Automation is a vital practice for Scrum Teams. The best Scrum Teams I have been part of automated early and often.
Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to product development. We build a product in small pieces. We ensure that whatever we build during a Sprint meets our Definition of Done and is usable by the end of that Sprint.
Each Increment is built on top and becomes part of prior Increments. The entire Increment must be tested each Sprint to ensure it is usable. This means the work to verify and test the Increment must be repeated each Sprint. The amount of effort required to do this will grow over time as the Increment grows to include more features.
Scrum Teams quickly come to realise that the effort involved in manual testing becomes unsustainable. Rather than adding more people (which will only solve the problem temporarily and will create its own challenges) automating some or most of the testing and verification is the answer.
Introducing automation practices such as Automated Testing, Test Driven Development, and Continuous Integration comes with an initial upfront cost. But over time this cost is paid back with the time it saves the Scrum Team over all the future Sprints.
Automation does not need to be limited to testing. Scrum Teams should also look for other opportunities to save time and reduce costs by automating time-consuming processes. Automation gives you a superpower. It lets you produce things with little or no ongoing effort which in turn frees you up to do other more important things.
Some years ago I worked with a large publisher who was adopting Scrum. I met a Project Manager who was highly experienced and could offer a lot of support to the people around them. However, they spent 3 out of every 5 days creating reports for Senior Management which left them minimal time to support the team.
This was a prime opportunity for automation. I spent a few days with the Project Manager helping them to generate 90% of the reports automatically via exports from Jira and some scripts to process them. We managed to reduce the time taken to create the reports to less than an hour per week. The Project Manager now had 3 extra days a week to actually help the people building the product and add value.
Back at the start of my career, I was hired by a company to support a billing process that took place daily. It was a large complex system with many scripts that ran (slowly) and required many manual steps to complete. People worked around the clock in 8-hour shifts to run and monitor the processes. I recognised that this was another situation that was ripe for automation.
I wrote a set of scripts to automate the processes. The scripts reduced the effort from 8 hours to less than 1 hour each shift. Everything ran automatically and the only human involvement was to do some checks and verification. Eventually, this was automated as well and a human would only need to step in on the rare occasion when something went wrong. The cost-saving this created was huge. There were fewer mistakes made by humans so the quality improved as well.
Automation is also critical from another perspective. If you don’t automate things as you proceed, at some point someone else will recognise the cost-saving opportunity and may implement it on your behalf. And if the thing that gets automated is part of your job you may find your services are no longer required. Don’t let that happen. Show the value you can add and continue to add by introducing automation as you work and moving your focus to solve new problems and add extra value.
My recommendation to Scrum Teams, in order to build a habit around this vital practice – At least once each Sprint, plan how you can automate something to make it faster, cheaper and/or better. Carry out the automation so that you end up with more time available to do more interesting work. Aim to automate something every Sprint, even if it is something small.
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