Implementing Scrum: 6 Crucial Steps to Going Agile

November 2, 2012

Getting on board with the theory behind Scrum is easy. Actually putting it into practice? Sometimes that’s a different story.

implementing scrum

When it comes to implementing Scrum, success isn’t always a given. In this series of videos, Scott Downey, seasoned Scrum expert and owner of, provides a crash course in getting it right.

When Scrum implementation doesn’t go according to plan it’s common for practitioners to place the blame on the theory rather than take responsibility, themselves. In truth, making the transition to Agile is anything but a quick and easy fix. As with any change, it’s one thing to say you’re ready for it and another to actually put in the hard work it takes to see it through.

In this series of videos (previously recorded with OpenView), Downey explains how organizations can lay the proper groundwork for successfully implementing Scrum and create the right environment for rapid improvement and meaningful change.

1) The ScrumMaster’s Duties

Agile development is only truly agile when development issues are resolved fast enough to keep pace with the project. To maintain agility, a team can’t be significantly set back by project-related issues. They should be prepared and empowered to solve everything in their path. And the person responsible for making sure that happens is the ScrumMaster.

“As a ScrumMaster, there are a few things I do to let the team know that I’m taking them seriously and I’m trying to help them improve their environment,” says Downey. “I talk to the team in their Retrospective and find out what their biggest problem is, and I begin immediately solving that problem.”

By having a process in place to solve internal issues, the right ScrumMaster can take a step back and let a team operate without interference. Ultimately, this should be the goal of any Scrum implementation. But when there is a problem, especially during the initial phase of adoption, the ScrumMaster needs to be able to facilitate resolution in an expedited manner.

2) After the Basics

Once you get beyond the fundamental principles of Scrum, some procedural issues do tend to arise. In the case of the product management lifecycle, a product manager may have set aside a certain amount of backlog work that may take a considerable amount of time to complete. In a recently implemented agile environment, that that work will often be accomplished much sooner than expected. When this occurs, the team may stall simply because they’ve exceeded the amount of work available.

Removing productivity hurdles is another important facet of an agile environment. This is the job of a Scrum coach. While the average employee doesn’t think in these terms on a daily basis, a competent coach should be continually looking for ways to improve on the design. Whether this means altering the best practices process or changing the way someone manages, it’s the coach’s responsibility to think about the bigger picture.

For the most part, the problems that follow a Scrum implementation are “good” problems. When your major concerns are having enough work and looking for ways to improve productivity, there is little room for criticism.

3) Slow vs. Expedited Scrum Adoption

When first introducing Scrum to a company, you will have the option of proceeding slowly or expediting the implementation. The latter option involves removing the flexibility and variables associated with Scrum. Since there are many moving parts, by making them static whenever possible, the learning curve can be drastically reduced.

With this more concrete framework, the team will be able to pick up the agile development method quicker, and in turn, start getting results sooner. And the reduced turnaround will obviously be welcomed by any organization. Thereafter, there will be time for fine-tuning the process and adjusting it to better fit the specifics involved.

4) Building a Conducive Infrastructure

A Scrum adoption cannot be conducted inside a vacuum. The entire business needs to back the agile development method, in addition to supporting its implementation. An adequate infrastructure needs to be provided in order to support these processes.

The company needs to be able to provide Scrum leaders, management teams, development teams and more. Not only that, but these teams must also be able to work with an agile mindset. The goal of Scrum is always to gain a competitive advantage through increased development speeds and improved product positioning. But these goals will never be realized with a sufficient infrastructure for support. Many companies already have the right pieces in place. Those that don’t should take appropriate hiring and training steps, otherwise, internal challenges should be expected.

5) Scrum Transformation Step-by-Step

At this very moment, there are countless companies battling upstream in an attempt to overcome obstacles of non-agile development. In order to successfully make the transition, the right steps need to be in place.

“There are eight steps that I go through to be sure that the team has a basic structure on which to start building their own customizations for their success,” explains Downey.

The first step is to ensure the right infrastructure is in place. Once roles are defined it’s then crucial to establish a common definition of “done”. Next, the team needs to decide on an appropriate sprint length (a one-week sprint is most common). The rest of the steps involve meeting a mix of logistical and housekeeping needs. With all of these steps completed, Downey explains, you’ll be well on your way to successful Scrum adoption.

6) Reporting Back to Managers

Your Scrum implementation’s effectiveness hinges on transparent communication between teams and management. As such, reporting is crucial. Keeping the management teams well informed will ensure that projects stay on track for deadlines, budgets, and features.

“It’s important to develop a set of metrics so that you’re able to measure the team and report to management — and back to the team, themselves, and to other teams for comparison purposes,” says Downey.

Having this sort of running communication is necessary for executives to better gauge the project’s trajectory. If the project seems to be misaligned with its goals, they can realign or take appropriate actions. So long as all of the involved parties are regularly informed, you’ll be positioned to maximize the potential of agile development.


Scott Downey has been active in the Software Industry for more than 20 years, holding positions at nearly every level of successful organizations from Associate Developer to VP of Engineering and Chief Software Architect. A Certified Scrum Practitioner, Downey frequently co-teaches ScrumMaster Certification courses with Dr. Jeff Sutherland, and consults regularly with many companies around the world. He is the owner of

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