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Agile software development at ASTRON with Scrum

Submitter: Arno Schoenmakers
Description: People who enter the barracks of Pavilion West in the early morning may sometimes be surprised by the presence of a large bunch of people in the corridor, standing in front of a whiteboard covered with little post-it papers in a variety of colours. Well, this almost daily ritual is actually an important part of the software development method called "Scrum" that has been adopted by the LOFAR software development team at ASTRON.

Scrum (See http://scrum.org for info) is framework for that is well suited developing complicated software products. It originates from the principles of "Lean Development", but translated to a software development environment. The basic building block is a Sprint, which is a fixed period between 2 and 4 weeks in which the software team devotes itself to creating functionality that has been agreed upon with the clients of the product. At the end of every sprint, the client can inspect the results of the development and adjust the tasks and priorities for the coming sprint; the software team will then pick up the highest priority items and deliver these in a working format by the end of the sprint. The latter is done in sprint planning meeting, which is held at the start of a new sprint period.

To enhance collaboration, communication and task synchronization, the development team meets almost daily to inform each other of work done, problems encountered and the plans for the coming day(s). At this meeting, called the Daily Scrum, the items that have a changed state (to do, started, fixed, etc) are moved on the sprint planning board. This helps enormously in making sure that team members are aware of each other's progress, and of the overall progress.

Every sprint is concluded by a retrospective meeting, where typical problems that were encountered in the last sprint are put to the table, and solutions for these are discussed which can then be implemented by the team, or by the management. This yields a very flexible way of developing complicated systems, both for the client and the development team, and ensures that team members are maximally efficient and in control of their own efforts.

We have started to use this method for LOFAR software development as of September last year, and it has proven to be very productive. Team members appreciate the clarity it delivers, the enhanced communication and increased ease of deployment of new features. Our clients appreciate the flexibility with which new requested functionality can be handled and delivered.

The pictures show a few of the meeting moments for the software team: the daily scrum in Pavilion West and the planning meeting held at the start of every sprint.
Copyright: ASTRON
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