We had the following situation at the beginning of the project:
- A list of requirements in an excel sheet. The list summarized all the thoughts, requirements and promises in an informal way.
- There was a file containing drawings, print-outs from the former legacy system, or other artefacts for each requirement.
- The project was embedded in a much larger project, which was driven by Hermes. Hermes is a heavy weight project management process, commonly used by governmental organisations in Switzerland.
- Our team consisting out of 6 software developers was hired to implement the software. We proposed to implement scrum and the customer agreed on that.
- A contract with a fixed price that was signed a long time before the developers got involved
It was not easy to push scrum from the development into the larger project organisation. There was a good support for our ideas as long there was no organizational change required. Fortunately we could find a pretty good product owner, but we never have had a scrum master. The role of the scrum master was poorly fulfilled by me as a developer.
What worked well?
A lot of things worked great and I'm sure that the project would have failed without an agile approach. Here is what has worked well (see glossary for details on scrum terminology):
- User-Stories: After we had transformed the informal requirement list into user stories it was relatively easy to estimate it without knowing the details of each story. Even they were written by us developers it was better than working with the initial list.
- Productbacklog: It gave us a very important planning tool, helping us to focus on the near future and driving the development sprint by sprint.
- Sprints: The sprints helped us a lot to get the team and the customer focused on the tasks that needs to be done. Without focusing on the sprints and forgetting a little bit about the whole, we could never have done it.
- Sprintplanning: Without this meeting we wouldn't have any chance to know what to implement in detail. The customer was surprised at the beginning that he had do discuss every detail of its initial requirement list again in the sprint planning.
- Sprintreview: It was often the only opportunity to present our achievements and we always have had valuable feedback from the customer and the future users. Customer and users could get used to our development velocity and that took a lot of pressure away.
- Adoption: The product owner discovered during the first two sprints that he needs to be better prepared for the sprint meetings. He started to consolidate the different opinions in additional meetings prior to the sprint planning.
- Team forming: Event just two out of six developers have worked together before we never had major problems.
What were the problems?
- Scrummaster / Productowner: The roles were never officially assigned to persons, because the customer was confused in relation to the existing roles and responsibilities (project manager, solution architect and so on). There was also no budget available for 'non-programming' tasks.
- Importance of the Productbacklog: The Productbacklog was built by the developers and was never owned by the product owner! Once it was initially built up it was used by the management to plan the whole year front up! Development was driven by the Productbacklog, but not testing, acceptance and fulfilment of the contract.
- Testing: We couldn’t get things DONE. As the customer didn't test we started to do more functional and system testing. But after one year we do not have any story officially accepted by the customer. But due to the sprint-reviews I'm pretty confident that the customers will accept it after some minor changes.
- Sprint-Retrospectives: the meeting was always held by the team but not attended by the product owner, nor attended by another representative of the management. Therefore just team internal impediments could be addressed and resolved. No organizational impediments were resolved.
- Meetings: Due to the fact that the whole process was not coached by a scrum master, the meetings usually were ineffective and lasted too long. I, as developer and interim scrum master, was too involved to act as a coach for both the team and the customer.
- Responsibility: There were few developers in our team that couldn't follow the process at all. They were not able to catch up the information at the sprint planning nor did they take the responsibility to fulfil the tasks they assigned themselves. We lost a lot of our performance here as senior team members had to coach them. Those weaker developers could not catch up as every thing went far too fast for them.
I'm still saying that agile development is the best practice I know. In my career as a software developer I sat too many times in my office trying to imagine how I could fulfil some requirements that I didn't understand. Today we have a simple process that brings customer and team together and that's much better for everybody. I'm thinking agile development is a process for people that want to take responsibility. If you don't have people that take responsibility you might be better to follow more heavy weight processes were every thing is predetermined and fixed. But everything you can't foresee will cost you a lot of money! It will cost you much more than the salaries of a good scrum master and good developers.