Traditionally, software development was a sequential and phased process where changes were both costly and time consuming. Over time, in response to market demand and competition for development to be more responsive to change, the Agile Development methodology was conceived.
Scrum is one of the methodologies of Agile which include processes like Extreme Programming and Kanban. The word Scrum was first coined in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their paper, “The New Product Development Game.”
Based on that paper, Ken Sutherland and Ken Schwaber presented a paper describing the Scrum framework at the Business Object Design and Implementation Workshop held as part of OOPSLA ’95 — the first real presentation detailing Scrum as we know it today.
In 2001, Schwaber and Mike Beedle published the first Scrum book called “Agile Software Development with Scrum.” Since that time, Scrum has evolved and several organisations have taken to Scrum as their standard for development.
In 2002, Schwaber started the accreditation series, a three-step program sponsored by Scrum Alliance. Schwaber later formed Scrum.org which also offers Scrum accreditations
The Certified Scrum Master(CSM) provided by Scrum Alliance is the focus of this article as it is the most in-demand certification in the market today
The first-level certifications are Certified Scrum Product Owner, Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Developer. From here devotees have the option to advance to become a Certified Scrum Professional and move on to qualify as a Certified Scrum Trainer, Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Team Coach.
Figure 1 — Scrum Alliance Certifications
In addition to certifications, Scrum Alliance also offers the Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program — an “education and practice based program” whose goal is the development of Agile leadership competency and maturity.
A two-day training is required to become a Certified Scrum Master. Trainings are provided by Scrum Alliance’s Registered Education Providers (REPs). As there are several organisations offering different Scrum trainings, one should take care to verify that any potential training provider is registered with Scrum Alliance.
Upon completion of the training, candidates have 90 days to clear the certification exam. The exam consists of 35 multiple choice questions — 24 must be answered correctly. One nice aspect of the exam is that it is online and can be paused and restarted as many times as needed.
If you’ve completed training from a REP, the first two attempts of the exam are free. A small fee will be charged for every subsequent re-attempt at the exam. Fortunately, most candidates do clear the examination on their first attempt.
The best way to prepare for the exam is to focus only on The Scrum Guide and any materials provided during the two-day training. A complete understanding of the concepts in The Scrum Guide is essential. In my opinion, further study of additional materials may be more of a hindrance than a help. The CSM accreditation is valid for two years.
It is said by many that Scrum is “easy to learn but hard to implement.” One reason the Scrum methodology is difficult to implement is that it works best when there is buy-in on management’s part and an eagerness amongst the team members to implement Scrum practices.
Scrum is best suited for complex projects where the requirements develop as the project progresses. (Projects with a clearly defined scope should opt instead for the Water Fall model of development.) Some organisations implement Scrum in hopes that it will foster an environment of teamwork and lead to the creation of self-organising teams where new members can be mentored and brought up to speed with minimal effort.
Scrum methodology defines small teams along with smaller cycles of delivery called Sprints, and Scrum Roles. Teams work independently and self-introspect to better ensure that the processes and code completed at each Sprint are completed and ready for shipment on schedule. Scrum Masters are the individuals with the responsibilities to help define the boundaries and communicate with teams to minimise conflicts.
During my consulting work I have come across teams that are eager to implement Scrum because they anticipate minimal documentation and random delivery cycles. However, resistance often arises once these teams find that implementing Scrum means taking a disciplined approach. As a servant-leader, it is the Scrum Master’s job to explain the benefits of Scrum and engage the team in delivering quality products. Scrum Masters also explains Scrum to management and help remove obstacles the teams may be facing externally.
In addition to the Scrum Guide, Scrum Masters can benefit by referring to the “9 Patterns for High Performing Scrum Teams.” The Patterns give teams the means to solve problems during implementation. Originally presented by Jeff Sutherland, Neil Harrison and Joel Riddle during the 2013 Scrum PLoP Conference, briefly, the Patterns are:
- Stable Teams — Members are unchanged between sprints making it easier to understand the capacity of a team.
- Yesterday’s Weather — The number of Estimation Points completed in the last sprint is used to estimate how many Estimation Points will be completed in the next sprint.
- Swarming: One Piece Continuous Flow — Focus on one item at a time. Whoever is responsible for that item is the Captain and everyone works with the Captain till the item is successfully completed. After completion, a new item is taken up by another member and he/she becomes the Captain.
- Interrupt Pattern — A fixed time is allotted for interruptions. Three simple rules for this are: a) The team creates a buffer of unexpected work based on historical data; b) All new/urgent work assigned to this buffer must come through the Product Owner; c) If the buffer overflows then the sprint must abort.
- Daily Clean Code — All code baselined in the repository at the end of the day must be bug free.
- Emergency Procedure — The Scrum Master executes the Scrum Emergency procedure when things are moving off-track. Emergency procedures may include changing the scope of or aborting the sprint. Regardless, such steps need to be taken at the first sign of emergency.
- Scrumming the Scrum — Identify the single most important impediment from the previous sprint during the Sprint Retrospective and remove it before the end of the next sprint.
- Happiness Metric — Team happiness must be regularly measured as happier teams have greater possibility of success. The Scrum Master can ask the team questions to understand the pulse and take appropriate steps to increase happiness.
- Teams that Finish Early Accelerate Faster — This requires taking up optimum work in a sprint and planning adequately for buffers to complete any sprint backlogs. Upon early completion, new items can then be added to the sprint.
In the right environments, Scrum projects can be very motivating to work on. Following the Scrum methodology enables team members to better able to understand responsibilities, solve problems and meet deadlines.
When all is said and done, organisations and people become better at implementing Scrum by executing more projects. Achieving a Scrum-certification is just the first-step to becoming a valued Scrum-master; hard-won project experience remains the best way to improve your knowledge and succeed in this rewarding field.