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Is Scrum Just for Software Development?

Posted by Dave Todaro

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Scrum-non-software-projectsWhile the vast majority of time Scrum is used for software development, people often ask, "Can you use Scrum for non-software projects?" The emphatic answer is always "YES!"

How do we know Scrum can be used on non-software projects?

At Ascendle, agile is woven into everything we do including marketing, operations, HR, and even the writing of my new book. Why? Because Scrum provides an extremely lightweight structure to keep priorities in order, create a short-term plan, stay organized while executing, and creating a schedule forecast.

If you have a to-do list and a team that needs to accomplish a result, Scrum can help. Scrum is not a project management methodology. It is a social engineering framework designed to make your team more effective.

Scrum isn’t for every project. If you’re building a new office building using traditional construction techniques, you probably don’t need this type of adaptive framework. However, if you have requirements that are likely to evolve over the course of the project, and at least some technical unknowns about how exactly the work will be completed, Scrum will likely make your life a heck of a lot easier.

Software development projects are a particularly good fit for Scrum. This is one reason it continues to become more popular as software development continues to grow at a rapid pace. Although Scrum has its origins in software development, it’s been used to successfully manage many types of projects.

The Benefits of Being Agile in Any Environment

Let's preface the benefits of agile with some of the pitfalls of traditional project management. Conventional approaches include significant upfront planning which does not consider the changing needs of a project over time. New information that emerges over its lifetime impacts the priorities and the course of the project, often rendering the original plan useless.

Big projects managed in this way continue on with no end in sight and stakeholders are left asking "When will it be done?" over and over again, with no solid answers.

So how does Scrum mitigate these pitfalls?

  • Limits unnecessary upfront planning. Scrum focuses on the maximization of “doing.” With a shorter cycle of upfront thinking, rather than long-term planning, the team can get to work producing a result that delivers business value now. The plan can then emerge over time based on information about what’s happened to date.
  • Addresses shifting/changing priorities. Favoring short-term priorities over long-term planning allows you to focus on the most important work. Ruthless prioritization during each sprint cycle keeps the team working on the most important items. This allows the team to address changing business needs, customer demand, and shifts in the market.
  • Provides a predictable path to progress. With sprints that last anywhere from one week to one month, results are produced on a regular schedule because there is a planned deliverable at the end of each sprint, a measurable result in a finite timeframe. You don't get carried away with projects that have an ambiguous completion date that keeps getting pushed out because nothing ever quite gets to “done.”

Applying the Scrum Framework

Once you decide to adopt the Scrum Framework there are some key aspects that you will want to consider. Utilizing the core disciplines and ceremonies of Scrum can give your team expanded results.

  • Focus on highest-value work. Be sure your work is driven by stakeholder priorities and provides business value. It’s easy to feel productive when your team is checking items off its to-do list, but are those things what matter most to the business? Are they providing any real value?
  • Be realistic about your planning. Ask yourself, “What is achievable in the timeframe allotted with the team members available?” “Can we get this done before the end of our sprint? If not, what CAN we get done?” Focused planning within a fixed timeframe forces the team to push to a goal post and put’s the appropriate pressure on them to deliver something.
  • Communication, Communication, Communication. Regular meetings and an increased level of communication may seem like a waste of time and a burden to your team. Scrum ceremonies are designed to have your team communicate more effectively and succinctly while freeing up more time to put heads down and get things done. I've seen teams who have increased productivity and decreased wasted time and effort by simply implementing a daily standup.

As you look to optimize your team's work in an agile fashion, remember, Scrum is a blueprint, a loose framework. Don't be too rigid. Wear it like a loose garment so you can make it work for your team, but don't lose the basic fundamentals.

What are the different non-software project types you’ve seen or worked on that successfully used Scrum? What were your key success factors? Please leave a comment with your experience and what worked best for you and your team.

Topics: Scrum, Software Development, Project Management