I have worked in several development teams that have a Scrum-like development process where the team has adapted Scrum to their own team dynamics and organizational needs. I was intrigued by a recent MSDN article called Visual Studio ALM Rangers—Reflections on Virtual Teams that formalizes one of these this Scrum-but-not-Scrum processes and calls it Ruck. Here is the authors’ loose definition:
“To ensure that we don’t confuse anyone in terms of the methodologies or annoy process zealots, we provisionally chose to call our customized process ‘Ruck,’ which, in the rugby world, means ‘loose scrum.’”
The article authors share their experience in Microsoft’s ALM Rangers team and “provide guidance for working with teams in less-than-ideal distributed and virtual environments.” I found this introduction compelling and I wanted to try to restate their approach here with a few of my own thoughts mixed in.
The ALM Rangers’ Ruck process is very specific to their needs and team: a highly distributed team and a high degree of variability in team member availability where team members have multiple professional obligations that take higher priority than their work on the team. This is a very challenging situation for a team trying to be Scrum-like and may be closer to many popular open source projects with multiple contributors from around the world, with one very important exception: a fixed ship date.
I’m not advocating that any specific team adopt the ALM Rangers’ Ruck, but the choices and approach taken by this team could be very valuable to other teams faced with creating their own Ruck because they cannot, for whatever reason, get close enough to Scrum to really call their process Scrum.
One of the most important points I found the authors making had to do with adhering to the agile principle of self-organizing teams. They found that their “belief in letting developers choose work from areas in which they have interest” required that they allow teams to self-organize around these areas of interest rather than specific geographies or time zones.
One of the most difficult challenges facing enterprise software development projects is team size and how to break up larger projects into smaller chunks that can be addressed by smaller, more agile teams. The authors observe:
“We’ve learned that smaller projects and smaller team sizes enable better execution, proper cadence and deeper team member commitment. Also, it seems it’s more difficult for someone to abandon a small team than a larger team.”
Another interesting area the authors cover is that of project artifacts used to manage and break down the project into actionable tasks. The particular names of these seem less important than the fact that they are well defined and communicated and used consistently within their Ruck. In creating your own Ruck process, do not skip this important element.
Roles are also well defined. Knowing what position you play on the team at any one given moment can eliminate the need for over-the-shoulder management because each team member knows what their responsibility is. The task of the manager becomes one of coach rather than hall monitor, communicating these roles and responsibilities to team members rather than asking the question, “so what are you working on today?”
One more critical area to define is meetings. Don’s skimp on structuring meetings to achieve what you need to achieve without wasting too much time. As my brother tells me, “It takes a really good meeting to beat no meeting at all.”
And finally, I want to share one more brief excerpt from the authors. Their top recommendations:
“There are many recommendations, skills and practices that will help you improve the virtual team environment, the collaboration and effectiveness of each team member, and the quality of the deliverables. For us, the seven top recommendations include:
- Clearly define and foster a team identity and vision.
- Clearly define the process, such as the Ruck process.
- Clearly define the communication guidelines and protocols.
- Clearly define milestones, share status and celebrate the deliverables.
- Implement an ALM infrastructure that allows the team to collaborate effectively, such as TFS and associated technology.
- Promote visibility and complete transparency on a regular cadence.
- Choose your teams wisely, asking members to volunteer and promoting passionate and get-it-done individuals.”