By Neil Dyke, chief technology officer, Phoebus

In recent years, Phoebus has embarked on an agile approach to working, which uses agile scrum methodology. We are following this as strictly as we can to achieve the proven benefits – the last thing that we wanted to design is “The Phoebus version of agile”!

Agile follow the four values and 12 principles set out in the Agile Manifesto, which was developed in 2001 by 17 software developers on a skiing holiday in Utah, USA. They saw an increasing need to move away from documentation-driven software development and build on agile principles that had been taking shape. Recent research in the US shows that over 70% of companies now follow an agile approach.

The Agile Manifesto provides guidance on how to create and respond to change and how to deal with uncertainty but for agile to work effectively, the whole organisation needs to support that mindset.

What is agile scrum methodology?

Agile scrum methodology is a sprint-based project management system whose goal is to deliver the highest value to stakeholders. Scrum is a framework that allows for more effective collaborations among teams working on complex projects. The methodology relies on incremental development.

We run each iteration consisting of a two-week sprint, where each sprint’s goal is to build the most important features first and come out with a potentially deliverable product. More features are built into the product in subsequent sprints and are adjusted based on stakeholder feedback between sprints.

Other project management methods we used previously emphasise building an entire product or solution in one iteration from start to finish. Agile scrum methodology focuses on delivering several iterations of a product to provide the highest business value in the least amount of time. This allows us to continually demonstrate the application we are working on to our clients before the entire development is finished.

Benefits of agile

We have seen that agile scrum methodology has several benefits. First, it encourages products to be built faster, since each set of goals must be completed within each sprint’s time frame. It also requires frequent planning and goal setting, which helps the scrum team focus on the current sprint’s objectives and increase productivity.

Scrum is beneficial to any team that is working toward a common goal. In particular, scrum is a collection of meetings, roles and tools that work together to help teams to better structure and manage their workload.

The greatest benefit of agile scrum methodology is its flexibility. With the sprint-based model, the scrum team typically receives feedback from stakeholders after each sprint. If there are any problems or changes, the scrum team can easily and quickly adjust product goals during future sprints to provide more valuable iterations.

This way, stakeholders are happier because they get exactly what they want after being involved every step of the way. Regular demonstrations to our clients and feedback from them, and other stakeholders, has allowed us to adapt and change the project we are working on.

Three core roles

There are three core roles in agile scrum methodology which we have implemented into our innovation team:

Scrum master, who is the facilitator of the scrum development process

Product owner, who represents stakeholders, typically clients

Scrum team, which is a self-organized group of around seven colleagues who have the business, design, analytical and development skills to carry out the actual work, solve problems and produce deliverable products. The scrum team is supported by architects and business analysts.

All of these people are committed to the scrum project. We have learned that within a scrum team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, which is the product and/or sprint goal.

What can happen if you don’t use agile and scrum

It’s not just software development that benefits from agile, all sorts of industries use it. The following is a true story and resulted in the company involved moving to agile.

A rail locomotive sales team visited a client and ran many workshops to capture what was exactly needed from the next generation of trains. The sales team diligently documented every feature which had been asked for by the client and brought the requirements back to the product team.

Two years later after an investment of millions of dollars the locomotive was built and showcased to the client. The client’s reaction … number 1: the train company had mis-interpreted the requirement; and number 2: the rail industry had moved on significantly in the preceding two years and that type of locomotive was no longer required.

The key takeaway … build incremental value and ensure continuous client engagement and continuous feedback from your clients to enable you to validate initial requirements and adapt them as the market changes.

From the Army to scrum master

Not long ago we employed a project manager who was actually a qualified scrum master. He had been a career soldier before cross training as a scrum master for software development.

I once asked him how he had made the jump from the military to software. His story was an interesting one. He had decided to leave the army, and the army provides support to “retiring” soldiers to find jobs in civilian life.

He did not know what to do, so his advisor asked him to describe his day-to-day activities. Every morning he led a meeting with his team of soldiers where they identified the pieces of work that needed to be completed.

They broke those larger pieces of work down into smaller tasks and tracked them via post-it notes on a board. This highlighted which tasks were not assigned, tasks in progress, and tasks which were blocked or had prior task dependencies. In other words, he was acting as a scrum master in the Army and using a sprint board – hence the retrain to something with which he was familiar.

Who knew that the British Army runs with agile and scrum?