Agile and Scrum in Education

Update: An updated version of this post is available on my main blog.

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software development framework for managing product development.

Source: Scrum (software development) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agile software development describes a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams.

Source: Agile software development – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Getting started with scrum in a classroom requires only sticky notes and markers. Add masking tape if you want to tape off grids on the wall. With these you can make a scrum task board.

Scrum boards are sticky notes arranged on a grid. Tables are powerful, and masking tape is a cheap, portable table maker. You don’t have to stick with scrum to get value out of the notion of sticky notes advancing across a grid. The technique is handy and adaptable. Some DSISD teachers are a year-ish into experimenting with task boards, spinning the simple notion of marching sticky notes into custom classroom management tools inspired by methods widely used in tech.

This scene from Silicon Valley humorously conveys the gist of the scrum task board (NSFW, depending on your work, due to colorful language).

And this walks step-by-step through the process of making and using a masking tape and sticky note scrum task board.

The rhythms of a scrum board come across in this time lapse video.

Don’t get hung up on a particular implementation of scrum. The agile principles of self-organizing teams, agency, communication, and feedback loops are more important than a particular framework or variant. Start simple, be attuned to the culture of your teams, and iterate process. Some scrum cultures do one or even two hour daily standups (not my style). Other cultures do brief standups because standups are meetings, which have their morbidities. Distributed teams do their standups online, typically in a chat channel or group video hangout, using online rather than physical scrum boards. The synchronous nature of meetings aren’t a good fit for distributed teams spanning multiple time zones. Globally distributed teams thrive on and require asynchronous communication. Meetings are notoriously synchronous. There’s usually not one daily standup meeting that everyone attends in such environments. Distributed teams have their own communication cultures that adapt meetings to asynchronous collaboration. In a classroom, the synchronous nature of meetings isn’t a problem. You’re in the same room 5 days a week.

Culture is important. Scrum and agile do best in open by default, communication is oxygen cultures informed with some hacker ethos. In this 2 part video series, Spotify discusses their agile engineering culture and their history with scrum. I highly recommend this as a cultural and philosophical primer on agile and loosely coupled, tightly aligned autonomous teams.

Here are accompanying sketch notes.

The resources below offer the philosophy and principles of agile, scrum, and self-organizing teams. Some, such as the eduScrum guide, adapt scrum to classrooms.


Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Source: Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

Modern agile methods are defined by four guiding principles:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

Source: Modern Agile

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development

An eduScrum Team consists of a teacher (Product Owner) and Student Teams of four students. One of the four students of a Team fills the role of (Student Team) eduScrum Master. Student Teams are self-organizing and multi-disciplinary. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team (e.g. teachers). Multi-disciplinary teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work. The students form themselves into Student Teams based on skills and personal qualities. Although the team is responsible for its own results and is in that sense independent, they may use insights and information of other teams. Cross-team cooperation is encouraged. The team model in eduScrum is designed for optimal autonomy, collaboration, flexibility, creativity, motivation and productivity.

eduScrum Teams deliver learning results iteratively and incrementally, maximizing opportunities for feedback and adjustment. Incremental deliveries of “Done” learning results ensure that a potentially good result towards the learning goals is always achievable.

Student Teams have the following characteristics:

  1. They are self-organizing. Nobody (not even the Product Owner) tells the Student Team how they should realize the learning goals.
  2. They are multi-disciplinary, with all required skills and personal development themes to be able to achieve the learning goals together and can develop personally.
  3. Student Team members can have specific skills or focus areas, but the responsibility lies with the Student Team as a whole,
  4. The Student Team members may determine themselves if they want to contribute their qualities, or that they want to develop new areas.
  5. The Student Team tracks its own progress and quality level based on the acceptance criteria and the Definition of Done.

Source: The eduScrum Guide

To build 21st Century learning from the ground up, we look to see how companies like Google, Spotify, and GE build their innovative cultures. Their secret to innovation? Agile. Where focused teams unleash creativity, adapt through fast learning cycles, and iterate towards success. Agile Classrooms is a cross-pollination of Agile with modern learning and motivation research. With Agile Classrooms, 21st Century readiness is built in.

Agile Classrooms self-organizes its own learning, uses visual accountability structures, and are immersed in reflective feedback. It is a structured learning environment that restores the freedom to teach and learn. Where students reclaim responsibility for their own learning and teachers shift into facilitators and coaches.

