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Agile Service Management

Scrum and agile: what's the difference and how do they work with ITSM?

By Gerard Bakker on February, 7 2018

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Gerard Bakker

Scrum Master

Scrum and agile are hot topics discussed across the internet, in the elevator, or while waiting in line at the coffee machine. But how does it all work? And how can you apply scrum to your IT team?

The birth of Scrum

All good heroes and organisational concepts need a good backstory: For scrum, it all starts in 1986. Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi publish their ‘The New New Product Development Game’ article in the Harvard Business Review. In this article, they conclude that historically, projects in small multidisciplinary teams book the best results.

With this conclusion in mind, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, created a development method for the software branch in 1996. Scrum was born.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a cost-free framework for software development. The framework makes it easier for organizations to develop and maintain products in complex, dynamic environments. Scrum is an answer to the rapidly developing technology industry and the quick-changing demands of customers. The framework has an empirical starting point: you learn by doing and use your findings to determine your next step.

How does Scrum work?

Scrum works for small self-managing teams of 3 to 9 people. A Scrum team works according to a step-by-step method. The team delivers a new or improved product, or a new or improved functionality, within a set period of time (two weeks, for example). These short ‘sprints’ force you to constantly work with realistic deadlines.

The gains: transparency, inspection and adaptation

What’s to gain from dividing your work into sprints? You plan your work more realistically. You know what you need to do and how much time you have for it. This makes for a more predictable planning of your work.

Risks are also more manageable when you use these shorter periods. You’re not going to make a long-term plan with an extensive risk analysis. With each step the team takes, they show the organization what hurdles they needed to overcome, which scenarios the team can follow and what their impact is. Based on this information, the organization can adjust the course of the team when needed.

The short sprints also ensure that it’s transparent what the team makes. At the end of the sprint you show your customer what you’ve made. The advantage of transparency? The customer gives regular feedback the team can take with them in the next sprint. This ensures that the product you make is something the customer is really happy about.

Want to get started with Scrum? Just follow the rules in the Scrum guide and get started. Get some experience and discover how Scrum works in your organization.

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The birth of agile

In 2001, the software branch introduces the Agile Manifesto for Software Development. The manifesto comprises 4 values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The inventors of agile have turned these 4 values into 12 principles. These principles are aimed at software development. The agile mindset is however applicable to all branches.

The most important reason to introduce agile to software development was to make large organizations more flexible. For smaller organizations, it’s easier to respond quickly and meet their customers’ demand. These smaller companies don’t have a set organizational structure. Large companies are a lot less flexible. They often use a waterfall structure for projects: a plan or design needs to go through different departments and management layers before it can be executed. The result? An unwieldy organization.

What is agile?

Agile is a mindset. The idea: if you want to survive as organization, you need to be flexible.

Compare the agile mindset to a jaguar. A jaguar’s instinct is to survive. And to survive he needs to be dexterous and agile enough to react quickly to the movements of his prey. For organizations, it’s just as important to be dexterous, especially now technologies follow each other in rapid succession. Your organization needs to be flexible enough to quickly respond to new technologies and the ever-changing demand of the customer.

An infamous example is Kodak. The company was very successful for a long time as producer of analogue cameras. When photography went digital, Kodak wasn’t quick enough to respond. After some failed attempts, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

The gains: bring back fast responses and flexibility

An agile mindset brings back flexibility and shorter response times to your organization. When you work agile, you strive for the least amount of bureaucracy possible. Agile requires a different type of employee as well. In an agile working environment, you want employees to share knowledge, act on creative ideas and come up with solutions. The initiative is not with the manager, but with the professionals.

How does agile work?

There is no manual you can follow to start working agile. It requires a cultural shift within the organization. The most important shift is that your organization starts embracing change. In the traditional work model, you try to keep changes to a minimum: you create a plan and try to keep to it as much as possible.

With an agile mindset, you assume that your plans are going to change. You’re not going to follow the same plan for two years. You have clear goal in mind, but you can change course. Agile working means continuous improvements. Your work is never done.

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