Taking Scrum Back to School

SolutionsIQ has been wrestling with a dilemma that every business in a new industry worth its salt struggles with: ensuring that the next generation is prepared to work and prosper in the new world they are helping to create. Certified Scrum Trainer Daniel Gullo dove into this topic head first at Agile2014 earlier this year in Florida with his talk “Raising the Next Generation”. Meanwhile, back in Washington, another of our people was also bringing his brain back into the classroom.

Garrick West, an XP developer and technical coach here at SolutionsIQ, wanted to contribute to the solution space. For the past few years, he has been donating his time—and experience and know-how—to the Capstone program at Highline Community College. This ten-week program takes place just before graduation and is geared to give students software development skills that they can use in the real world. The program is designed to also help small business owners in that Capstone students design and build websites for them. That way, the students are able to design and build websites after the course—in theory. Tina Ostrander, the computer science teacher at the college in charge of the program at the time, said, “Inevitably [the students] would save things like documentation and testing to the very end, and then they would run out of time and those things would never happen.” She wanted to find a tool that would help her students succeed not only in her course but also in life. That’s when Garrick West introduced her to Scrum and Agile. Recently, Tina and Garrick shared their experience working together on the Capstone program at a company Lunch-and-Learn.

Garrick was one of Highline’s industry advisers shortly before the Capstone 2013-2014 course began. After he heard Tina’s dilemma, he suggested introducing the incoming class to Scrum. She accepted. At first, the students were wary, thinking that learning Scrum would increase an already difficult work load. They quickly found that Scrum is useful for getting work done and making problems visible, especially when priorities are constantly changing. The small business owners that the program set out to help, on the other hand, had no problem accepting Scrum. Tina told them, “You can put anything you want on your wish list and all you have to do is keep it prioritized.”

From the start of the program, Garrick knew that Scrum would be a game-changer. “After the first week there was a backlog,” he said, “there were demos, and there was a little bit of prioritizing.” Tina added, “They had a sense of satisfaction from the get-go. Then they got immediate feedback from the client, so they could correct any misunderstandings and make course corrections right away.” Clients were assigned the Product Owner role, able to reprioritize the backlog for designing their website as needed, which they loved. At the end of the course, the clients had exactly what they prioritized for: a fully functional if simple website that they could iterate on or use as is, and completely free of cost.

The students had lots good to say about using Scrum and Agile to deliver software. One said, “From what we have done so far, the Sprint, backlog, daily stand-up, and storyboard concepts would make a project more collaborative and also make each individual in the project accountable.” Another said, “Agile is probably the best tool I’ve seen to improve communication and productivity. It’s great for keeping the team focused and on the same page.”

After the program came to a successful close, it was clear that Scrum was a huge contributing factor. Tina now uses Scrum in other areas of her work, advocating anyone new to the practice to “start small”. Working with Garrick was invaluable to her as well. “I still call him up and say, ‘I don’t know how to make this work…’ and he’ll give me some ideas.”

For his part, Garrick West is always advocating better tools and constant communication in and out of the classroom as well as in and out of the office. As a CSM, CSPO, and CSD at SolutionsIQ, he is a valuable and knowledgeable part of our Agile community.

Read more about Scrum in the Capstone program here.