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Background: my team is only two years old, and up until this point, project management has been almost completely decentralized and, to a certain extent, non-existent.

My team consists of 14 people (including one intern and one guy on his way to retirement) doing mostly laboratory work and analysis, along with research and development. For the tasks that our team is capable of doing, there are at least two people that are capable of performing every task, but no single person is qualified to do everything that our group does.

RE: the nature of our work: we have "customers" that are inside the company in other divisions as well as customers from outside the organization. A project may last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years. Very rarely does any single project require the work/input of every member of the team.

I've been recently added to the team that is working on developing a project management approach. The team has decided to recommend to the manager that we adopt Scrum, or as close to Scrum as we can get. In the event that the manager decides that Scrum doesn't work for our application, what methodology is most well-suited for coordinating work on multiple projects from multiple customers?

I apologize in advance if the question is too subjective. Also, I will add details as necessary.

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Scrum is designed to let skilled workers tackle complex adaptive problems. If that describes your team, Scrum probably has a lot to offer. Before I go further, let me explain the "Complex adaptive" thing.

Complex: specifically referring to problems with a lot of interacting parts that would either be very difficult to analyze simply with theory or completely impossible. Scrum has a bias towards "try something and see what happens" analysis.

Adaptive: discovering what happens with one thing in a problem may change how I approach the next thing, making predicting how the solution will unfold difficult or impossible.

Because you said you deal with lab work, analysis, research, and development, I would expect that your work almost certainly fits this profile.

As to your team, scrum encourages cross-functional teams. This does mean that you should have all of the skills needed to do the work somewhere on your team, but it does not mean that everyone needs all of the skills or that everyone has to work on every item. A certain amount of overlap provides more flexibility in how your team takes on work. Scrum also asks the team to own the plan for getting the work done. Many teams bristle a bit at this if they are used to being handed tasks, but most find they greatly prefer this approach once they get used to it. Finally, you do have a bigger team than Scrum recommends (the heuristic is 5 - 9). If you have a project management background, you've probably learned at some point that the number of communications channels on the team is equal to (n * (n-1))/2; so exponential growth with the number of people. 5 - 9 is the sweet spot where you get benefits of working as a team without too many communications channels. That isn't to say you can't have a 14-person team. I've seen it work. Just watch out for this problem. Then again, since communication is communication, you probably already see this regardless of which methodology you use.

Finally, if you're not writing software, some of the best practices out there won't quite fit, or you'll have to interpret them differently. For example, one Agile principle says "Working software is the primary measure of progress." We can replace the word software with "product", but what does product mean for you? For these kinds of problems, finding someone else in your industry (or a similar one) can help you learn from other people who've already figured it out. You can also work with an Agile coach to help you find the answers faster.

I know I didn't give you a straight yes/no answer. From what little I read here, it does sound like your team can benefit, but I don't know enough to say that with any certainty. I hope I've given you enough information to at least make a call on if it's worth trying out.

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It sounds like your team satisfies many of the condition for Scrum: autonomous, self-organizing, cross-functional. But do you have a Product Owner? i.e. a single person, empowered to make on-the-spot decisions on behalf of the organisation, responsible for optimizing the value of product increments, able to say 'no' to customer requests? The PO is a key role in Scrum, arguably the most important one. It is hard for me to imagine Scrum succeeding without one.

  • We don't have one yet, nor do we have a Scrum Master, because we don't really have any sort of project management paradigm implemented at all. We would appoint a person for both of those roles if our manager decides that Scrum is the best choice for us. – John Doe Jun 14 '18 at 15:32
  • @JohnDoe Understood. So consider whether you can identify such a person to be successful in the role of PO. – onedaywhen Jun 14 '18 at 15:51

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