Using Scrum to manage teams

As buzzwords like "agility" and "resilience" gain currency, there is increased interest in Scrum as a general business management tool. However, there is some skepticism since Scrum has historically been mainly used in aid of software development.

Now, in my previous role as section leader for a government agency's Information Management team, I adopted Scrum for around 12 months to execute all non-routine work. Although much of the work related to software, it definitely wasn't about "software development" per se and there were many stories like "clean out purple basement of paper files".

In short: it does work. However, we moved to a modified Scrum-Kanban approach towards the latter half of the implementation – since we found ourselves working around the "fixed backlog" limitation for each sprint more than was useful. I'll explain how this worked in more detail in a later post.

I had consistently good feedback from staff about their experience in the team and from my perspective we were more productive than in a traditional management approach. The best aspect to me was less manager <-> staff communications simply because we "were meant to". For example, the dreaded all-staff weekly meeting went away, but staff understood that they should contact me as "product owner" immediately if there was ever a problem with completing a story. This led to a noticeable shift towards all conversations being focused in aid of solving whatever particular problem we had at the time. To be honest, it felt great!

I don't like dogma, and I don't like some of Scrum's terminology (which consistently gets reported as one of the biggest obstacles to people buying in to the approach). However, there's a kernel of something very special in the approach, and I hope to explore it again soon.

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