Stick to Scrum principles even when you are under pressure

Working at Babylon Health often means working under tight deadlines with small teams, leading to a lot of pressure. This is often a very good test of a team’s agile skills to be reactive to change but still deliver a high quality product. During my first projects with tight deadlines, I narrowed in on focussing on the delivery — what needs to get done, and how do we get it done fastest — at the expense of Scrum. But the confusion this caused has meant I have returned to ensuring the key principles of Scrum — transparency, inspection and adaptation — are upheld even when under pressure. Here is why I think this is important.

Transparency

When working with multiple people trying to get items down before a deadline, the first instinct is to not bother with tracking the work in order to save time, but instead focussing on getting it done. This would mean not including everything in JIRA or writing any documentation, but focussing purely on writing code. However, this quickly becomes counterproductive, particularly when working in a team. Confusion quickly becomes apparent as teammates can’t understand what has already been completed and what needs to be worked on next. It takes longer for others to understand the project and the progress. Continuing to track the work and be clear on who is doing what is critical to moving fast. That’s why the core transparency goal needs to be maintained for moving quickly.

Inspection

Inspection happens during the scrum ceremonies to check progress and adapt the plan if needed. It is tempting to remove some of these meetings to give the scrum team more time to work on the product. However, whilst this may give time back to developers in the short term, it will take longer overall. When moving fast, its critical to inspect progress, identify current problems and fix them as soon as possible. Without these regular inspection meetings, the team does not review the plan and instead can quickly veer off course and not deliver the project quickly and effectively. Maintain the structure of the scrum ceremonies for inspection — but try to be as efficient as possible in these ceremonies.

Adaptation

With a short project, it can seem pointless to collectively think about the process and try to improve. But even over a project of two weeks or a month, small improvements can make a big difference. It gives an opportunity for the Scrum Master to understand the problems and try and unblock them to help the team move faster — and some of these may be quick wins that can be implemented to affect the project. Even if they cannot be implemented before the end of the project, it’s important to capture these improvements for the next time a similar project is run.

For all Scrum practitioners, I would recommend working on a short, high pressure project at some point. This demonstrates the value of the Scrum foundation and why it’s important for teams to follow the principles. It may seem that a short term project should have a ‘just get it done’ attitude. But implementing the basic scrum principles will help to make sure it’s a success.

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Edward Lowe

Edward Lowe

Agile Delivery Manager at Babylon Health, interested in how to organise software teams to build great products.