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Scrum and Visual Studio Team System Add-ins

This tip helps you to get a better understanding of what Scrum is, how it works, and how two of its add-ins work together to bring Scrum into the Visual Studio environment.

Scrum is a holistic approach to product development that is supposed to increase the speed and flexibility of the development process. Sports aficionados will recognize "scrum" as a rugby term; it is choice to describe a development approach was deliberate and is intended to describe how development teams try "to go the distance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth" (not half-bad as a means of explaining the apparent chaos that rugby often presents to its spectators). Scrum didn't really become a development concept until 1995, when Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber teamed up to codify the method (and the term) that is so ably documented in the book Schwaber wrote with Mike Beedle in 2001, entitled Agile Software Development with SCRUM (Prentice Hall, ISBN: 0130576349).

Scrum is as much a kind of worldview as it is a specific development methodology, and it has garnered adherents in companies as big as Cisco, in the academic and research communities, and in "smart-guy startups" all over the globe. Scrum is perhaps best understood as a collection of development practices and predefined roles, including a ScrumMaster who runs the process and acts like a project manager, a Product Owner who represents stakeholders, and a Team, which includes developers, documenters, testers, and so forth. Development occurs in 15-30 intervals called sprints (the actual number of days is decided by the development team) during which the team builds an increment of what is called "potential shippable" (often translated as "usable") software. The feature set for a sprint come from a product backlog, a prioritized list of outstanding high-level work requirements, and are chosen during a spring planning meeting, when the product owner informs the team about items from the product backlog he wants to see completed. During a spring, the backlog remains inviolate so that requirements for each sprint are set in stone. Scrum is easy to learn and requires little effort or overhead to start using, which explains its exploding and continuing popularity.

Scrum and Visual Studio Team system add-ins

Our two Visual Studio Team System add-ins work together to bring Scrum into the Visual Studio environment. The first of these tools is called Scrum for Team System, and it is a free agile software development methodology add-in for Visual Studio Team System. It was developed by Conchango, a UK-based development consulting firm, working in tandem with Ken Schwaber -- one of the "fathers" of Scrum. It is also supported by a whole raft of courses to teach the ScrumMaster role, and to impart agile development skills and knowledge. For the purposes of this brief exposition, this add-in is what brings Scrum capability into the existing Visual Studio project management and methodology framework.

The second add-in is called Scrum Dashboard; it is a CodePlex project that delivers a graphical user interface to Scrum for Team System, to replace the typical whiteboard that is used to run Scrum projects and to simplify interactions with Scrum artifacts inside the Visual Studio environment, usually on Team Foundation Server 2008. This dashboard provides an Ajax-based Web interface that works with both IE and Firefox. It is sprint-centric so that it innately understands how to handle daily work inside the sprint context. You can use it to create, update, and manage product backlogs, and it provides color-coding for backlog items to display progress and to flag unplanned work. It provides metrics and statistics for teams, along with a sprint burndown chart that keeps progress and activity visible to all team members, product owners and the ScrumMaster.

Those who work with Visual Studio Team System and who either already use, or want to use, Scrum as a methodology should find this combination a one-two punch that delivers the goods inside the Visual Studio environment. It should also be of interest to Visual Studio development teams who want to learn more about Scrum, or to see if it might help them better manage their development processes.

Ed Tittel is a writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security. E-mail with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools to review. Cool tools rule!

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