Source: Agile Classrooms

The Scrum framework in 30 seconds

  • A product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.
  • During sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of that wish list, a sprint backlog, and decides how to implement those pieces.
  • The team has a certain amount of time — a sprint (usually two to four weeks) — to complete its work, but it meets each day to assess its progress (daily Scrum).
  • Along the way, the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal.
  • At the end of the sprint, the work should be potentially shippable: ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or show to a stakeholder.
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective.
  • As the next sprint begins, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins working again.

Source: What is Scrum? An Agile Framework for Completing Complex Projects – Scrum Alliance

Scrum teams constantly respond to change so that the best possible outcome can be achieved. Scrum can be described as a framework of feedback loops, allowing the team to constantly inspect and adapt so the product delivers maximum value.

All work performed in Scrum needs a set of values as the foundation for the team’s processes and interactions. And by embracing these five values, the team makes them even more instrumental to its health and success.

Focus

Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.

Courage

Because we work as a team, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.

Openness

As we work together, we express how we’re doing, what’s in our way, and our concerns so they can be addressed.

Commitment

Because we have great control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.

Respect

As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.

Source: Scrum Values | Agile Manifesto | Scrum Principles – Scrum Alliance

Cultural agility requires:

  • Collaboration alongside task commitment
  • Sharing learnings along with individual empowerment
  • Working with consensus toward a common goal via personal autonomy
  • Continuous improvement with failures but also repetitive success
  • Ensuring trust among team members through supportive leadership
  • Value delivery above functional work elements
  • Adherence to processes, but with flexibility and process tailoring

Each system is impacted by its environment continuously; change is constant. For an environment to be productive, it must support production. The essential purpose of any designed environment-in which a productive system operates-is to facilitate production regardless of change. By nurturing self-organization, this becomes possible. Only through self-organization can the means of productivity quickly react and adapt to change.

Tips to accommodate self-organization:

  • Focus on providing a non-autocratic leadership to encourage self-organization
  • Focus more on mentor and mentoree empowerment to encourage self-organization
  • Make sure that employees embrace change as an opportunity to innovate
  • See customers as team members and allow clients to add freely to backlogs
  • Empower digital agency teams to readily adapt to priority changes.

Source: Self-Organization Within Digital Agency Teams – Axelerant

Scrum is a feedback-driven empirical approach which is, like all empirical process control, underpinned by the three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Source: Scrum (software development) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Your Journey From…

Prescriptive → Iterative

Visible cycles of learning.

Making intentions explicit and visible fosters partnerships and allows for a meaningful and relevant education to emerge.

Content → Culture

Learning starts with why … it’s the big story.

The real lessons of life are embedded in experience.

Evaluation → Visible Feedback & Reflection

Nurturing the love of lifelong learning.

Partnering in a learning journey catalyzes continuous growth and ownership.

Control → Trust

Valuing the freedom of discovery.

Providing space for human diversity increases agency and self-direction.

Competition → Collaboration

The power of shared learning.

Sharing the individual perspective develops the social intelligence necessary for solving problems, communicating effectively, and deepening understanding.

Source: AgileInEducation.org – Agile In Education

Takeaways for Educators

“Sprint” and daily “stand up” meetings allow a diverse team of software engineers – including members of the team who may be off site – to develop simple to complex products in relatively short periods of time. Their approach offers a model for educators when it comes to increasing team effectiveness, especially the following seven takeaways:

1. Share daily.

2. Own outcomes.

3. Expect obstacles.

4. Focus on the problem.

5. Prize feedback.

6. Keep learning.

7. Value Diversity.

Source: Cracking The Code To Teams: What Educators Can Learn From Programmers | EdSurge News

Yet many of today’s most valuable firms have come to realize that analyzing and improving individual workers ­— a practice known as ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ — isn’t enough. As commerce becomes increasingly global and complex, the bulk of modern work is more and more team-based. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review last month, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’

Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

Google, in other words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

We’re doing something that works quite well: We rely on cooperation. People talk a lot about Collaborative Economics nowadays. Well, here at 42, we chose Collaborative Education. What does it means? It means putting people together and making them learn together. The knowledge, you can acquire it from the internet. You can type anything into Google, and there’s your answer. So lessons are useless, you’ll find the best lectures in the world on the internet, if you want to learn. But we do not wish to make them learn stuff by heart, we want to teach them how to develop, work, and live together, to build projects together and to make them happen. That’s what we want to teach them.

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

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