Will it SCRUM? How to Use Scrum Effectively at Non-IT Companies

May 10th, 2016

Interview / Wiki // Grossum Possum

When it comes to Agile methodologies and such things as SCRUM and Kanban, usually people think of IT companies, software development and things like that. However, SCRUM practices can be adapted to serve even at non-IT companies and we have talked to Luca Orselli from LucaOrselliConsulting who is helping businesses to implement these methods as well as SCRUM team structure into their daily work to make processes more effective and efficient. Why and how to do it - read the article below!

Why SCRUM for non-IT companies?

In the reality, SCRUM was born to solve product-development issues: when m/s Takeuchi and Nonaka first described this approach in 1986, they worked on their experiences in automotive and electronic industries. It was only in the late ‘90s that  SCRUM has been closely connected and identified with IT issues and industry.

We’re simply using this approach in its broad and original domain, i.e. effectively managing projects of any kind, size, complexity, and application.

How does SCRUM work?

  1. There is a backlog with tasks prioritized.
  2. During the planning meeting, the team decides which tasks are taken into the sprint (according to their priority and evaluation of how much time it would require doing those tasks). On a board, there are several columns - usually three - To Do, In Progress, and Done. (Sometimes there are more, depending on the project - for example, if all tasks have to be approved, there would be an "Approved" column after the "Done.")
  3. There are short daily meetings - standups or "daily SCRUM" - where everyone quickly shares the progress and plans for the day. 
  4. The sprint ends with a review and retrospective of the tasks and planning the next sprint.

What are the differences between IT and non-IT SCRUM methods?

We can not see any relevant difference in the method: any “project” is a non-routine activity, where one or more teams of participants are engaged in achieving their results in a pre-defined time with a fixed amount of resources.

Differences arise in the way the method must be used.

The selection of participants in the different roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Team Members, Stakeholders, etc. in SCRUM terms) has to consider the nature of the project and under this point of view, an IT issue has its peculiar skills, experiences, needs which are different from a non-IT situation. So answering the question of "for what type of work is SCRUM most suitable?", it can be adapted to pretty much anything since it's simply one of the methods. 

Let’s, for example, consider the case when a non-IT product development project requires high investments to increase/upgrade the production capacity: the financial, HR, legal, environmental impacts require the commitment of business areas which might not be involved in many IT development processes.

And this might require the use of peculiar financial forecasting practices and tools.

On the other hand, an IT project has to consider an amazingly broad view on technology development and convergence which is redundant in other cases.

But in both cases, it must be clear which are the roles needed, how to coordinate the Teams, how to react to any change, etc. And what’s more important, which is market’s requirement and how quickly we can get the maximum possible results.

What are the advantages of implementing SCRUM methods in usual businesses?

Increase the Return on Investment! and let the company beat competitors with more successful innovation and better organization.

Companies of any industry must now innovate their products/services as well as their organization at a much faster and complex pace than ever: if they do not do it effectively they can not beat their competitors, otherwise, they’ll become weaker and weaker

But it is difficult to do it: the usual, ineffective way to innovate is to work in small groups, organize every activity in a very detailed workflow which is defined at the very early stage, and then follow this program despite any possible change of environment, market requirements or new opportunity. Or lose a lot of time and money re-arranging everything when really needed. Results will come at the end of the project work, provided that implementation will be in line with expectations.

With SCRUM, on the other hand, companies can involve every person and competency necessary for the right deployment of the project: this way no precious information is lost. SCRUM Teams work with a broad but controlled level of autonomy, and there are many systems to let information flow and reach any member of the teams as well as all stakeholders and Project Owner. This way should any change be necessary, it can be done in the quickest and easiest possible way. Even the very first project deliveries can very often be immediately taken to the market, thus allowing very early returns.

This continuous involvement of all key people in the organization grants 100% alignment between the final results and corporate’s needs and, additionally, reduces any resistance to the implementation of the project’s output: all people who are called in the “go-to-market” phase already know and share what they have to do, because they’ve been part of the development!

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles to overcome?

SCRUM is a very organized, efficient and effective system, telling exactly what to do and who’s responsible for what. As I said before, SCRUM teams work in an autonomous, controlled way, and this allows freedom in finding the best way to achieve their results. But they must work in the global frame, to have the right flow of information, alignment with product Owner, Stakeholders and other members of the project.

The process must be learned but it is very logical: it is an easy task.

The major obstacle is to bring this culture into a company, so that people follow the flow without looking for “shortcuts” which would endanger the global result, or trying to go back to their early waterfall methods.

Like all cultural issues, some companies are more ready than others, but once the first experiences are appreciated by the members, everything runs easily

What instruments do you prefer to use? (JIRA, Trello, other?)

We are business consultants and our job is to help our customers to improve their results: whenever possible, we try not to interfere with the instruments they normally use and concentrate on the process of innovation.

SCRUM does not recommend the use of any particular project management tool, so we prefer to let our customers continue using their instruments, thus avoiding possible problems of poor expertise,  and monitor they follow the steps and method of SCRUM.

Jira and Trello are two of a group of good instruments, each with its pros and minuses: our personal preferences shall not interfere with our clients’ choices.

Share a success story of companies that use SCRUM?

There are plenty of examples of successful implementation of SCRUM.

In the area of product development, we might quote a company who had to develop a new product to implement a strategic reorientation. The first attempt consisted of the normal waterfall project management approach, but it could not deliver any results even after a very long period: the objective had been set too broadly, the middle management was not involved properly, many technological aspects were not clear enough to be approached. To cope with the situation the company decided to change their approach to project management and started using SCRUM: the result was achieved and was appreciated by the stakeholders and, what’s more important, by the market. The involvement of middle management in the process allowed to benefit from their competencies and, additionally, a much better company environment because they felt more committed to the result.

Another case, where traditional product development was not so successful as expected as the result of organizational complexity in a diversified company, shows that the use of SCRUM allowed the doubling of new product releases every year, better relationships with strategic customers, reduced costs thanks to lowering administration & planning expenses.

This last example gives me the opportunity to stress that “innovation” is not simply a matter of product, but often of organization: and SCRUM proves very effective also in the moments of organizational changes!

To read and learn more about LucaOrselliConsulting check out their website and ask questions in the comment form below in case you have any!

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Author: Grossum Possum

Grossum Possum. He loves using Symfony2 for his projects and learning to implement Symfony3. He also likes developing web and mobile applications using other programming languages and frameworks, such as PHP and Java. In his free time, Grossum Possum likes to write about his experiences in the blog.

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