SCRUM, from failure to success

This is a description of what made our previously failing SCRUM team a success within our organization. The lessons learned through failure were as important as the final success.

Before the “Revolution”: Our organization had been going through a transition to SCRUM for around one year. In the process of transitioning we had delivered a couple of software projects. Such projects had been seen as a failure by our Product Owner (PO from now on) for not delivering business value, and by the development team for failing to deliver a quality product.

The goal: The software development department needed a big success to justify continuing the transition to SCRUM and we were all determined to deliver a great product to our customers to demonstrate how much we had learnt from our own previous failures. The PO was extremely sceptical about continuing with SCRUM and didn’t refrain from showing their feelings.

The Plan: One SCRUM team was created to work on “Project Revolution”. Our goal was to deliver in a short period of time quality software that would exceed customer’s expectations and drive them back to embracing agile development.

The Focus: For the very first time we religiously adhered to SCRUM practices, we focused our efforts on Software Quality practices and built a solid relationship between the development team and the Product-Owner.

How we did it: We engaged with the PO from day zero and we tried to infect him with our enthusiasm for software development and quality. Before the start of the projects we gave a demonstration of our Quality plans and new software development approach: Acceptance Test Driven Development.  The PO showed interest in our approach beyond our expectations; he was blown away by the power of the tests ubiquitous language and clearly understood its potential value. He was also reassured by the demonstration of the Software Quality infrastructure we had built to harness the development of our application and took large interest in how acceptance tests were run and results reported. The development team discovered that something that seemed initially only a technical matter was very valuable to our PO.

SCRUM framework was followed rigorously by everybody including the PO that in previous projects was somehow cut away from the core of the SCRUM team. This time we really started to discover SCRUM’s real benefits of fast feedback and continuous improvement. The ATDD approach gave great benefits by allowing front-loading the discussions over incomplete/ambiguous requirements at acceptance test creation (the very start of development). We discovered quickly how front-loading such discussions would on one hand slow down development but on the other hand would allow us to develop only once and only what was really required rather than get to the final product by continuously fixing defects. Having a large bed of acceptance and unit tests gave the development team the confidence of refactoring freely and we were able to see the positive in the fast feedback of our builds.

Transparency: A full transparency policy was adopted, we were all part of one team, there were no secrets among us.

Collaboration brings success: Slowly the PO started gaining confidence in our work and when at the demos he started saying things like “This is a fantastic job guys!” or even “You’ve done in a 2 weeks sprint what in the past we were used to getting in 3 months and at a level of quality that is not even comparable”. It’s easy to understand that when our PO started trusting us, we were able to go even one step further and propose our alternative solutions to him. While in the past such solutions were categorically refused and a command and control approach was used by the PO, we were now at a stage where full collaboration was the norm and feedback was working both ways.

Fun: The product was delivered in time with excellent level of quality, the products’ business value exceeded the PO original expectations and best of all we all had great fun in developing it.

Project Revolution was an amazing experience.


Industry: Credit Information

Project Scope: Credit Information Management System

Technology: Java (Spring), Tomcat, HTML, jQuery, SOAP, Oracle ESB

Tools: JUnit, Cucumber, Selenium, Crucible, Sonar, Jenkins, Maven

One thought on “SCRUM, from failure to success

  1. Very interesting story, thanks for sharing.
    I like the part where you say.
    “Having a large bed of acceptance and unit tests gave the development team the confidence of refactoring freely…”
    I strongly agree, because i think it is the lack of them in both quantity and quality that will unconsciously push the team to make assumptions and each of those little assumptions could with time transform in a tiny defect. Scrum is a great management tool for the software process. As you said there were other factors that made it fail at the beginning in your story.

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