Last week I had the pleasure to attend a workshop about Scrum and Lean Startup at the offices of Terpel, a leading company of liquid fuel and natural vehicular gas distribution in Colombia.
Together with the company Roca Salvatella, Belatrix delivered a conference about the principles and philosophy behind Agile as well as outlining how it can help a company’s performance. Sergio López, one of our Scrum Masters at Belatix, was in charge of illustrating what Lean and Scrum are all about.
Lean is part of the Agile method, which is a set of practices that allow organizations to manage their projects more effectively, responding to uncertain environments. It was coined in the context of software development; however, today it is used in many industries. Lean methodologies are part of Agile because they use sprints or iterations as the core of their practices.
The Lean methodology aims to eliminate the activities that represent an obstacle and don’t provide value to a company’s processes. As a result, organizations are able to increase value in the initial stages of product development, thus improving the chances of achieving a successful final result.
Lean Startup is the application of traditional Lean methodologies to young companies that want to launch their product to the market. These practices considerably decrease the probability of failure and economic losses as they prioritize the customer’s needs, creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that can be modified according to the client’s specific requirements.
As mentioned, the cornerstone of Lean Startup method is its iterative process and validated knowledge. An iteration is the repetition of a process in order to refine the final result. The Lean methodology aims to deliver functional features of a product in every iteration in order to adjust to the requirements of stakeholders.
Even though Lean Startup was created with young businesses in mind, mature companies have also frequently used, and had success with, the methodology. The benefits of using Lean Startup include:
The second part of the conference was dedicated to explaining the Scrum methodology, one of the branches of Agile. Scrum was born in 1986 when Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi analyzed how companies such as Canon, Honda, and Epson developed their products. They compared such practices with the scrummage in Rugby, a method in which players pack closely together in order to win the ball. Also known as Scrum, this formation inspired people to create the Scrum methodology based on highly collaborative and multidisciplinary teams who create high-quality products in an ever-changing environment.
Like Lean methodologies, Scrum uses iterations which are called Sprints. Every Sprint can take between 2 to 4 weeks and the sum of several Sprints compose a Release. The Scrum team (product owner, scrum master, development team, and stakeholders) decides the Sprint duration at the beginning of the project. Commitment is vital as the due dates of each Sprint cannot be postponed; the Scrum team needs to prioritize tasks and be aware of what they are capable of within a specific period of time.
Let’s briefly examine the phases of a Scrum cycle:
The role of Scrum Masters during the entire process is to eliminate obstacles and facilitate all the resources needed for a correct execution of the process. They are mentors or coaches who make sure that the Scrum team respects and follows the values, principles, and procedures of Scrum.
One of the pillars of Scrum is communication. In order to highlight the power of communicative teams, Sergio proposed an exercise that involved drawing. I was surprised when he explained the activity to me before we started the workshop. Who could have thought that drawing images could teach us something about the principles of Scrum?
The activity consisted of dividing the group into two. We handed over sheets with a very simple drawing to the first half of the group. They had to observe the drawing and write down instructions so another person could draw exactly the image that was on the paper we gave them. The second half of the group – who were waiting outside the room – had to read the instructions and draw the image (without looking at the original image, of course).
The results were interesting. Some drawings were very close to the original picture while others were just a circle or a dot. Other drawings had the correct geometrical figures but with the wrong angle or direction.
After a few minutes, Sergio asked the participants who wrote the instructions to modify their indications and this time, communicate them verbally. The results significantly improved.
The lesson? Verbal communication is key to express and transmit an idea in a clear manner.
This is one of the pillars of the Scrum methodology, which is why the members of a Scrum team should communicate through face to face conversations. When the team is not in the same location, it’s important to use tools such as Skype, in order to make the conversation as empathetic and personal as possible.
Agile practices are one of Belatrix’s key differentiators. Iterative processes are at the heart of our work and they have enabled us to deliver high-quality products at speed. As a result, companies such as Terpel find value in such practices as they increase their productivity, save costs, foster teamwork and promote a spirit of co-creation.
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