Agile, Scrum, BINGO!

June 3, 2024

By Kim Burmeister|CEO

On a recent sales call, I was speaking with the client and I mentioned that we use Scrum, an Agile framework for our software development methodology. She quickly exclaimed, “There it is! Agile is the center square on my Bingo card. I knew you were going to say that word today.”  A bit confused, I asked why she had this reaction. On a previous project, another vendor had sold Agile and Scrum as the solution to all of their problems. That by leveraging this framework, everything would miraculously be easy. The experience that followed was anything but simple and she quickly soured on the magic of Scrum.

In my years in software development, I have witnessed the many ways that people implement this framework. Some run what I would call Scrum Lite, while others have every single facet dialed in and don’t stray. Depending on the space you work in, some variation may be okay but I think there is one thing that has to be in place regardless of your approach. Education and involvement of your client. 

I often say that utilizing an Agile philosophy without client feedback is moving back to Waterfall methods. While Scrum brings in the practice of iterations, the important differentiator is the feedback at the end of the Sprint. The client having the opportunity to see something and let you know if it is what they need or expected is the ultimate value in the process. 

For those of us close to this process, the steps and value are obvious. For clients who haven’t worked in the software industry, they need education. To start, the meetings used throughout this process can be foreign. Understanding the difference between Spring Planning, Backlog Grooming, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective is important, but they also need to understand the objective of these activities and their role in each. Are they required to attend? How should they prepare for the session? What questions should they be asking? 

Next up, is education on the typical roles involved in Scrum. If you don’t know what a Product Owner does or why you need a Scrum Master, it will be difficult to effectively communicate as a broader team. As a services organization, we even have to talk about the difference and interaction between our Product Owner and the client’s Product Owner or Product Manager. If roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined, you will find a lot of finger pointing and lack of accountability.

The last piece that is integral to understanding the concept of Agile and how decisions are made throughout the process, clients need visibility into the Planning Poker process utilized by your team. To understand the estimation system used will help them better visualize what can fit in a Sprint and what needs to be broken down further. Agile is truly the practice of being able to quickly pivot to address higher, more critical development stories but may also mean other features drop off the list and into the Icebox. Even the terms “Stories” and “Icebox” need to be taught to those you are engaging with on projects.

Here is a quick reference guide for those who may already be wondering what these terms mean:

Sprint Planning: Scrum Event that is time-boxed to 8 hours, or less, to start a Sprint. It serves for the Scrum Team to inspect the work from the Product Backlog that’s most valuable to be done next and design that work into the Sprint backlog.

Sprint Retrospective: Scrum Event that is set to a time-box of 3 hours, or less, to end a Sprint. It serves for the Scrum Team to inspect the past Sprint and plan for improvements to be enacted during future Sprints.

Sprint Review: Scrum Event that is set to a time-boxed of 4 hours, or less, to conclude the development work of a Sprint. It serves for the Scrum Team and the stakeholders to inspect the Increment of product resulting from the Sprint, assess the impact of the work performed on overall progress toward the Product Goal and update the Product backlog in order to maximize the value of the next period.

Product Owner: Role in Scrum accountable for maximizing the value of a product, primarily by incrementally managing and expressing business and functional expectations for a product to the Developers.

Scrum Master: Role within a Scrum Team accountable for guiding, coaching, teaching and assisting a Scrum Team and its environments in a proper understanding and use of Scrum.

Without education for your client, they will certainly feel like you are speaking a foreign language. Taking time before your first project kickoff, take the time to level set on the language, process, roles, responsibilities, and expectations to work effectively together. 

Remember that this is also a two way street. Do you know the typical terms used by your client within their industry? This could be a great time to ask your client to educate you on their objectives, vision, language, market, and more!

Also, to learn more about how SpinDance does Agile Scrum with an outsourced team, check out our previous blog here.