Scrum trumps waterfall at Telenor

Interview with Rasmus Skibye, Section Manager, Information Technology and Services, Telenor.

Efficient sprints, fast deliveries and valuable knowledge transfer are a few of the advantages that Telenor has achieved by going the Scrum route. But it took a lot of work to get the model implemented. 

Competition is fierce in the telecom business and new products are quickly outstripped by the competition if the IT department does not produce fast enough. A year ago, Telenor was still running software development according to the waterfall model. It worked, but development was too slow. A change was in order and the choice was Scrum.

It all started with a small pilot project. A Scrum team of six or seven people was put together to find out whether agile system development was a good fit for the Telenor organisation.

’The pilot project showed that with Scrum we can deliver functionality considerably faster than we have been accustomed to,’ says Section Manager Rasmus Skibye.
Now all developers at Telenor are part of a Scrum team.

Clear advantages

Faster delivery times are not the only reason the Scrum method has moved in at Telenor. Tasks are broken down into small pieces so you can show production for every sprint and adaptations can be made as you go along instead of several months afterwards. Skibye is especially happy that the Scrum Master protects the team so outsiders cannot squeeze in tasks during a sprint.

‘I see a clear advantage in that people are not disturbed like they used to be. It is not particularly efficient to work on three or four different tasks at the same time.’
As well, the section manager feels that the team members devote themselves to completing their given tasks over the course of a 14-day sprint and take ownership for making it work.

‘Sometimes we fall short, but at least we have tried. Perhaps the task was too big or the estimates wrong. You learn from that and put the lessons to use the next time.’

Operations must be involved

Introducing Scrum at Telenor was a bit of an effort. The organisation was built up around the waterfall model and it is not enough for a handful of enthusiasts in the IT department to try and change familiar methods. 

‘You also have to get the business side involved since it has to feed tasks to the team and prioritise them so that they yield the most value for the organisation,’ says Skibye.
Filling the role of Product Owner is probably the biggest challenge for the Scrum people at Telenor. Under optimal conditions there will be a Product Owner on the team so that questions and challenges can be immediately resolved, but that is not the reality at the moment.

‘Luckily, you can call or write and hopefully get an answer pretty quickly, but we are still working towards greater involvement from the rest of the organisation. This is necessary because otherwise you are sitting there on your own and prioritising tasks and the prioritisations might be wrong,’ says Skibye.

At få afsat rollen som Product Owner er nok den største udfordring for Scrum-folkene i Telenor. Under optimale forhold har man en Product Owner siddende i teamet, så spørgsmål og udfordringer kan løses med det samme, men sådan ser virkeligheden ikke ud i øjeblikket.

”Heldigvis kan man ringe eller skrive og forhåbentlig få et svar inden for kort tid, men vi arbejder videre med at få et større engagement fra resten af organisationen. Det er nødvendigt, for ellers sidder man selv og prioriterer opgaverne og prioriterer måske ikke det rigtige,” siger Rasmus Skibye.

Scrum from scratch

There were no Scrum experts at Telenor when the decision was made to introduce the method. So, in the first round, they had a consultant as the Scrum Master for the pilot project to get the other teams started, using a peer training approach.

Knowledge transfer groups were set up and in order to get further with the process, the entire IT department attended Scrum seminars at ProData Consult. Skibye relates:
‘We were well on the way, but we had run into some challenges. Among else, we lacked clarity about the various roles, team sizes and ‘ready’ criteria.

The seminar also focused on how you should not start a sprint with a bunch of doubting questions. That knowledge was a really good kick-off.’

Seminar participants from other companies also asked questions, and the Scrum pioneers from Telenor discovered that they were not alone in their start-up challenges. These questions sparked rewarding discussions with the instructor and with representatives of other companies.

‘You don’t become a world champion overnight, but we are in training: We always support each other in these matters and try to learn from each other,’ says the section manager.

Knowledge transfer is key

Knowledge transfer is not only a means to get better at the Scrum method. It is also a motivational factor for the team members. Tasks are allocated to the team rather than to the individual: Everyone on the team can give up tasks or claim tasks if they feel inclined.

There may very well be someone else on the team who is more suitable for the specific task and the first person can instead act as a support to the other one, who is eager to take on the task and thus expand their skills. In some cases, team members can also choose to work on a task in pairs and thus facilitate knowledge transfer through peer training.

‘In this way, we can share knowledge about systems that few people understand. The team members learn something and feel they are developing professionally. This has a hugely positive impact,’ says Skibye.

He smiles when asked whether Telenor faithfully follows Scrum principles.
‘As much as we can within our present framework. In terms of IT we probably do, but we probably fall short a bit at getting the business side on board in relation to the Product Owner role. We are not quite there yet, but we are working on it.’

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