Scrum, the hype of the last years
In recent years, agile project work has become more and more popular and there has been a hype about Scrum, Kanban and other agile methods. Originally Scrum is a process model for software development. The core elements are flexibility, dynamics and daily meetings to coordinate the tasks. Over time, this approach and the associated methods and tools were also used for general project management. The term “agile project management” was developed from this as a differentiation to classical project management.
Digitalization and regulation force banks to be agile
While agile methods were already well established in other industries, banks have lagged behind the development of agile project management for a long time. This is not surprising for many. After all, what terms are associated with a bank? Security and correctness, rigid and traditional structures, strict legal and regulatory requirements, and all this coupled with a low level of error tolerance on the customer side. At first glance, this does not seem compatible with agility.
Fortunately, this picture has changed rapidly in recent years and more and more banks are recognizing the opportunities of agile project work. One of the reasons for this change has been that projects are becoming increasingly complex and traditional methods are reaching their limits. In addition, the banking environment has become much more dynamic and fast-moving.
Specifically, there are two developments that are accelerators of Scrum. One is the digitization of the banking sector. As nowadays banking product lifecycles are extreme shortened there is the need of launching new products quickly.
The second accelerator for the sensible use of Scrum is the large quantity of regulatory requirements. Due to the sometimes very tight implementation deadlines, banks often have to start with the implementation work before the concrete requirements are finalized. This means that banks only have a few months left until the implementation date.
Advantages of a Scrum-based project management
- Fast implementation of projects
- A high degree of transparency, a better project overview for all parties involved and a shortened time-to-market because functional results are available faster.
- Increased efficiency and effectiveness
- The sequence of activities is not dictated by a central plan, instead the team decides from sprint to sprint which sections it will work on next. Self-organized teams make better decisions and work more effectively than classic, externally controlled teams.
- Faster detection and reaction to problems
- Determined adjustments to a specific feature can be made directly during the project. This avoids additional change requests.
- Higher employee motivation
- The members of the Scrum teamwork self-dependent together and take more responsibility. Through constant transparency about the progress of development, the team is continuously encouraged to reflect and to improve.
The use of Scrum is not always recommended
Even though Scrum is gaining in popularity and is sometimes seen as a universal solution, the Scrum approach does not always fit everywhere. In general, Scrum requires a major rethinking in companies, especially if they have previously managed projects exclusively according to well-tried approaches such as the waterfall model. Therefore, you should always be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the method and the change must be well thought out and carefully planned.
Which conditions must be fulfilled?
- Scrum must fit the project goal
- It should be possible to break down the development goal into individual achievable sub-goals (functionalities, properties), which are then implemented sprint by sprint.
- The organization must be ready for Scrum
- Central structures of traditional project management are being eliminated. Scrum Master, Product Owner and the development team with self-sufficient management functions are now in focus.
- The willingness to let employees work together in a self-organized manner and across departments is a key element.
- A positive error culture, confidence in the employees and the freedom to let the team work independently and self-organized are essential.
- The right composition of the team
- The members of the Scrum team should be able to identify with the agile approach and have the right qualities (see below).
- Followers and yes-men are just as out of place here as exclusive generalists, who quickly reach their professional limits in detailed questions.
- The product owner must have the necessary decision-making authority, otherwise no quick decisions can be made within a sprint.
What qualities do members of the Scrum Team need to have?
Agile work requires team members to work in a self-organized way. It is important that members can deal with complex problems without pattern solutions. When asking who is well suited for agile project work, look out for people with the following characteristics:
- Flexible, decisive, self-organized, self-reflective, networked and trustworthy
In the daily collaboration also help:
- Well-developed communication skills, curiosity, open-mindedness and a confident manner, even in uncertain situations
What obstacles can you encounter when introducing Scrum?
This was the theory. But practice shows again and again that goodwill and certified Scrum Masters and Product Owners alone are not enough.
Among other things, these factors can prevent a successful introduction of Scrum:
- Management is not aware of the fundamental importance of this transformation and the changes are not transparently presented to all divisions of the company
- Lack of trust from management in the capabilities of the project team
- The company management or the management intervene in the project process in a controlling manner, which contradicts the agile methodology and results in the development losing efficiency
- In the following cases, agility is not necessary or even hindering:
- Highly reproductive activities
- Fine granular targets (e.g.: quality assurance)
- Fixed work processes
- Complying with standards (e.g.: ISO)
- The members of the Scrum Team do not fully support the agile approach or they do not know the Scrum values (courage, focus, openness, commitment and respect) and the Scrum pillars (transparency, inspection and adaptation), which can be expressed as follows:
- Conflict avoidance
- Lack of commitment
- No courage to take responsibility
- Lack of result orientation
- – Spatial, organizational and disciplinary separation of business and IT. Especially the daily collaboration results more difficult if the Scrum team is spread over several locations, cities or even countries.
Do not want too much at once.
In the beginning it can be advisable to start with small, manageable projects to approach Scrum, because the change from the traditional waterfall method to an agile project management takes time. Such a far-reaching change cannot happen overnight, and good change management is essential.
In many banks as in many other companies, it has proven to be a good idea to change the existing processes and procedures step by step. It is perfectly fine to initially only change single processes or phases in a project to Scrum. As already mentioned above, Scrum is also not suitable for all processes. Therefore, it is advisable to combine the best of the pure agile method and the classic approaches (Hybrid Project Management) and to accept a compromise rather than closing yourself off from it completely. The long-term goal should be to shift the compromise in favor of the agile approach with each subsequent project.
Finally, I just can give you the following advice: Dare to take the first step and try Scrum without fearing to not comply. Unfortunately, perfection often stands in the way of progress, but it is up to us to change this.