Scrum's potential for rapid, lean product development

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lea Tonkin Communications, Woodstock, IL.

Ready to throw away your Gantt charts and find a nimbler approach for new product development? Consider Scrum, a project management tool that’s been popular in software development, suggested Dave Binz, application engineering manager at Cambridge Engineering. “It’s an agile way to organize a team and structure work, so you get 80 percent of the value out of 20 percent of the work previously needed in a more traditional approach,” Binz said. “This structure allows a team to produce value and innovation at a rapid pace.”

Binz noted that using the Gantt chart waterfall development process typically is a drawn-out method with milestones and delivery dates. “You’re managing to those dates with very little feedback about customer requirements, which may change,” he said. “With Scrum, you’re more concerned about developing and providing value to the customer (sales, marketing, direct end users or others) at all times. With shortened feedback loops, you’re ensuring that the work being done is exactly what the customer values.”

Binz and three fellow Cambridge engineers certified as Scrum Masters introduced Scrum a little over a year ago, successfully using it on an in-house project. “We’ve gone into Scrum as our primary tool in new product development,” he said. “The traditional cycle through prototype design and development could take up to a year or two, with little customer feedback. Now, we work in bite-sized projects, with continual customer feedback loops. The great thing is that customers (contractors and others) feel much more involved in the process.” Binz said initial Scrum projects clipped 30 to 40 percent from the normal product development cycle time.

A current Scrum project is development of an industrial retrofit kit for heating and cooling manufacturing plants — designed to make retrofitting existing equipment easier and faster. Value points are assigned for every deliverable — time, cost, etc. “We get the biggest bang for the buck by starting with the highest point value, least complex ideas first,” said Binz.

“Scrum fits well with our lean culture,” Binz continued. “One of the beauties of this system is that we evaluate each week what went well or didn’t go well, and any impediments and how to reduce them, to meet our project goals. We share our incremental improvements through videos with our customers and others in the company — about how we are using lean to provide more value to our customers.

“Scrum is not just a product development tool,” Binz said. “It is a way to develop teams so they can self-organize and become more proficient in IT, sales and marketing etc.”

For more information about Scrum: Check the Scrum Alliance at and Jeff Sutherland’s book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.