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Scrum @ Rackspace – Project Management Overview

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Scrum, what is that? Sounds like something that sits on the surface of a pond, doesn’t it? Those were my first thoughts after hearing the word a couple years ago. Scrum is actually an agile project management methodology. We use it at Rackspace Email & Apps because things around here change very fast and we need to put processes in place that allow us to keep pace.

Although we’re a growing company, overall we’re still very horizontal. How horizontal? Well, I can walk up to anyone of the founders and talk to them about anything I’d like – no chain of command, no vertical hierarchy. And, project managers aren’t molded by the command and control structure so prevalent in the corporate world. Instead, project managers are facilitators and coaches making sure the processes put in place are lightweight and stripped of waste. This is where Scrum comes in. The lightweight methodology of Scrum fits right in with Rackspace culture.

Scrum allows us to turn things around quickly. We can look at what is important now and get those things done. We don’t wait years between software releases.  We aim to release early and often. Watching our teams embrace this new way of working has been exciting and the challenges that have arisen further energize us to find new solutions. Some of the challenges include: limited resources and working with non-development teams like design and writing.

Here, we don’t have tomes of documentation lying around. We have conversations. We don’t mandate that everyone use a particular tool for tracking their workflow, we let the teams decide what works best for them. We don’t tell others how to do something, we open up the conversation and trust others to create the environment in which they can do their best work. Within this philosophy we weave Scrum and Scrum-inspired processes. From sprint planning meetings, to daily stand-ups, to retrospectives; we’re finding ways to make it all work. So much so that we currently have 17 teams using Scrum methods. And, as we move forward, we’ll share some of our experiences with you and feel free to share your Scrum experiences and questions with us right here.

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  • http://www.rackspace.com/email_hosting/ Amanda C

    Great question!  Rex actually fielded this one to me since I handle most of our infrastructure teams and projects here at Rackspace Email and Apps. 
    The teams working on our large infrastructure projects are using Scrum for project development and testing.  We’ve tried a lot of different things over the past few months to find what works for us and we’re still tweaking our process, but here’s where we are right now.
    We try to divide our huge projects into logical bite-sized chunks that can be completed and are potentially releasable at the end of the sprint, however it doesn’t always necessarily make sense to bring in QA or release the code every 3 weeks.  Instead, the team tests the changes internally and performs code review within the sprint, then when we’re nearing the end of development for a project we’ll incorporate QA for our last sprint or two (kind of like a hardening sprint).  I realize that this process isn’t “true Scrum”, but most of the time it really isn’t possible for QA to test a single low level system component beyond simple regression tests which the developers are already performing.
    A great example of this is our Mail Infrastructure team.  Right now they’re working on the Rackspace Mail 2.0 platform – which means eventually hundreds and hundreds of servers will have to be updated and nearly a million users migrated to the new platform.  As an added complexity, it’s very difficult to test the components individually due to the interdependence of the system.  We’re addressing this by focusing on each component independently so we can maintain our agility (we can change direction or add/remove a component at any time), but the system won’t be fully QA’ed or deployed until everything is complete. 
    As far as backlog organization is concerned, we have user stories for requests that come from outside sources, but infrastructure-related requirements defined by the team itself don’t have user stories (the logic there is that they identified the need internally, and don’t need additional detail from someone else).
    I hope this helps!

  • Nick

    I found many discussions on http://www.scrum-master.info/discussionForum.asp
    regarding various Scrum topics. I just wanted to know how does Scrum work if the product owner is not with the team, say the team is in china and the PO is in US

  • Kylie Wilson

    As a project manager, I use Scrum in my projects. The Guide to Scrum Body of Knowledge by SCRUMstudy provided a complete reference for the Scrum project I am working with. It is a very good book and extremely readable. I really liked sections on risk and quality. The tools mentioned in the processes were very helpful. I highly recommend this book if you are planning to implement Scrum in your organization. You can go through the first chapter available on http://www.SCRUMstudy.com

  • Perry Joel

    Kylie, after thinking over for quite a while about whether to go for PMP or SCRUM certification, I opted for PMP prep course by the training provider you have mentioned, Instructer was too good and I passed with relative ease. Looking forwards to apply what I learned in PMP classes in my company. Any suggestions?

  • bobb

    Another way to future proof your career is to always keep acquiring new skills and get certified. PMP Certification is grt if you’re at a project management level or aspire to be in http://www.pmstudy.com has a great free test if you’d like to gauge your project management knowledge.

  • DIBOM

    agile certifications are a very good way to gauge an individual’s knowledge of what Agile really is and how Agile Principles are implemented across different scenarios. It is very important for an individual to participate in a good training session ahead of any Agile certification e.g. PMI-ACP™ by PMI, Scrum Master Certification (SMC™)by SCRUMstudy, The Agile Project Management (AgilePM®) certification by APMG etc

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