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25 September 2018
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SCRUM IN THE ROUND

A workplace that facilitates the continuous cycle of events required for the scrum agile methodology of project working is one that allows multiple teams to work at different paces simultaneously, writes Casimir Meulendijks.  

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04 September 2018 Casimir Meulendijks


Scrum’ is an agile methodology for executing projects that has its origins in software development. Today however, scrum working is increasingly being deployed by organisations for use on other forms of project. But while organisations may be applying the scrum methodology elsewhere, few consider how their workplaces should be adapted to accommodate it.


Dutch FM student Casimir Meulendijks says there are three principal components to successful scrum workplace design: the activities, atmosphere and physical aspects involved in scrum working all relate to each other. His bachelor thesis research – precised in this article – was conducted 

to establish the ideal design for a workplace accommodating the scrum 

agile working methodology.


What is scrum agile?

If software is taking over the world, then agile development – an umbrella term embracing several iterative and incremental software development methodologies – has taken over how that software world is developed. Instead of creating a project plan and following it, developers start working straight away in small periods of time, delivering parts of the end product during the process.


Scrum is often explained as an ‘iterative’ framework for projects, meaning that the same process repeats itself to eventually reach the optimum result. In scrum, these processes are called sprints. They are always time-framed, and never last more than a month each.


In addition to these sprints, there is a daily meeting to evaluate and check work done. This is conducted by the whole team so that they are able to collectively evaluate any appropriate adjustments to the plan. Inspection and adaptation are core values for scrum, with the checking of each other’s work and adapting to any changes of high importance.


The main focus lies on the cooperation of the team. The high turnover of feedback provides flexibility in the process, meaning the team is able to adapt to changes and know if they are on the right track.


Sprints are considered completed when a pre-determined time period expires. There may be disagreements among team members as to whether or not the development is satisfactory; however, there will typically be no more work on that phase of the project, with remaining phases of the project continuing to develop within their agreed time frames.


Various flavours of agile development exist, but the most common, according to The Scrum Alliance, is ‘scrum-agile’. It’s seen as more cost and time-efficient than alternatives – and it’s gaining traction in the corporate world.


Members of a scrum team include an individual scrum master (SM) and product owner (PO), and a wider development team. Scrum is about being focused on working together; seeing each other every day, having brain storm sessions, and working together in the same room.


Scrum teams

The PO is the equivalent of an internal or external client, responsible for maximising the value of the delivered product. The PO is responsible for the ROI on any activity and end-product.


The responsibilities of an SM is to lead the process, ensuring that the rules and strategy are followed by everyone. Furthermore he or she supervises the communication and makes sure that any disagreements are worked out of the way to reach the objective of a sprint or the project as a whole.


The development team, consisting of five to nine people, is cross-functional and responsible for building the actual product. Sometimes teams are further split, each focusing on a different feature of the project.


Digital alternatives

While digitalisation of scrum working has led to software suites able to recreate scrum’s physical communications structure, the lack of physically coming together for meetings makes many scrum practitioners wary of committing to an exclusively IT-oriented workflow. 


An increasing number of agile development teams are making use of agile project management software tools that provide support programmes for each phase of the scrum process. A web-based tool has the advantage of allowing remote team members to review the backlog and update tasks wherever they are, and the use of online digital tools to replicate the white board, for example, is an important trend that will undoubtedly affect the workplace requirement for this mode of working. 


Providing for scrum

In some organisations, project work conducted by scrum constitutes over a quarter of all work within the building – providing obvious cause for evaluation. The challenge for FMs is to accommodate scrum working alongside other office activity. No guidelines for a scrum workplace exist, but Meulendijks’ research has identified how the right workplace is important in celebrating success (scrum working has numerous triggers for celebrating the completion of project components); allowing for privacy; and promoting the vitality of the scrum working process.


The key seems to be in working out the corporate value of scrum working or similar project development disciplines, then determining the workplace adaptation necessary to maximise its success. The routine coming together of scrum team members is crucial to how the physical environment is designed.


Furniture should allow collaboration, tables or desks allowing the team to work together. Creating a situation in which there is a central collaboration desk as well as individual team member desks was preferred – perhaps a room with partitions to allow both as and when required.


A scrum room should be useable as a meeting room, and should allow for varying levels of occupancy. What is key is the sense of belonging that scrum working demands. Said one research participant: “Always make sure that the layout fortifies the team spirit. Keep the values of scrum in mind.”


The most common complications had to do with the physical scrum board, and possible disturbance during sessions like the daily stand-up meeting. 


Adapting to scrum

Atmosphere in scrum working is very important. The workplace needs to support the feeling of success and cooperation that are key to scrum working, but do so in an informal atmosphere. Areas set aside for scrum working need to facilitate working in a team; concentrated processing; and meetings. Conducting scrum meetings in the open using the physical scrum board is one of the more difficult workplace elements to get right. The scrum board is crucial, seen as galvanising the process as well as recording current progress.


Some use a dedicated whiteboard for posting updates, others a wall, others still use windows. Just as long as the scrum board allows for drawing on, or the continual placement and replacement of sticky notes, it does the trick. The board allows scrum team members to see right away who is doing what and how progress is going. Yet scrum working teams often see their equipment moved, ‘turndown’ charts repositioned and the progression of a team sprint inaccurately represented (see ‘glossary’ for explanations of these terms). Dedicated scrum space is strongly preferred, while the idea of using digital tools to replicate the scrum board was dismissed by some as eliminating the very sense of team cohesion that scrum working is meant to enhance.


The ideal scrum group size is seen as between five to nine people, so the workplace design needs to facilitate this number. Scrum team working can be best facilitated with a big table in an open workspace. To enhance concentrated processing, the table could have portable walls in between personal workspaces, creating a personal space where concentrated work can be performed. A separate room for stand-up meetings can also help minimise disturbance.


A scrum room should be decorated to enhance teamwork. So, no table with chairs and only minor seating facilities and a focus to one side of a room. A scrum room can be best centralised in the middle of office space so that it is easily accessible to the teams. Using glass walls can support the vitality and creativity required. A portable wall between two scrum rooms should be considered to allow it to dual-function as a larger meeting space. A separate section for scrum workers to relax in is advised.


To encourage group cohesion, screens on the wider office floor could show the scrum board so a sense of achievement when a task is completed can be shared with the wider team. A screen in the scrum room should be considered so that daily stand-ups and sprint meetings can be held and a backlog or burn-down created.


Looking ahead

Scrum agile working may seem easy to cater for, but the reality is there are important psychological and physical requirements to be accommodated. As the world of knowledge work moves more towards the use of workspace as meeting space, understanding these nuances will be vital.


This article summarises a bachelor thesis entitled ‘Workplace concept for the Scrum – Agile methodology’, written by Casimir Meulendijks for his graduation in General Facility Management at the NHTV Academy of Hotel and Facility Management.


Glossary

SM = Scrum Master

PO = Product Owner

PB = Product Backlog

SPM = Sprint Planning Meeting

SB = Sprint Backlog

Sprint = a period of time allocated for a particular phase of a project.

Scrum board = a board which shows the sprint backlog of a team in three lanes: ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Done’. Together with the burn-down chart, it shows the insights of the current situation.

Burn-down chart = a graph that shows the progression of the team during a sprint. The progress of the team gets compared to the ideal progress of the sprint. Adjusted daily.

Emma Potter