Rugby scrum

Agencies sprinting to Scrum for agile development

As agencies turn to agile development methods as a way to build better IT systems, Scrum is an methodology that is attracting a lot of users.

The U.S. Postal Service has made Scrum the standard agile methodology for the entire organization. The Texas Department of Public Safety and a contractor team working with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs also use Scrum for agile development.

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It is popular because it allows organizations to bring together teams on a consistent basis, said John Edgar, USPS’ vice president of information technology. At USPS, project teams meet at least once a day in short Scrum sessions — along with the business partners for whom the systems are being designed — to assess the status of a project as well as any changes and issues that need to be resolved. If the teams cannot meet face-to-face, they do so through Web meetings, teleconferences or video conferences.

“It’s like a rugby team, hence the word scrum,” Edgar said, referring to a method of restarting play in rugby.

In agile Scrum, projects are divided into succinct work cadences, known as sprints, which are typically one week, two weeks, or three weeks in duration. At the end of each sprint, stakeholders and team members meet to assess the progress of a project and plan its next steps. This allows a project’s direction to be adjusted or reoriented based on completed work, not speculation or predictions, experts say.

In the world of traditional, “waterfall” development, developers first spend time working with business partners to document their requirements. Over the course of the project, if business needs or requirements change, the developers may not find out until too late.

“It is not that you are out of communication but it is not constant and focused,” he said. The end result, in many cases, is a failed IT project in which developers might have spent 18 months on a product only to find the business needs have changed in the meantime. 

With agile methodologies such as Scrum, after each two- to three-week sprint, specific deliverables — detailed technical requirements, a system’s architecture or a particular piece of code — can be validated during a limited customer test, Edgar explained. Multiple teams can then pull those components together into compiled software or a system solution that’s ready for a complete end-to-end test, he noted.

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