Isn’t Scrum a project management method?
No it’s not. It’s a product development method (or framework). The good thing is that projects always have a product development part, so Scrum can be embedded in your project. But beware of the ‘Scrum organizational model’ which is geared mostly to product development companies. If your organization chooses to have projects for all new development, you’ll need to embed Scrum in a project management model.
What is a project?
A project has a start, a middle and a finish. If I tell you this project will take approximately one year, an interesting process starts, most people assume there will be a single release at the end. Even if the project will be done with an Agile process, it will still be ‘steering’ to that single release. All work is planned backward, burndowns are drawn to show you’re going to make (or miss) the deadline. Anyway, most of us know what a project is.
What is product development?
The origins of Scrum point to a different model. The term product backlog says it all, it’s not ‘project’ backlog, but product backlog. The default case for Scrum assumes you’re working on releases of a product, which has a virtually infinite lifespan like MS Windows, Atlassian Jira, Patientkeeper etc.
Scrum is a method for making development part of your entire business. Or better yet, if development is an integral part of your business, use Scrum. You rarely start projects because new features (large of small) are just put on the backlog. Developing software is what you do. This differs from organizations that do projects to not only develop software.
Can we do projects with Scrum?
Using Scrum for projects is surely possible, but you can’t use Scrum for projects without some project management practices like tracking budget, planning resources and loads of extra communication. For instance, if you’re using Prince2 and Scrum, you’re mixing two models, the ongoing development model of Scrum and the special initiative (a.k.a. project) model of Prince2.
A pure Scrum implementation should be embedded in a big vision, when you’re working on a product that vision is clear, product managers are hired for that purpose. On the other hand, in a project the variations are much more extreme, the choices of technology, budget, features etc. are much harder to make. In many cases projects are done by people who aren’t familiar with the context and history of the company. So expect a preparation phase where the team at least gets acquainted with the environment.
The thing to watch out for when implementing Scrum is that you don’t try to force the product development model onto your organization. If you use projects, accept that there is a ramp-up at the start of the project. And you might need a different process for different phases of the project. For instance, when your project is a one-off special campaign launching project, you can’t expect the whole organization to react quickly (just-in-time) to your impediments. It’s a matter of economics: any process changes they make for your project will be obsolete by the time your project finishes, which is not always worth the effort.
So what are you saying?
You can use Scrum in many contexts, it fits product development companies like a glove. Organizations that are project-driven can also benefit from Scrum, but not without some extra project practices. Expect a phased process and accept that in a project some impediments are simply not worth solving. Much of the frustration that goes along with Scrum implementations boils down to forcing the product development model (dogma) on your project organization. It’s like forcing a cube in a triangular hole, you’ll get frustrated and it won’t fit, no matter how hard you try. A project management method can be the adapter that makes Scrum fit.