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Using Scrum & Sprint in Website Project Management


by Glen Emerson Morris
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Developing state of the art Web based marketing projects is best done using state of the art process management techniques. In terms of “fastest growing trends in managing Web projects” the leading contender is a process called scrum, part of the Agile development process. Scrum's been so successful that anyone managing a software development project should consider using it, especially anyone managing any kind of Website project.

The scrum process has been used to develop Web-based projects at Yahoo, Google, Adobe, the BBC and hundreds of other major companies. Wherever it's applied, the scrum process almost universally increases the projects chance's of success, and makes the development process much more manageable, and less full of surprises.

The scrum process is so simple that adopting it is nearly transparent to upper management, and it rarely needs formal approval. If a project manager chooses to use the scrum method there's not much to stop them. It's effective for nearly any size project, even those with three or four people on the team.

Simply put, the scrum method, or scrum for short, breaks a clearly defined project down into several parts to be done sequentially, and monitors the progress of all team members through a daily meeting designed to identify roadblocks and resolve as them needed to stay on schedule. The scrum development process includes a set of practices and procedures, like rules for meetings, and a set of roles to be assigned to key people.

According to scrum lore the philosophy of how the scrum process views roles is best expressed by a story about a chicken trying to talk a pig into opening a breakfast restaurant named “Ham and Eggs.” The pig declines, telling the chicken, “I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved.”

In the scrum world, the pigs are the people who are working on the project 100%, whose careers are really on the line, and the chickens are the people who are only partly concerned with the development process, like marketing, sales or documentation, or who other wise represent the end user or customer. For this reason, only team members classified as pigs can speak at meetings.

Scrum's have three types of active roles, or “pig” roles; the project manager, the scrum master, and all team members who qualify as pigs, including the programmers, QA engineers, graphic artists and copywriters.

The project manager runs the project as usual, and the scrum master is responsible for overseeing and enforcing the scrum process (though the PM can opt to also be scrum master).

At the beginning of the scrum the scrum master holds a meeting (limited to four hours) that determines and clearly specifies exactly what features will be included in the project, a feature set referred to as the Scrum Backlog. The meeting then allocates the development time required for those features into a sequence of time periods called sprints, which are usually 15 to 30 days long, and assigns people to each feature.

Each sprint has an assigned number of features to accomplish, known as the Sprint Backlog. By the end of the sprint all features in the Sprint Backlog should be complete, and by the last sprint, all of the features in the Scrum Backlog should be finished.

The decisions made at the initial meeting are entered into a project schedule chart similar to a GANTT chart, referred to as a burn down chart. The columns represent days and the rows represent team members and each cell tracks the hours remaining. The number of hours each person on the team will need to finish his work is determined, and entered into the column for day one in that person's row. Each day, each team member must update the numbers of hours remaining to accomplish the task by deducting the hours they actually spent working on the assignment.

Once the scrum has started meetings are held daily, with the following rules:

Each meeting is exactly 15 minutes long, no matter how many people are attending. This will encourage people not to waste words in their answers.

Every person at the meeting who is allowed to speak must answer three questions at each meeting. These are: What have you accomplished since the last meeting? What will you have done by the next meeting? What, if anything, is getting in your way?

Another rule is that people should always stand at sprint meetings. The only exception to this rule should be who ever is designated to record notes of the meeting. (If you don't feel like standing for 15 minutes, you can sit down and also take notes, or at least pretend to, which is usually good enough.)

The meeting should be held at the same time in the same room everyday. Attendees, including senior management, may be subject to penalties for being late. Sprint teams at some companies require tardy attendees to wear a rubber chicken hung from their neck for the duration of the meeting.

At the end of the last sprint, and the development phase is over, a meeting is held to evaluate how well the scrum went, and to identify changes that need to be made in processes and procedures to improve quality and efficiency.

Over time, a company can learn to use the scrum process very effectively, and scrum usually produces good results even for those new to it. However, those new to scrum should do the following. Since the scrum process develops a few features at a time it is critical to allow enough time at the end of the process for integration testing to make sure all the parts work properly together as a seamlessly integrated application. Too often it is assumed just because a particular feature may work by itself (passing what is called “unit testing”) it will also work OK with all the other features in “integration testing.” Often, it won't. There should be at least one sprint solely dedicated to integration testing, and more if possible.

With that caveat considered, the scrum process promises a great deal of return for very little effort. Few development processes are as simple to implement, and yet so effective. If you have a software project coming up, you should consider using the scrum process. It would be hard to do better.


Glen Emerson Morris was recently a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.





Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved


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