Book Notes #21: Essential Scrum by Kenneth S. Rubin

Essential Scrum is the complete guide and reference to use Scrum to develop innovative products and services that delight your customers.

Title: Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process
Author: Kenneth S. Rubin
Year: 2012
Pages: 504

Whether you are new to Scrum or years into your use, this book will introduce, clarify, and deepen your Scrum knowledge at the team, product, and portfolio levels. 

Drawing from Rubin’s experience helping hundreds of organizations succeed with Scrum, this book provides easy-to-digest descriptions enhanced by more than two hundred illustrations based on an entirely new visual icon language for describing Scrum’s roles, artefacts, and activities.

As a result, I gave this book a rating of 8.0/10.

For me, a book with a note 10 is one I consider reading again every year. Among the books I rank with 10, for example, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Overview of Essential Scrum

Essential Scrum will provide every team member, manager, and executive with a common understanding of Scrum, a shared vocabulary they can use in applying it, and practical knowledge for deriving maximum value from it.

A very helpful aspect of Essential Scrum is the detailed “visual language,” Kenny created while writing the book. He created icons for every possible aspect of Scrum, and these are used to make up dozens and dozens of figures to illustrate all the work and knowledge flows of a Scrum project. 

His diagrams definitely go well beyond the typical double-loop depiction of Scrum.

Essential Scrum offers a bypass to many of the pitfalls and will accelerate a team’s ability to produce business value and become successful with Scrum.

It is a comprehensive overview of Scrum. It goes from the principles of agile through the mechanics of sprints to the roles on a Scrum team and all the way up to topics like technical debt and portfolio management with Scrum. 

Some key insights and learnings from Essential Scrum include:

 – Scrum is a lightweight framework for managing complex projects and products. It is based on the Agile principles of flexibility, collaboration, and customer satisfaction.

 – The three roles in Scrum are the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. Each role has specific responsibilities and works together to deliver a potentially releasable product increment at the end of each Sprint.

 – The Scrum events are Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. These events provide a structure for the Development Team to plan, execute, inspect, and adapt their work.

 – The Scrum artefacts are the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment. These artefacts provide visibility into the work being done and the progress being made.

 – Empirical process control is used in Scrum to allow the team to inspect and adapt their work based on actual results, rather than relying on detailed upfront planning.

 – Scrum is highly adaptable and can be used in a wide variety of contexts, including software development, product development, and even non-technical projects.

Essential Scrum also covers important topics such as how to scale Scrum, how to measure and improve performance, and how to overcome common challenges.

My Book Highlights & Quotes

“… Plan-driven development works well if you are applying it to problems that are well-defined, predictable, and unlikely to undergo any significant change…”

“… The product owner is responsible for what will be developed and in what order. The ScrumMaster is responsible for guiding the team in creating and following its own process based on the broader Scrum framework. The development team is responsible for determining how to deliver what the product owner has asked for…”

“… Grooming refers to a set of three principal activities: creating and refining (adding details to) PBIs, estimating PBIs, and prioritizing PBIs…”

“… A product backlog item can be considered done only when both the item-specific acceptance criteria (for example, “works with all of the credit cards”) and the sprint-level definition-of-done (for example, “live on the production server”) items have been met…”

“… In product development, however, the goal is to create a unique single instance of the product, not to manufacture the product…”

“… Whereas the sprint review is a time to inspect and adapt the product, the sprint retrospective is an opportunity to inspect and adapt the process…”

“… As a general rule, the development team should allocate up to 10% of its time each sprint to assisting the product owner with grooming activities…”

“… The fact is, when developing innovative products, you can’t create complete requirements or designs upfront by simply working longer and harder. Some requirements and designs will always emerge once product development is underway; no amount of comprehensive up-front work will prevent that…”

“… Scrum is a refreshingly simple, people-centric framework based on the values of honesty, openness, courage, respect, focus, trust, empowerment, and collaboration…”

“… Each day during sprint execution, the team members help manage the flow of work by conducting a synchronization, inspection, and adaptive planning activity known as the daily scrum…”

“… Scrum embraces the fact that in product development, some level of variability is required in order to build something new…”

“… Scrum can be used for new product development and Kanban for interrupt-driven support and maintenance…”

“… Iterative development acknowledges that we will probably get things wrong before we get them right and that we will do things poorly before we do them well…”

“… Incremental development is based on the age-old principle of “Build some of it before you build all of it…”

“… With an agile approach, you begin by creating a product backlog — a prioritized list of the features and other capabilities needed to develop a successful product. Guided by the product backlog, you always work on the most important or highest-priority items first. When you run out of resources (such as time), any work that didn’t get completed will be of lower priority than the completed work…”

“… The work itself is performed in short, timeboxed iterations, which usually range from a week to a calendar month in length. During each iteration, a self-organizing, cross-functional team does all of the work — such as designing, building, and testing — required to produce complete, working features that could be put into production…”

“… Typically the amount of work in the product backlog is much greater than can be completed by a team in one short-duration iteration. So, at the start of each iteration, the team plans which high-priority subset of the product backlog to create in the upcoming iteration…”

“… At the end of the iteration, the team reviews the complete features with the stakeholders to get their feedback. Based on the feedback, the product owner and team can alter both what they plan to work on next and how the team plans to do the work…”

“… At the end of each iteration, the team should have a potentially shippable product (or increment of the product), one that can be released if appropriate…”

“… Though Scrum is an excellent solution for many situations, it is not the proper solution in all circumstances. The Cynefin framework (Snowden and Boone 2007) is a sense-making framework that helps us understand the situation in which we have to operate and decide on a situation-appropriate approach…”

“… Scrum is not a silver bullet or a magic cure. Scrum can, however, enable you to embrace the changes that accompany all complex product development efforts…”

“… Although the Scrum framework is simple, it would be a mistake to assume that Scrum is easy and painless to apply. Scrum doesn’t prescriptively answer your process questions; instead, it empowers teams to ask and answer their own great questions. Scrum doesn’t give individuals a cookbook solution to all of their organizational maladies; instead, Scrum makes visible the dysfunctions and waste that prevent organizations from reaching their true potential…”

“… Plan-driven processes (waterfall, traditional, sequential, anticipatory, predictive, or prescriptive development processes )are so named because they attempt to plan for and anticipate upfront all of the features a user might want in the end product and to determine how best to build those features. The idea here is that the better the planning, the better the understanding, and therefore the better the execution…”

“… Plan-driven development works well if you are applying it to problems that are well-defined, predictable, and unlikely to undergo any significant change. The problem is that most product development efforts are anything but predictable, especially at the beginning. So, while a plan-driven process gives the impression of an orderly, accountable, and measurable approach, that impression can lead to a false sense of security. After all, developing a product rarely goes as planned. [P]lan-driven development approaches are based on a set of beliefs that do not match the uncertainty inherent in most product development efforts…”

“… Scrum, on the other hand, is based on a different set of beliefs — ones that do map well to problems with enough uncertainty to make high levels or predictability difficult…”

With Essential Scrum, Kenny brings us back to the heart of Scrum. And the teams can begin to make the decisions necessary to implement Scrum, making it their own. 

Essential Scrum serves as an indispensable guide, helping teams choose among the billions of possible ways of implementing Scrum and finding one that leads to success.

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