Scrum is a popular agile method based on its flexibility, adaptability, and effectiveness in delivering value quickly and continuously on a project. The Scrum framework excels in comparison to traditional project management methods in the way risks are intrinsically minimized throughout the entire lifecycle. All projects are impacted by some form of risk, whether it be negative (threats) or positive (opportunities). The goal is to maximize the impact and probability of positive risks and to reduce or eliminate negative risks. This article focuses mainly on negative risks. Most projects begin with high levels of risk because of a large number of uncertainties. The Scrum framework has built-in benefits that help to keep the impact of risks at very low levels. Scrum practices inherently mitigate risk based on the following characteristics of the framework:
- Adaptability – Risks are minimized through Scrum based on the principle of adaptability. This means that requirements can be changed and/or added at any time in the project. This flexibility results in the ability of an organization to adequately respond to threats and opportunities when priorities change. It is a fair assumption that priorities will change on projects. The cost of addressing these changes is very low and the process is faster when compared to traditional project management. To be clear, changes and additions to requirements are not added: “just because”. This adaptability to change is implemented only in cases when the additional value can be provided to the customer.
- Transparency –Information radiators such as burndown charts and Scrum boards provide needed transparency when compared to traditional methods where only the project manager has access to the project schedule. The consistent status of the project is available and all team members and stakeholder are kept “in the know”. The Scrum principle of transparency ensures that risks are identified and communicated continuously. This results in effective risk mitigation. The Impediments Log or Risk Register (managed by the Scrum Master) tracks all risks on the project and is available to the Scrum team and stakeholders.
- Continuous Feedback – Due to the iterative nature of Scrum, the framework provides opportunities to get feedback throughout the project. During the Daily Standup meeting, impediments and risks are addressed on a consistent basis. The entire Scrum team is made aware of all potential risks that could impact the project on a continuous basis. This results in effective risk mitigation and surprises are effectively kept to a minimum. The Sprint review and Demo meeting is another opportunity to get feedback on the product. During this ceremony, the Scrum Master, Scrum Team, Product Owner and stakeholders review the product increment by means of a demonstration of all user stories in the Sprint Backlog. The Product Owner accepts or rejects user stories based on whether the acceptance criteria have been met. A user story may also be rejected if it needs a modification based on new information realized during the product demo.
- Continuous Improvement –Another benefit of implementing Scrum are the retrospectives that take place at the end of every Sprint and at the end of the project. The purpose of the “retro” is to examine the team’s processes and determine what worked; what did not work; and what needs to be included going forward for the team’s processes. The Scrum team then decides together as to which processes or actions need to be addressed by the next Sprint. This is where improvements are made on a continuous basis through retrospectives.
- Iterative Delivery – Business-value on the Scrum project is continuously delivered as opposed to “at the end” as with traditional project management methods. This results in risk reduction for the customer’s investments. The project deliverables are progressively improved during each (iteration) Sprint. This reduces risk to the product increment if changes need to be reversed. The development team will easily know which Sprint increment needs to be addressed.
- Scrum Team Ownership - The Scrum Team is responsible for estimating the Sprint Backlog. This leads to more precise estimation and timely delivery of the product’s increments. There is no one better than the Scrum team to estimate the work. This results in the reduction of estimation risk.
- Risk-Adjusted Backlogs - The concept behind this type of Product Backlog is the focus on delivering the highest value features and high-risk items that have been identified to be top priority work. This helps the team to deliver and mitigate the large impact risks to the project as early as possible. We know that risk represents anti-value and to deliver value, we must minimize risk.
- Risk-Based Spike – This type of spike is experimental and is used to identify the types of risks and their impact on a project. A risk-based spike is implemented before the project commences and can be used by the team to get accustomed to new technologies or tools needed for develop the product. Estimation uncertainties are also investigated during this time or in cases where a user story is unclear. This event is typically time-boxed for two to three days.
- Risk Burndown Charts – Identified risks can be identified and managed by means of a risk burndown chart. This type of chart depicts the status of risks over a period (weekly, monthly, etc.) and shows impact levels that should be decreasing. Risks are identified and tracked during the Sprint Planning meeting and monitored throughout the Sprints. The graph for the chart is created from the risk register (Figure 1). The risk burndown chart visualizes and tracks how long risks take to be mitigated. Total project risk levels can also be tracked. If risk mitigation is successful, the graph should be showing a downward slope as illustrated in Figure 2 below. The chart reflects an interpretation of the expected duration of how long a risk should be present on the project.
Figure 1: Risk Register (Agile Michael, 2016)
Figure 2: Risk Burndown Chart (Agile Michael, 2016)
Key Words: Scrum, Agile, Risks
SCRUMstudy. (2016). A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOKTM Guide.), 3rd Edition
Michael, Agile (2016). Risk Burndown Charts. Retrieved from https://agilemichaeldougherty.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/risk-burn-down-chart/