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How Scrum secures bioinformatics businesses?

5 min read
Aug. 12, 2021
Alicja Habiniak
Alicja Habiniak
Alicja Habiniak
Alicja Habiniak
Project Manager
5 min read
Aug. 12, 2021

Project Management Methodologies have plenty of supporters and, of course, a whole lot of die-hard enemies. From my experience, the opponents of Scrum fall into two major groups:

The first one consists of startups who feel that any project management methodology will kill the company's unique spirit and that their initial product will lose its original identity. Such companies want to keep the startup atmosphere and keep the place loose and relaxed.

The other is the literal opposite: big companies and enterprises, with their established way of delivering projects. They tend to keep things as they are and are not eager to change much. They don't always believe in new approaches and consider the better to be the enemy of the good.

As a Project Manager, I've been using Scrum for 4 years now, and I can confidently say that neither of these approaches is true. Project management methodologies, if appropriately adjusted, benefit all sides of the party: developers, team leaders, and business owners, especially in the bioinformatics industry.

I will try my best to explain why.

Quick verification of ideas

Bioinformatics projects, similar to cheminformatics, are prototype-based. Many features implemented in the industry are based on new publications, scientific know-how, and ideas that no one has ever harnessed into technology. Such projects require agility and quick verification, not long-term, waterfall thinking.

That’s why Scrums works great with Bioinformatics: it consists of regular demo meetings, where the team presents the fruits of their work to stakeholders. On the one hand, this allows you to verify the business assumptions of the project in real-time so that developers can make minor adjustments every day.

On the other hand, the leadership is given tools to have their hands on the pulse and to be up to date with the progress. The ability to correct the project course, or even dismiss it in real-time is a crucial part of success in bioinformatics.

Long-term predictability

"Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

However, if the idea turns out to be a good one, Scrum gives the project a longer perspective. The above sentence by D. Eisenhower means that plans in themselves have no real value because circumstances change, and you can't predict the future (especially in bioinformatics). However, as a process of creating and correcting plans, planning ensures the team in what it wants to deliver in the long term.

Planning is embedded in the Scrum methodology, and it gives the team a feeling that it's going in some direction and has a better understanding of what it is supposed to deliver at the current time. For the management and the leaders, planning means predictability and better business estimates. It allows them to efficiently set long-term goals and releases and make accurate forecasts for deadlines.

Faster delivery in a highly competitive market

The bioinformatics market is very competitive: companies constantly outdo each other about who will be the first to implement a prototype and get the customer interested in it. Competition is always working on something new, and the principle of "first come, first served" nowhere works as much as in bioinformatics projects. How is Scrum dealing with this challenge?

Through a sprint retrospective. It’s a team event where we discuss what could've been done better in the last iteration and what is there to be improved. As a result, the product delivery process is more efficient: both at coding and communication with leaders.

When fixing problems top-down, either the problem isn't recognized on the top because it just doesn't get there, or it's fixed without knowing the actual cause and effect. This may result in patching up the symptoms and not resolving the real issue.

Scrum considers developers who know best what bothers them and what they need to work better. Regular meetings allow for streamlining the process and removing bottlenecks, which directly translates to releasing code faster. Fixing problems by the people who know the most about them is simply the most effective way of doing so.

Saving money (lots of it)

In connection with the prototyping from the first paragraph, bioinformatics projects are prone to one more risk: many potential errors, which are always the most expensive on the last stage of the software product development when it goes to the customer. You need to pause, repair it, test it, and deliver it again. The time spent on the repair process is costly for business, not to mention how harmful it may be for the trust of your customer or your users.

Regular, in-depth discussions of requirements and new functionalities between stakeholders and the development team are an inherent part of Agile team meetings. They help reduce ambiguity, help develop risk mitigators, and discover areas subject to the most significant risk.

The bugfix is the cheapest when detected in the early stages, at the level of defining the requirements. Thanks to Scrum, it's much easier to catch such errors and save money on fixing them as early as possible.

Increased reliability of the project

Working with the methodology guarantees that even if the project’s crew changes or any unforeseen situation occurs, a stable delivery method will remain. Scrum is a set of frameworks, rules, and repetitive actions that can always be referred to by all sides of the party.

Project management methodologies provide repeatability. We know where, when and what to expect. They increase the predictability of the project delivery date as well as the overall way the team works. Scrum is the project's insurance against unforeseen events and guarantees that the ship will sail even in a storm.

Developers' higher morale

Project management methodologies consist of regular feedback rounds, not just between the team and stakeholders but also for each developer individually. I work with software teams daily, and I can see how important it is for them to receive feedback on whether their work is going in the right direction.

It works both ways: employees want to feel appreciated for their excellent work and want to know what they can do better to become better programmers. This increases the motivation to work and the efficiency of individual members and, consequently, the entire team. On the contrary, lack of personal feedback makes the work pointless, with no real sense of achieving anything or growing as a person or employee.

I've also noticed that the culture of giving and receiving feedback is not intuitive for everyone, and the beginnings tend to be uncomfortable for some developers. However, seeing the positive impact of feedback loops in the long run, even the initial skeptics turn out to advocate for more feedback.

Freedom within the system - why use Scrum in bioinformatic startups and enterprise businesses?

Finally, I will refer to the two arguments from the beginning of the text, starting with Scrum-opponents, who don't like the "system" part of agile methodologies.

I understand the perspective of startups' CEOs who don't want their bioinformatics product to lose its uniqueness. However, I believe that using Scrum is perfectly aligned with this goal and, even more, allows turning a creative startup idea into business value even more effectively.

We all follow the rules daily. They may not be written down, but we know, for example, that specific behavior is not appropriate in the office or that when dealing with a manager or a client, another typical attitude is expected.

Project management methodologies are principles, good practices, and values that create the working environment and not the product itself. The very point is not blindly following them but adapting to individual needs and styles of doing things. Details can vary from team to team because what matters is the general framework that ties teams together and sets an environment for cooperation and progress.

At the same time, rigid frameworks in which bioinformatics corporate people have to navigate often kill the team's spirit and the sense of responsibility for the product. Creativity needs freedom, and developers often know how to improve the development and release the product faster and cheaper, but excessive, outdated procedures block them.

Give Scrum a chance!

Scrum's five core values are courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness, and having managed 7 software projects already, including 4 bioinformatics, I can confirm that these are not just empty words.

Would you like to have those values implemented in your project and deliver it faster, cheaper, and with more predictability?

Reach out to me and I will make sure to answer all your questions about Agile Methodologies. :)