What is Agile? What is Scrum? How about Waterfall?
If you miss the days when a clipboard and some Excel files would be all you need for managing projects, I don’t blame you. Still, I guarantee that a well-managed project that includes modern methodologies and tools will deliver a better result, deliver faster, and less costly no matter what the goal is.
I studied biochemistry at university and eventually would attend medical school, but instead, I started a business and never looked back. Beginning in 1987, I owned a successful business until I sold it in 2003. Even though I had plenty of great employees, I was also the manager, janitor, HR, designer, photographer, account manager… you get the idea. I wore so many hats I should have been a mythical hydra monster. I did not implement good project management. My company did well because I spent all my time running it. I knew every operation, and I trained every employee. I was adept at tracking monolithic tasks from the bottom to the top, putting my nose to the grindstone, and not coming out for air until I finish. In essence, I traded having a life for having a business.
Agile is a set of guiding principles developed in 2001, published as the Agile Manifesto. The Agile manifesto seems strictly directed to software development, but nearly any project can use it.
I must admit that after the sale of my business when I joined large teams as a developer, I was very annoyed and reluctant to embrace Agile Methodology. The meetings, the new terms (here is a handy cheat sheet), the extra work, the forms just eat into my programming time. However, I cannot argue with success. Everything gets done on time, everyone involved is accountable for their part of the project, and those who finished their tasks early can either help with other modules or start on new projects. Agile concepts are straightforward and logical, and they follow a natural path to organize and accomplish any task, large or small.
Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems — the Scrum Guide explains Scrum clearly and succinctly.
In a nutshell, Scrum requires a Scrum Master to foster an environment where:
A Product Owner orders the work for a complex problem into a Product Backlog.
The Scrum Team turns a selection of the work into an Increment of value during a Sprint.
The Scrum Team and its stakeholders inspect the results and adjust for the next Sprint.
Kanban is a visual method for managing workflow at the individual, team, and even organizational levels. Pronounced “Kahn-Bahn,” the term translates from its original Japanese to “visual signal” or “card.” Unlike other workflow management methods that force change from the outset, Kanban is about evolution, not revolution. It hinges on the fundamental truth that you must know where you are before getting to your desired destination. One can use Kanban on virtually any type of work that follows a repeatable process; if your work follows the pattern of “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” a Kanban board is the perfect method.
The Waterfall is a methodology like Agile is a methodology. Following the waterfall methodology is a more straightforward process of moving tasks through defining requirements, designing the implementation, implementing the work item, verifying implementation and quality assurance, and then maintaining the feature in the end. I would not use the Waterfall methodology on any complex project, and I feel that the possibility of tripping over one’s toes is very high when using a waterfall method.
Tools of the trade:
All these concepts are great but using stickies on a whiteboard and walking around with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie is most definitely a recipe for disaster, not to mention that one can only know information while standing in front of the board or looking at the clipboard. Any information received on a walkie-talkie can go in one ear and out the other. It is better to use modern digital tools to manage projects. In my next and final article in this series, I’ll explore the best tools to implement Agile Methodology.