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6 Universal Business Lessons Learned From 6 Months of Going Scrum

Carina Duffy

HubSpot & Inbound Specialist, Inbound Speaker, Certified HubSpot Trainer and Consultant, Retains 10 HubSpot Certifications

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6 Universal Business Lessons Learned From 6 Months of Going Scrum Blog Feature

Published on January 23rd, 2017

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When I was in college studying athletic training (gasp!), I spent a semester working with the Penn State Rugby team. One of the most fascinating aspects of the sport is the scrum.

During the scrum the entire team comes together, every different position, arm-in-arm, to move towards one goal: moving forward and getting the ball.

Little did I know that a few years later I’d be implementing a framework that was named after this simple rugby play, let alone in the inbound marketing world.

So, what do rugby and project management have in common?

That’s something I’ve been learning since we started using the Scrum framework here at IMPACT, and what I want to share with you!

Scrum as a project management framework has been around long enough that most people have at least heard the term. It’s often viewed from the outside as a project management buzzword - just a trend and that was my initial thought as well:

Here’s another new project management style that’s says it’s going to solve all of our problems, but will it just be another trend that will be replaced by something else in a few years?

Now that we’ve implemented Scrum on our client services marketing team, I’ve learned a lot. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m now a total Scrum junky. I think you’ll see why.

What is Scrum?

Developed by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in the 1990s, the Scrum framework is an approach to managing complex projects.

The duo used it to manage software development projects separately, then  came together to combine their experiences into a paper, which ultimately led to authoring books and developing training programs for teams.

The name Scrum was inspired by the rugby practice of having cross-functional teams come together to get something done.

Although it was initially created for software development projects, since its inception it has been utilized on all kinds of different teams, from car manufacturers to marketing teams!

If you’re interested in learning more about Scrum and its processes, there are lots of resources out there. You can check the Scrum Alliance’s Scrum framework in 30 seconds for a quick overview, but if you are seriously considering implementing Scrum on your team, I highly recommend reading Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland.

My purpose here, though, isn’t to teach you about the details of implementing Scrum. It’s to tell you about the lessons I’ve learned on a team that uses Scrum to get stuff done.

So, on with it!

Here are some of the many lessons my team and I have learned since starting Scrum six months ago.

1. You don’t need to plan every detail before taking action.

The waterfall model, or traditional project management, seems very organized.

You spend all kinds of time thinking through everything you will need to do to get a project done. You plan out each phase that needs to happen and how long each will take. You make a really nice chart of how it’s all going to work.

The only problem is, how often do those plans ever come to fruition? How often does a project go exactly as planned? In my experience, never,  Usually when something goes wrong, or an issue comes up, the entire plan has to change or get put on hold.

All that time that was spent in initial planning is wasted or at the very least your project is delayed.

These situations would often happen on our marketing team.

We’d plan out everything we were going to do for the upcoming month and feel great about it.

However, as time progressed, more and more things would come up. There was always something; whether a client had to shift priorities, a change of heart, or an opportunity to do something more valuable came up.

All of the planning we did at the beginning of the month was no longer useful, and we had to start from square one. With Scrum, however, expecting the unexpected is built into your process.

Every day is a chance to pivot to whatever is most important and changing plans is expected rather than being an inconvenience. Sounds pretty great, right?

It is! When you expect that things will happen that you just can’t anticipate beforehand, it sets the whole team up to be able to change plans quickly and efficiently and saves you hours of planning time on the front end.

2. Your team needs to be the problem solver -- not the methods you use.

Often times when new methodologies for project management or other processes come along, it’s easy to want them to solve all of your problems.

When we were preparing to go Scrum, I’d hear people say things like “With Scrum, that won’t be an issue.” or “When we start Scrum, we won’t have that problem.”

Well, that’s not really true. It’s not that using Scrum stops problems from occurring or things from going wrong, it’s that Scrum enables you to solve the problems you have quickly and effectively as a team.

This is actually one of my favorite parts of using Scrum.

When a problem arises, it’s the entire team’s problem, and the entire team must come together to find a solution, no matter what their role or position.

This took me back to the image of the rugby scrum - every person, in every position, coming together to move the ball forward. That’s what it is!

Scrum gives you a structure to make continuous improvements.

There are daily and weekly “ceremonies” (a.k.a. meetings) where the team constantly asks each other questions like, “What did we do well?” “What could we have improved on?” and “What are some action items that will help us overcome this problem?”

Problems are quickly put out in the open, discussed, and the team works together to find an effective solution. It’s a beautiful thing.

When you and the rest of your team take ownership for everything that happens within the team, everyone is empowered to jump in to help solve problems. There’s no blaming others or blaming the system, only working to solve whatever problem has arisen.

3. Sacrificing small amounts of time for communication saves you time in the long run.

One of the core rituals of Scrum is the daily standup.

Your team gets together every morning for 15 minutes, and everyone says:

  • what they did yesterday
  • what they’re going to do today
  • what impediments are keeping them from doing what they need to do

When I first heard about this, I thought it sounded ridiculous. Every single morning? Isn’t that a little much?

The answer is no, it isn’t.

Daily standups are effective for a few reasons. First, they keep the entire team on the same page with what is being worked on. Second, everyone on the team sees what the impediments are to the team moving forward and can solve them on the spot if possible or be prepared if they can’t be.

Lastly, it allows the team to gauge what progress has been made and where everyone needs to pivot to make sure that everything gets done.

In the long run, these standups actually save time. Taking 75 minutes out of your week could save your team hours of time making up for a lack of initial communication.

4. Multitasking isn’t always a good thing.

Being able to do more than one thing at a time is often viewed a positive, but on Scrum teams it’s not.

There’s some great research out there about why multitasking doesn’t actually allow you to get more done.

With Scrum, you work on one thing at a time until it’s done and sent to another team member for review. This keeps things moving for the team, maintaining a steady flow of tasks through internal review and acceptance rather than big chunks all at once.

If anyone has a task that’s dependent on something you are working on, it also ensures that you will get it done as quickly as possible to allow them to work on what they need to.

Full disclosure: I broke this rule while I wrote this post, and I feel really guilty about it. And yes, it did slow me down. Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.

5. Your Success = Team Success. It’s all or nothing.

Scrum is all about the team. It doesn’t matter if you got a lot of work done this week if your team didn’t. You rise and fall with your team.

While this can potentially be frustrating, it motivates everyone to do what they can to help each other and also provides comfort knowing that success is not solely your responsibility.

Our team recently had a really productive week, one of our best yet, but it was one of my least productive weeks.

With traditional project management, I would have felt terrible, but with Scrum, productivity is redefined in the context of the team. Even if I didn’t contribute as much tangible work as I usually do, I contributed in other ways that led to our team overall having a great week.

In reverse, if I have a really “productive” week but the rest of my team hardly gets anything done, there’s no celebrating for me because my personal velocity doesn’t matter if the team’s velocity doesn’t follow along.

This motivates me to make sure I’m helping solve not just my own problems but the problems of everyone on the team.

6. Don’t start work you can’t finish.

This is a tough one.

Have you ever started working on something and realized halfway through that you don’t have everything you need to complete it, or you need someone else to finish what they’re working on before you can finish?

Work can get stuck in this middle ground indefinitely, and it slows you down as well as the team. To avoid this, Scrum uses a term called Acceptance Criteria, which defines exactly what needs to be completed in order for a task to be marked as Done.

If there isn’t clear acceptance criteria on something, or you look at it and realize that you don’t have everything you need to actually get it done, you don’t start it.

Key Takeaway

Utilizing the Scrum framework has done some amazing things for our team. From increased team productivity to better communication to increased happiness, I can safely say that Scrum has made our team better on many levels.

Here are just a few specific ways Scrum has improved our team:

  • Improved transparency with clients.
    • With Scrum, every sprint (a.k.a. week) we have a list of exactly what we are working on for each client and we share that with them. If part way through the week they decide they want us to work on something else, we take something of equal value out of the sprint and bring the new priority in. This prevents scope creep in either direction, and allows clients to know exactly what we’re doing for them week to week.
  • Improved team communication and collaboration.
    • It’s hard to have poor communication when you constantly have meetings to talk through everything that the team is doing. Doing retrospectives for each sprint helps us to tackle any issue that came up and make sure it doesn’t happen again, and daily standups make sure we’re staying on the same page at all times.
  • Less stress!
    • I don’t think ANY methodology can eliminate stress, but Scrum has definitely decreased our team’s stress levels day to day. There’s something very reassuring about knowing exactly what you need to do and when you need to get it done by. That’s not to say we don’t get stressed, but our project management system no longer causes that stress.
  • Increased individual and team velocities.
    • Since we started Scrum, we’ve steadily seen a steady increase in the amount of work we’re able to get done both as individuals and as a team. It’s no surprise that as we’ve gotten better at working as a team, our individual velocities have also increased. Before Scrum we no clear way of measuring how much we were getting done, now with Scrum we can clearly see our team improving!
  • High morale!
    • If you walked around the office here at IMPACT and asked people how they feel about Scrum, you wouldn’t hear a single person say that it hasn’t been a huge benefit to this agency. We absolutely love it (if you couldn’t tell by now!). For all of the above reasons, morale at the office has been higher because of the principles that Scrum has instilled in us. It really is a mindset, and it’s a mindset that sets you up to do better work faster.

These lessons are just a few of many that we’ve learned, and I know that there will be many more to come. Have you been on a team that uses Scrum? Let us know what lessons you learned in the comments below!

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