Agile Scrum – An assessment of the executive point of view

Agile Scrum – An assessment of the executive point of view

Our experience with Scrum began in 2007 when CINQ was seeking to expand its presence in the global market, reach CMMI-3 certification and stimulate innovation supported by Design Thinking with a focus on business results.
We began with gradual improvement initiatives after we were approved as a preferred provider for a multi-national company in the financial sector. The initial results with this client were underwhelming, while quality and functionality were within guidelines, the deadlines and costs were unsatisfactory. This required negotiations with our customer to approve “change requests”, which were not always successful and caused discomfort.

This scenario fostered internal initiatives to study the Agile methodology using Scrum. Coincidentally, we were also approached by one of Nokia’s directors, Marcio Machado, who was completing his master’s degree in software engineering with a focus on Scrum. Upon hearing of our initiatives, he sought us out as a case study reference for his work. We took advantage of this opportunity to train our project managers, architects and analysts in this new methodology.

In 2008, we were approved as a global supplier for a large European multi-national with operations spread across the globe. The team from Canada visited us, led an additional round of training, and asked us to apply Scrum for all the projects undertaken together.

From there on all of our international projects began to operate with Scrum, whose culture was fomented on a daily basis. On our Brazilian projects, we still needed to convince our customers of Scrum and Agile’s benefits. In October of 2011 we participated in an extensive training by an Senior Agile Coach, Allen Bennett ( sponsored by one of our global customers. All of our project managers as well as the company leadership related to software development and testing participated.

However, implanting a culture is something that takes time and a lot of dedication. Agile is a mindset and it is no use to say the company is agile if small actions and decisions are procrastinated or postponed.  To further strengthen the culture, in the middle of 2015 we contracted a course from Adaptworks with the facilitator Alexandre Magno. Project leaders, business analysts and leadership from diverse areas of the company participated. All participants obtained a Scrum Master (CSM) certification.

From that point on, CINQ adopted Scrum in all of its projects, but there were still some resistance from more conservative clients. Even so, we applied the methodology internally  while recording a waterfall representation breakdown for client’s stakeholders.

After these training initiatives, we continue to invest in continual training, especially for new professionals. In 2018, we launched the CINQ Tech training program, where Bootcamp initiatives are underway, mainly for trainees who enter each semester. All these initiatives help to stimulate, maintain and advance Agile Scrum culture at CINQ.

We had 3 main waves of Scrum at CINQ. At first, we used post-its, and focused on Stand-up Meetings and less on Sprint Planning and Reviews. In the second, we adopted Jira/TFS and gave emphasis to Plannings and Reviews; reinforcing the participation of the Product Owner. In the third wave, we implemented a firm approach to promoting deliveries to customer approval environments, adopting a Devops philosophy.

I’m telling this long story to show that Agile Scrum is a matter of determination as well as a good deal of dedication. Sponsorship and engagement at the executive level is as fundamental as the commitment of the team in adoption of the practices.

After 10 years of continuous use of Agile Scrum, we can say that we have an Agile culture present in our company.

Theories on Agile Scrum are plentiful and it is not up to me to repeat the principles governing Agile, but I would like to highlight perceptions that make the difference from the executive point of view.

There are several aspects of Scrum that stand out; that determine better deadlines, better deliveries and better alignment of expectations:

1-Project objectives and vision
In Scrum you seek to prioritize “what” and not “how”. From an executive standpoint, a software initiative is expected to resolve issues, as well as enhance, and optimize your business. You are looking to clearly define what the reason is in terms of the business goals you want to achieve, what value you are delivering.

2-Scope flexibility
It is a big mistake to define a priori the scope of a particular project. I have worked since 1982 in the software development and do not remember any project that has remained true to the initial scope. Developing software is an iterative and incremental process. Improvements, new features, integration and operations issues arise throughout. In a fixed fee engagement model, changes are not welcome. When you specify software, you consider many features that may not be useful or bring value in the end. In Cascade models we have the “iron triangle” which determines the scope, the deadline and the budget. In Agile models, we seek to determine the deadline and the budget based on the initial roadmap of the project. However, changes are welcome and the features that bring real value are prioritized.

3-Granularity of deliveries
What a relief to talk about frequent deliveries when I remember the long phases of analysis, specification, coding, and testing of the Cascade model. This is one of the great advantages of Scrum because it changes the mindset to deliver software features that make sense in a short time span, usually from 2 to 3 weeks. To achieve this, it is important that each Sprint has the planning and prioritization of the features that will be delivered. This requires a greater involvement on the part of the client to define what is important

Scrum has several rituals that ensure objective and continual communication among the various stakeholders. I believe that communication problems, in general, are responsible for the majority of project issues. The Scrum framework ensures a fluid, continuous and communication focused on project goals.

Many projects in the customer/vendor format, whether the customer/vendor are internal areas or independent companies, face challenges related to the responsibilities of each side. In the traditional model, situations often occur on the client side.   While the client participates in some initial and intermediate meetings, they only begin to verify functionality at the end of the project. This situation usually creates mismatches of expectations, cost deviations, as well as missed deadlines and functionality issues. In Scrum, the client area, represented normally by the Product Owner, has a key role in defining and prioritizing the backlog, adjusting each Sprint to focus on the real value to be delivered. This generates a sense of ownership for both the client area and the development team. In fact, what I like most about Scrum is that this issue of area X and Y ceases to have meaning, since the team, PO and others involved are focused on the success of the project. This magic occurs thanks to a simple framework that ensures all the points mentioned here, but requires cultural change and discipline to adopt.

It is for all these reasons that we decided to adopt the Agile methodology, based on Scrum and other Agile practices, in all of the projects and services at CINQ. This was an executive decision based on observations of the work environment, customer satisfaction and especially the tangible results achieved.

Carlos Alberto Jayme
Master’s degree in Computer Science from UTFPR, Pos Graduation in Business Planning and Marketing by FAE business School, Electronic and Telecommunications Engineer by UTFPR and is one of the founders of CINQ Technologies (a global information technology company active for 26 years with software development projects and IT outsourcing)