Scrum Master explains how HM Land Registry masters agile

Scrum Master at HM Land Registry, Nelson Ajoku, reveals how the Non-Ministerial Department of the Government masters agile 

Controlling the DevOps and WebOps team at HM Land Registry (HMLR), Ajoku handles people management by making sure sprints go to plan; ensuring projects are successful within two to three weeks.

He has two daily stand-ups – one for the release team, which supports app development teams, and one with the service improvement team, which looks to constantly improve DevOps practices.

According to Ajoku, the main challenges he faces are anticipating the nature of BAU tasks by viewing the product backlogs of development teams, while completing backlog items that the team has committed to for a sprint.

This challenge has determined the approach towards grooming its product backlogs; goals are set for 12 weeks, with the commitment to improve the WebOps service.

Sprint backlogs

In his sprint planning meetings, they pull work from teams product backlogs, while bearing in mind that regular urgent BAU tasks will be coming from app development teams during the process.

The sprint backlog is a list of tasks identified by the scrum team to be completed during a sprint. Several product backlog items, which are usually in the form of epics broken down into user stories. Estimation and planning poker sessions then take place, while teams discuss how much effort each user story requires.

“Strategy implementations depend on how the results are being received. We view activities on the infrastructure side of things and then flag whatever it is that needs to be improved. The hard part is not being able to influence the ways application developers operate, to minimise incidents,” revealed Ajoku.

In scrum, new features are delivered in sprints, so the value of a product is being realised from an early stage. According to Ajoku scrum promotes continuous improvement of a product, because as long as a product exists, so does its backlog.

‘A combat card for agile’

For HMLR to “see the philosophy of how testing is achieved, while ensuring people are doing their work properly”, a floor diagramme is used, in order to view what has been done over time, including the (business as usual) background and a progress card.

Agile is open to changing requirements over time and encourages constant feedback from end users. Using agile in scrum means that, instead of finished, detailed descriptions of how the project has been completed, it is left to the scrum software development team.

According to Ajoku, the difference between agile and traditional project management is that agile is very transparent and communication is exaggerated frequently, to ensure the tester is testing and delivering correctly. As for with the traditional management, such as waterfall, a lot of people are blinded about if they are still on track or not.

“Obviously, in agile, you have ceremonies and ideologies that help you achieve your goal, such as documentation, which can be a combat card for agile,” added Ajoku.

Project management frameworks

Ajoku believes agile has taken over the waterfall approach: “With the waterfall approach, you need to record everything, test everything, quality assure everything, and then deploy everything, so you have a very long feedback loop.

“As for when using agile you must start with the most valid aspect of the product, record it, deploy it, receive feedback, and keep going back; releasing and fixing issues/bugs sooner before severe damage is done.”

There is an array of project management frameworks, from agile, to scrum, to waterfall. They all have different pros and cons, so it can be difficult for software testing teams to decide what ones to choose from, according to Ajoku.

As an ex-HSBC employee, he also noted that HMLR works differently to the bank because of it including DevOps SMEs in application development teams, ensuring they handle any DevOps testing, while HMLR has a separate DevOps/WebOps team that supports all application development teams.

HSBC also has a lot of dependent teams where some still practice the waterfall approach, making it “tricky” to align teams’ roadmaps, while HMLR application teams are more standalone in an agile perspective.

Written by Leah Alger