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Is Agile Scrum Methodology Right for Your Business?

Sara Angeles, Business News Daily Staff Writer

Agile scrum methodology, an  incremental project management system based on two- to four-week product development sprints, has several benefits, such as better communication and planning that can result in increased productivity, faster execution and high-quality products that are tailor-made for the company and its consumers.

Although many organizations have seen exponential success after adopting this system of building progressive iterations of a product, not all companies will have the same experience.

The question is, is agile scrum methodology the right approach for your small business? Experts say it's a good fit for almost any project, with some reservations. [Read related article: What Is Agile Scrum Methodology?]

Cultural fit

Ken France, managing partner of Blue Mercury Consulting, the company that created bluejazz, a free online agile scrum training mentor program, said agile scrum methodology is suitable for any initiative that requires a backlog of work, but there are also several challenges facing small businesses looking to make the change. The main concern is whether or not an organization is culturally ready for the change, he said.

"A lot of challenges are cultural — people are just so ingrained with defining everything that the product is going to do," France said.

Traditionally, people think they have to build an entire product all at once, but scrum requires a new type of thinking, he said. "It's more of a cultural readiness and willingness to invest time. Do they have business people willing to be involved in the process? Can they say what they want up front and have a willingness to engage in the process?"

Furthermore, France said the scrum approach requires a degree of discipline and the ability to correctly apply principles of the system to avoid disasters. "You typically work in few weeks' sprint, so there are technical challenges in that frequency and how you do it in two-week chunks. And because you're incrementally building product, if you don't do it the right way, you can end up creating more work for yourself."

Type of business

Companies considering agile scrum methodology and training their employees for this system will also need to look into their type of business and the products they offer.

"An agile process is a good fit for projects of any size, and can work well in any organization that does not obsess over traceability," said Guy A. Paddock, CEO of RedBottle Design, a Rochester, N.Y.-based software development and Web design shop. Agile scrum works best in environments that value actual results over concrete documentation of progress, he said.

In addition, agile scrum is the ideal approach when dealing with definite customer requirements and customers that need guidance. "Agile works especially well for any business that develops a product according to a customer's specifications, especially if the customer tells you that they're not completely sure what they need you to build for them," Paddock said.

However, if your business offers — or if your clients require — a fixed budget, scope and timeline, agile scrum will not be worth the investment. "Agile requires flexibility from both the customer, who is the 'product owner' in scrum terminology, and the development team — if either isn't able to be flexible, it won't work well or at all."

Agile scrum coaching and training

Before adopting agile scrum methodology, businesses also need to determine if they have the resources to properly train employees.

Jay Feitlinger, founder and CEO of StringCan Interactive, a digital marketing services firm, adopted agile scrum for the purpose of having  efficient project management software that can catch up with the pace of the Internet marketing industry. Making the switch, he said, required a focus on proper implementation.

Prior to launching StringCan, Feitlinger worked for a large marketing agency that tried numerous attempts at project management and ran into many issues.

"When I launched StringCan, I knew that I wanted this to be done better," Feitlinger said. "Agile scrum works great if properly implemented in development, but many marketing firms have struggled implementing it."

To overcome such challenges, Feitlinger enlisted his own employees to learn agile scrum methodology for the company's benefit.

"We had our project manager get certified as a Scrum Master," he said. "For the past two months, leveraging a large white board and JIRA [an online issue tracking and project management tool], we have seen significant improvements in our organization."

Not all businesses have the time or budget to get scrum certified or hire agile scrum coaches, however. Nonetheless, there are plenty of alternative resources available to small businesses.

"There are lots of free materials available to teach the basics," France said. "There are enough people familiar with it with experience that you can consult with, so there's no need to go full-blown engagement. You can adopt it largely on your own."

Although Paddock recommends working with a knowledgeable "Scrum Trainer," he also said small businesses can start with a more conservative approach.

"A small business interested in 'going agile' should start small. If the business is on a tight budget, then it might be enough to study and implement best practices from sites like Mountain Goat Software," he said. "Either way you go, be prepared for some tough growing pains as everyone gets on the same page. Any time an organization switches processes tends to be difficult. As long as you set expectations accordingly and are honest with one another, it will pay off usually in six months to a year."

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