Last week we attended a scrum meeting with Brighton and Hove City Council’s Digital First team, and it gave us lots of ideas and inspiration!
Advice Cloud are an Agile company, and although the consultancy biz is a totally different kettle of fish from Software Development we found ourselves mesmerised by a world of post-its and precision planning. Also, who doesn’t want to be known as a ‘Scrum Master’?
Being a very busy SME, we always look for the most proactive approach to make sure our clients get the best from our service. We are also big planners! If you’ve been to our office you’ll know our walls are covered in magic whiteboard paper (check it out, it’s changed our lives) and we like to think of ourselves as a pretty Agile bunch. But Scrum… Scrum was a relatively new concept.
What is Scrum?
Scrum is the process of prioritising large to-do lists and projects, by splitting them up into more manageable tasks. It improves teamwork and communication. Scrum is a successful Agile framework and you can read more about it here.
The process works like this, in theory:
1. You start with product owners. In BHCC’s case, they split it up into the service categories each person was responsible for.
2. The product owner creates a backlog of tasks.
3. You then have a sprint planning meeting. This where you decide what from the backlog will be included in this sprint and how to complete it.
4. The team is then provided a set timeframe to complete the sprint, usually 2 weeks.
5. You have regular scrum meetings to ensure the process is moving forward as well as keeping the team focused.
6. At the end of the sprint you complete a sprint review, going through what has been achieved during the sprint.
7. There is then a retrospective of the process. The Scrum Master hosts the retrospective and the team discuss the sprint and go through what could be changed to make the sprint more productive.
8. The team then choose the next chunk of the backlog and the cycle repeats again.
And this is exactly what we saw in practice! Glorious walls lined with tasks, labelled with the product owner’s name. We heard each person detail what they had achieved in this sprint, what they would be doing in the next sprint, and what resources they will need to make that progress (often one of their much-adored and hard-working developers).
From what we could gather these meetings are an excellent way of taming the rather large beast of digital transformation (understatement of the year...). Because each product owner has to go back and forth between numerous services and department during the sprint, the scrum allows for everyone to collate their experiences and have their voice heard, even if to just have a little moan! I think this process also invites for the most collaboration: little dev fixes can be shared amongst the team and it soon becomes clear that it’s often possible for product owners to group resources and work together on the same issues!
So, these are our main takeaways from the day (apart from post-it envy):
1. Scrum is cool. It’s collaborative and gives clarity to a large project. It’s also retrospective, meaning you evaluate the good and replicate it in the next round, while pinpointing the bad and making it better.
2. The user was considered at every turn and at the forefront of the discussions among the BHCC digital team. We’ve all read the government transformation blogs that talk about ‘the user this’ and ‘the user that,’ but we saw first-hand that this was a genuine priority for the BHCC team. Even down to noticing that some of the wording on a new product could be misunderstood by the user, or greying out certain option boxes to avoid confusing those filing an application. The tiniest details were noticed by eagle-eyed colleagues and raised within the group prior to the user-testing phase.
3. I loved that the retrospective included an exercise where everyone wrote on Post-it’s what was good about their week and what was bad. From the smallest niggles - one of the team’s wife not baking brownies that week (apparently, they were amazing and sorely missed) - to the loveliest sentiments naming colleagues they enjoyed working with. I think often we take reflecting on a process for granted. It’s helpful to write these things down, especially to think about how to resolve the problems. And it’s important to take time to appreciate your colleague’s talents.
We left BHCC feeling like we’d spent the day as honorary members of the Digital First team – that’s the beauty of scrum, it’s open, honest and inclusive. Getting inside of a public sector organisation like BHCC, which truly understands the importance of digital transformation and user experience, was inspiring. We’re not only proud to live in this great city of innovation and creativity, but now even more motivated (if that was possible!) to continue our work helping change the way government perceives and uses digital tech!