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How early-stage tech startups can use SCRUM on product development

In our previous article, we looked at the 3 mistakes Singapore early-stage tech startups make developing products and see that tech product development is not an easy business. Entrepreneurs can find themself stuck in a situation that they can’t be sure if they should continue with the project or not? The three questions we are trying to answer are: 

  • How to have an agile development plan with a reasonable timeline?
  • How to avoid mismatches between the software engineering team and the business team?
  • How to create a formal tech product development process that can help your software engineering team grow?

Here, we will look at SCRUM and how you can apply it to your early-stage tech startups to improve your product development significantly.

1. The SCRUM process – Why it fits early-stage tech startups.

What is SCRUM?

Continue our story when we were neck-deep in works and overloaded. We lacked a formal process for the software engineering team; our discovery and decision to apply SCRUM process to the team was the pill our business needed at the time.

Have you ever heard about SCRUM? If not, below is a technical definition for it:

Scrum is simple.  It is the opposite of a big collection of interwoven mandatory components. Scrum is not a methodology. Scrum implements the scientific method of empiricism. Scrum replaces a programmed algorithmic approach with a heuristic one, with respect for people and self-organization to deal with unpredictability and solving complex problems.

Source – scrum.org
The SCRUM process for tech product development
The SCRUM process

You might feel this definition a bit confusing. I was confused too when I first read about SCRUM. Here is a description that I came up with that should be easier for you to understand.

SCRUM is a tech product development methodology that breaks your work down to smaller goals to complete within time-boxed iterations called sprints (usually 2 weeks long).

Well, if you decide to look deeper, you will find it much more complicated than such a simple definition. And I can tell you that the actual process of switching to SCRUM is a pain too. In the first two months, when we started to follow SCRUM, errors kept rising. Things like:

  • Deadline missed due to top-down decision making without sufficient inputs from the ground lead
  • Awkward communication between team member when SCRUM required every team member to be active and connect with each other
  • Team conflict due to slips or lapses in the execution process
Waterfall process for tech product development
Waterfall process

Within the first few weeks of switching to SCRUM, it was easier to shake our head and say that SCRUM was not for our software engineering team. But later, we realised that was the beauty of the SCRUM process; all the small problems that appeared had always been there, and breaking down our work into small goals while constantly tracking those goals was the only way we can identify them.

Switching to SCRUM tech product development process is quite stressful and confusing - image from mic.com
Switching to SCRUM is quite stressful and confusing – image from mic.com

What are SCRUM’s benefits?

When we could identify our errors in the tech product development process, we could solve them one by one. After six months of using SCRUM, the results were astounding:

  • An amazingly flexible software engineering team that quickly responds to any changes that clients require
  • Deadline-meeting rate reaching 90%, an all-time high
  • Lower skill gap among team members thanks to constant communication and training as part of SCRUM
  • Scalability since we can easily duplicate SCRUM across multiple project teams to deliver consistently high quality
  • Better ROI for our early-stage tech startup clients as they can now respond to users’ demands way faster

Why SCRUM is for early-stage tech startups

Basically, for an early-stage startup, SCRUM

  1. Helps you delight your users with great flexibility because SCRUM leaves room for constant improvement along the development process
  2. Reduces the cost of defects by releasing smaller pieces of functionality more frequently can avoid hidden errors in your development that are hard to identify right from the start, typically seen in the waterfall process
  3. Improves odds of success in a dynamic and complex market since each of your new features is delivered working, integrated, tested, and presenting great real business value that follows market demand
  4. More growth and learning environment for every team member thanks to SCRUM’s knowledge-sharing nature

Hence, if you are an early-stage tech startup that:

  • Do not need a fancy big tech team yet
  • Need to optimise your investment in development, with fast business impact
  • Want to improve your flexibility as your strength

SCRUM should be the perfect choice for your product development process.

2. How you can you switch to tech product development process to SCRUM

Now, if you decide that SCRUM is what you are looking for, you may want to know how you can help your team switch to SCRUM.

Do your homework, read about SCRUM first.

I would say the first thing is to do your homework and read about SCRUM. What I am about to share with you is our own experience to move our team to SCRUM – it is not standard and only serves as a reference. The more you understand about SCRUM, the better you can think of your process to switch your team to SCRUM. I would recommend the following sources for you to start reading:

  • Scrum.org – The home of SCRUM: as the name mentioned, the site is packed with from beginner to advance knowledge about SCRUM
  • Moving to an agile environment: A long blog story of a team that switched to the SCRUM process. Note that the writer did go a bit too specific into each small step; when you build your process for your software engineering team to switch, you can skip some of the steps that do not match you.
  • Reddit sub-page /Scrum and /Agile is also a great place to read and update the latest trends in the community, especially when you can post your question and ask for help.
Get yourself a cup of coffee and start reading about tech product development with SCRUM
Get yourself a cup of coffee and start reading.

A step by step guide (based on our experience)

When you are ready, below is a step by step guide based on our experience, that can help you switch your team to the SCRUM process.

  1. Identify what or who is missing to make SCRUM work: to build your SCRUM team, you need to map out all the pieces that are required to make SCRUM work first, what barrier in communication needs to be removed, and what skills need to be added to the team. It’s best to prepare a certified SCRUM master first to help you get a better look at the plan. The SCRUM master can be newly onboarded or trained from one of your staff.
  2. Prepare for impacts: while the traditional waterfall process leaves the testing till the very end, SCRUM focuses on a continuous flow of testing on each sprint and requires prompt follow-up actions. To avoid overload, it’s time for your software engineering team to have more members in supportive roles that are necessary for SCRUM (more tester, QA, etc.) or new tools (automation, etc.) to improve everyone’s ability to catch up.
  3. Break down what you are doing and see how old pieces match with your new picture: your current resource, old process or personnel that no longer fit should be upgraded/trained to fit SCRUM. The point is to make use of your existing resources instead of throwing everything away.
  4. Get the sprints and stand-ups ready: these are the actions that become the backbone of your SCRUM team, and it takes time for both team members and managers to do them correctly.
  5. Backlog issues and tasks: record information like tasks, gaps, objectives that need to be addressed, so you can start ranking them on most to least important. Later, you can improve when setting up future goals.
  6. Continuously collect feedback from your software engineering team and be open for improvement: a flexible team with room for improvement also means you have to improve your process continually. Try to find new things to apply, benchmark and see what fits your team-best.

In a nutshell

Finding your groove in the SCRUM process won’t happen overnight. But taking some time to go through this article might help the transition more seamless.

Also, if you are an early-stage tech startup in Singapore, we would love to help you set up a SCRUM team. We have our team of certified SCRUM masters, along with our agile process, ready to jump in and help you build your products. So you can focus on the business side that you do best. Drop us an inquiry, and we will reach out to you in no time.



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