. It is not mandatory for the stakeholders to attend this meeting. They can chose to attend it if they so desire.
The main objective of this event, or rather the meeting, is to check whether the features have been developed by the team as per the production plan, and if the functionality has any “manufacturing” defects. Each feature should be fully tested for any flaws by the team before presenting it in this meeting. The product owner verifies if the feature is error free and checks if it satisfies the acceptance criteria linked with it. It is a kind of “final” check carried out before presenting the development to the stakeholders and the project owners in the subsequent sprint retrospective meeting. During the meeting, the product owner instructs the team how it can improve its working and offer even better productivity by employing more efficient programming practices and standards.
7. Sprint retrospective – Finalising product functionality and contemplating about further improvement
Agile Scrum advocates client participation. The client is a very important entity in Scrum, and has the final say as far as the development of product features is concerned. The Agile manifesto primarily stresses upon client participation and delivery of time bound product increments because these two aspects are very important for developing successful projects. A “satisfied” client often “comes back” to develop more projects since successful projects help the client to earn higher profit margins.
The retrospective provides an opportunity for the entire team to demonstrate its productivity in front of the stakeholders and clients. In addition to the product owner, scrum master, the development team, the meeting may also be attended by end users, technical staff personnel, vendors, distributors, and even other employees since the main purpose of the meeting is to avail feedback from individuals and entities closely linked with the market, and who have sound knowledge regarding what product features are likely to “score” in the market once the product is launched, and what can aid the product in “selling”.
The retrospective also offers a chance for the entire team as well as the client to reflect upon the development process, and discover what more could be done to make the product better. Discussions are carried out to ascertain the rate at which user stories are currently being developed by the team, and what new processes or methods need to be introduced to quicken the process.
Labels: Agile framework, Agile sprint, development methodology, product backlog, product backlog item, Product owner, project management, scrum, Scrum Master, user stories, user story
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