Business Center

The Judicial Branch Scrum: Making Software Agile

Niles Koenigsberg, Process Improvement Intern
Posted: September 27th, 2018

the Colorado Judicial Branch

The Colorado Judicial Branch

In the Information Technology Systems (ITS) office of the Colorado Judicial Branch, process improvement approaches have been implemented in the hopes of improving the efficiency of Judicial Branch offices. Specifically, the software development teams of IT has shifted their focus towards the voice of the customer and the cohesion of their own teams. This change in principles has resulted in stronger team integration, better workload forecasting, higher quality end-products, and all-around better outcomes.

These results are the benefits of scrum framework and agile principles, which were first implemented by the software teams of ITS, just before 2013. Today, these approaches have become fundamentally cemented in the software development side of the ITS at the Colorado Judicial Branch.

What is Agile? What is Scrum?

Agile is the ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in a turbulent environment. Agile can also be defined as an iterative approach to process improvement. While agile is applicable to a wide variety of projects, it has mainly been an approach to software delivery: developer teams build software incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver all of it near the end. Founded by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the approach has twelve principles that guide its iterative nature. Applicable to areas outside of software development, the approach breaks down the project at-hand into smaller bits, prioritizes them, and then continuously delivers them in two-week cycles called iterations, or sprints.

Scrum, on the other hand, is an agile framework which allows people to address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. The scrum team breaks their work into actions that can be completed within timeboxed iterations (typically two weeks), as they track their progress and re-plan in 15-minute stand-up meetings, called daily scrums.

These two approaches work in tandem. Jason Bergbower, the Senior Manager of Application Development, has another way of putting it: “Scrum is just a framework, being agile means following a set of principles.”

How is it applied?

Currently, agile and scrum are applied only on the software/application development side of ITS, but there is potential for growth. “The whole framework is based on continuous improvement, so we can never say we’re good enough,” Jason stated. The office has four scrum teams all focusing on different software projects, following the traditional Scrum framework. There are three core roles on each team: the Product Owner, the Development team, and the Scrum Master.

Samatha Frederickson, one of the two Scrum Masters in the office, is responsible for facilitating on scrum teams. “I’m there coaching them on how we want to value the principles and determine their approach to work,” Samantha said.

Meanwhile, Product Owners, like Brian Medina, represent the product’s stakeholders and the voice of the customer. “Focusing on [the customer] forces us to do two things,” Medina explained, “Focus on what the customer really wants, and focus on how we work together to deliver high-quality work.”

While their customers may be external (i.e., users of their external website/software) and/or internal (i.e., judges, clerks, etc.), the Scrum team interacts with the customer every two weeks to make sure the software will meet the customers’ needs. “It has allowed us to become better at forecasting the work,” Samantha said, “By revisiting our process every two weeks, we can talk about the challenges and successes that we’ve had in that short iteration and plan better for the future.”

Successes

In their five years of agile and scrum, the software development teams have experienced plenty of success. Brian recalled an “E-Signatures” project, which allowed judges to sign their orders easily and quickly. “We actually got two separate teams to come together into a hybrid team, with myself as the Product Owner and Samantha as the Scrum Master,” Brian explained. By cycling through two week sprints, the product was completed within a short time frame and the team received a national award for their success.

To bring a non-agile “E-filing” project into the agile framework, Jason helped the team to break up their work into two week iterations that made the project more manageable for the product team. These sprints made “things more tangible because it’s just a little piece of a larger project.”

Opportunities

Applying agile isn’t always easy. A (always) prominent challenge is garnering buy-in: “When you bring this [concept] into a room of veterans, they look at you with a skeptical eye,” Brian said. Additionally, only one ITS group (software development) has been using Agile and the rest of the ITS has not, which creates challenges on how work gets done. “It requires thoughtful planning on our part,” said Jason.

But, the team offered advice on how to successfully implement Agile and Scrum. “Start with one team,” Samantha suggested, “Having one strong foundational piece will help prepare you for future success.” Brian stressed the importance of selecting the right person for the right role, as “the Scrum Master has to be really passionate about the framework and about what they do.” Lastly, Jason believes in the importance of training, coaching, and failure. “Coaching helps ensure follow-through on training,” he stated, “And people need to understand it’s okay to fail, as long as we learn from it and improve.”

Preparing for the Future

Moving forward is always a challenge and preparing for next steps can be incredibly difficult. “We have an external coach and we go to conferences to learn about other ‘out-there’ Agile ideas,” Brian explained, “It makes us think, ‘What can we do from here?’” The Judicial Branch continues to attract new talent with backgrounds in agile. Samantha believes that “the number of people that are interested in the way we’re working will be much larger in the future.”

“We’re interested in taking this to the next level, not just as a team, but as an organization,” Jason said. We are all very excited to see the Judicial Branch improve their services through agile.