Elevate Your Team’s Performance: Practical Tips for Implementing Scrum

In this article, I first provide a high-level guide on how to implement Scrum. Following that, I outline additional steps you can take to optimize your implementation. These steps are based on the lessons I’ve learned since I obtained my first Scrum Master certification in 2008.

Implementing Scrum

Scrum is a popular agile framework that helps teams deliver value to customers in an iterative and incremental way. Scrum consists of three roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Development Team. Scrum also defines four events: the Sprint, the Sprint Planning, the Daily Scrum, and the Sprint Review and Retrospective. Scrum uses artifacts such as the Product Backlog, and the Sprint Backlog.  

You can implement Scrum in your organization by executing the following steps:

  1. Define Vision and Goals: Clarify your product/service’s value proposition, identify customers and stakeholders, capture their needs and expectations, and establish success metrics.
  2. Set up Your Scrum System: You need a system to manage your backlogs and backlog items effectively. For simplicity, you can use Excel, but more advanced systems like Jira or Azure DevOps offer additional features and functionalities. Choose the system that best suits your team’s needs and ensures seamless management of tasks and priorities throughout your Scrum implementation.
  3. Kick-off with the Scrum Team: Explain what Scrum is, what the team can expect to gain from it, and what they need to do to ensure the success of the Scrum implementation. Emphasize that you will proceed with baby steps and prioritize relentless improvement. Prepare for push-back from the team: If you have an approach that works today, why would you change to Scrum? It can be daunting to share what you’re actually working on and be expected to demo after each sprint.
  4. Create a Product Backlog: Develop a prioritized list of features, user stories, and requirements that outline the product/service’s functionality. The Product Owner oversees this backlog, communicating it to the Scrum Team and stakeholders.
  5. Schedule the Scrum Events: Establish a regular cadence for key Scrum events to ensure consistency and alignment within the team. This includes planning the timing and frequency of Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective meetings. Coordinate with team members to find suitable time slots that accommodate everyone’s schedules and time zones if necessary. In some cases, you can benefit by starting with Daily Scrum Meetings only two times a week.
  6. Plan the First Sprint: Set a time-boxed period (usually one month or less) called a Sprint, during which the team works on selected Product Backlog items. Sprint Planning involves agreeing on the Sprint Goal, scope of work, and collaboration approach between the Product Owner and Development Team.
  7. Execute the Sprint: The Development Team works on Sprint Backlog items, emphasizing self-organization and cross-functionality. Daily Scrum meetings facilitate progress inspection and planning, with the Scrum Master aiding in event facilitation and impediment removal.
  8. Review and Improve: Conduct a Sprint Review to demonstrate the Increment, gather feedback, and validate value. Follow up with a Sprint Retrospective to reflect on performance and identify improvement opportunities.
  9. Repeat Until Done: Continue delivering value increments in subsequent Sprints until goals are achieved or no further value can be added.

If you follow the steps above, you will get the basic Scrum events and principles implemented. In the next section, I will give you some tips to optimize your Scrum implementation.

Optimizing Scrum

When you have your Scrum Team up and running, there are always aspects that can be improved. Based on my experience, it would be beneficial to consider the topics below.  

  1. Start Simple: Use the standard setup for the tool you use for executing scrum. You can introduce story points, planning poker, definition of ready, definition of done, Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF), user story mapping, and other practices when the team is ready.
  2. Establish Capacity: Determine team availability for upcoming Sprints, considering factors like holidays and vacations. Adjust sprint planning accordingly to optimize resource utilization and maintain sustainable workloads.
  3. Embrace Transparency: Before the Daily Scrum meeting, the team updates the backlog items they’re working on in your Scrum System. This includes updating status, remaining time estimates, and notes. Transparency promotes accountability and enables informed decision-making across the team and stakeholders.
  4. Conduct Recurring Refinement Sessions: Regularly review and refine product requirements with the team and Product Owner. This iterative approach ensures alignment with evolving customer needs and market dynamics.
  5. Implement Metrics: Introduce performance metrics such as bug counts, delivered user stories, story points completed, or burn-down charts to gauge team efficiency. Use these metrics to identify trends, track progress, and make data-driven decisions to optimize team performance and project outcomes.
  6. Know Your Team: Understand your team’s current composition, culture, and background. Foster open communication and trust to ensure a collaborative work environment.
  7. Collocated Team: Your team will be most efficient when working from the same location. If they are not collocated, you can enhance the work environment by arranging for the team to work together in the same location for a few days, perhaps each month or quarter.
  8. Know Your Product Owner/Customer: If your customer doesn’t have an agile mindset, you risk encountering significant challenges. For instance, you might aim to accommodate all additional requests from the customer, only to find out they expect a fixed price and/or deadline. In scenarios with fixed deadlines, prioritizing the development of must-have requirements becomes crucial for success.
  9. Meet the User/Customer: The product owner might not always be a direct user or customer. Whenever feasible, your team should visit the site where their work is utilized. This firsthand experience enables them to develop much better solutions.
  10. Is Scrum the Right Approach? When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There could be numerous reasons why Scrum might not be the most suitable approach. In certain contexts, predicting tasks and outcomes within the next 2-4 weeks is not possible, making Kanban a more viable solution. Alternatively, in scenarios where extensive analysis and documentation are mandated by the system and processes, adopting a waterfall approach might prove to be more efficient.
  11. Use the Agile Manifesto as a Guiding Star: Avoid becoming a Scrum extremist who demands strict adherence to prescribed processes and tools. Instead, be pragmatic, prioritize customer needs, and deliver what’s essential. Balancing this is key for efficiency. I still believe it’s important to be persistent and ensure your team follows the approaches and principles you believe in and know work.

By integrating these considerations into your Scrum implementation, you can enhance team effectiveness and streamline project delivery.

You can utilize retrospectives to align with your team when it is the right time to implement the ideas you have for optimizing the team.

Since all teams are different, there might be other factors you need to consider to optimize your team’s performance. Please share in the comments below if you have any other tips that can help.

More information

Here you can see more of my articles about Scrum (https://oester.dk/jens/category/scrum/)

Here are the websites I use most to get knowledge about Scrum: