SEO Terms: What is “Link Juice”?

SEO - Link Juice

If you have ever worked in the capacity of business analyst or SEO marketer for yourself or a client you have probably heard of the term “link juice”.  Link juice is a valuable commodity in the search engine optimization world — and it doesn’t come easy or without heavy lifting.  It’s a pure strategy game that gets more out of less and rewards marketers who prioritize value.

For the uninitiated, link juice is marketing jargon that is used to explain the power (i.e., relevance) that external links can give to another webpage. Based on various factors, the amount of “juice” your website gets from an external link can be a little or a lot.

According to the almighty Google, the search engine’s algorithm determines which pages have the best information for a query on a subject, mostly by other prominent websites linking to the page.

Basically, link juice is a quality, not a quantity game.

The more high quality pages that link back to your page, the juicier it will be — which translates into a higher ranking on Google.

A page is considered high quality if it meets the following criteria: indexable by search engines, swimming in link juice itself, independent or unpaid, has linked to you and only five others (not five hundred), and, lastly, the link has relevant, keyword-optimized anchor text.

How can I get more link juice for my website?

In the game of link juice, either you win — or you die.

Not really, but it can be extremely helpful to marketers. It takes a lot of work to get going from marketing, PR and content — but once it’s chugging along, it should evolve into more of a maintenance process.

Obviously, the best way to attract more links to your website is to create compelling, engaging and trustworthy content.

Once you have that, promote it. Push it on social media — particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, but it may vary based on your industry. With quality content in your portfolio, you can contribute to other sites for a linkback, or invite a guest blogger onto your site for the same exchange.

Look out for opportunities online where your content could be listed as a thought leader, or your product could be used for a product review. Make the sources as independent as possible — news articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forums and ratings sites like Yelp or Amazon.

Also, make sure to spread the link love around. It’s important that you don’t have one page heavily weighted with links while the rest of your pages are barren. Go deeper than just promoting your main page.

Although building link juice doesn’t exactly lead to increased sales, the more positive link juice your website has, the higher it will rank on Google — and you will see more organic traffic.

Originally posted by Courtney Eckerle at SherpaBlog

The best meetup groups for eCommerce managers

The best meetup groups for eCommerce Managers

Are you starting up your online store? Looking for some trends and tricks to skyrocket the sales on your eCommerce?  Joining in meetup groups will expand your network, get you sharpen with the latest trends, and push your business to the next level.

Meetups usually meet once a month to discuss the best practices and challenges in the land eCommerce. It’s a great chance to get together, discuss ways to solve common problems, and – of course – have fun!

So, check out our list with some of the best meetup groups for eCommerce managers:

eCommerce Meetups in US

eCommerce Meetups in UK

eCommerce Meetups in Canada

eCommerce Meetups in Australia

 

 

What is the Difference between system.log and exception.log in Magento

All Exceptions that happen on the Magento site comes in Exception.log. Ultimately an exception happens when Magento is not able to detect the correct data to load a page or a feature. When this error happens Magento logs that in exception.log.

All Php warnings, XML-file errors and other warnings comes into System.log

The var/log folder in the site directory contains the log files along with error logs for your Magento 3rd party modules (extensions, etc).   The Magento system log file (system.log) and exception log file (exception.log) are saved to the var/log folder unless you rename it from admin panel in the system>configuration with different file names.

It’s important to know what these locations are, so you can easily debug the errors.  Again, exceptions are for correct data and xml, and system is more for php warnings and errors for advanced processes on the site.

If you look for these files or folder and don’t see it, then there is a chance that the log is disabled in the Admin panel.  In Magento you need to the log on; You need to go to Admin -> Configuration -> Advanced -> Developer -> Log setting.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SYSTEM.LOG AND EXCEPTION.LOG IN MAGENTO - Log Settings

It will not bring in old information but rather start logging information from that time forward.   Be careful if you plan on leaving this log process on.  I’ve seen many sites that have been bloated by the log files, especially by sites with high traffic loads.   If you aren’t using the log to resolve an issue I recommend turning it off.

How To Solve PayPal gateway has rejected request. Security header is not valid (#10002: Security error)

When hooking up payment and shipping in Magento there are a few common errors that you may see.  The most common one is one from Paypal that says “PayPal gateway has rejected request. Security header is not valid (#10002: Security error)”.  The Security header is not a valid error is only caused for two reasons:

  1. Wrong credentials Make sure that you’ve put your API Username, API Password and API Signature correctly. Sometimes it happens that during copy and paste there is accidentally a space added, this would trigger this error. Double check this setting admin panel of your Magento store.  Worst comes to worst, type out all the information by hand instead of copy, pasting it.
  2. The Wrong Endpoint This error would come up if you send the data to the wrong endpoint. Make sure that you send the live credentials and data to our live endpoint. When you want to test your store make sure that you use our test endpoint and the credentials from your sandbox test account. If you are using a third party shopping cart, make sure that your store is running a test or live mode, regarding which credentials you are using.

You can check for your credentials here too:

FOR LIVE

https://api-3t.paypal.com/nvp?&user=xxxxxxxxxx&pwd=xxxxxxxxxx&signature=xxxxxxxxxx&version=70.0&METHOD=SetExpressCheckout&RETURNURL=http://www.paypal.com/test.php&CANCELURL=http://www.paypal.com/test.php&PAYMENTACTION=Sale&AMT=50&CURRENCYCODE=USD

FOR SANDBOX

https://api-3t.sandbox.paypal.com/nvp?&user=xxxxxxxxxx&pwd=xxxxxxxxxx&signature=xxxxxxxxxx&version=70.0&METHOD=SetExpressCheckout&RETURNURL=http://www.paypal.com/test.php&CANCELURL=http://www.paypal.com/test.php&PAYMENTACTION=Sale&AMT=50&CURRENCYCODE=USD

Just Substitute the user,pwd and signature and enter in your browser. You should get ACK = SUCCESS if you have input your credentials correctly.

It should give you a response like this:

TOKEN=EC%2d6692632958132974V&TIMESTAMP=2017%2d05%2d15T21%3a16%3a02Z&CORRELATIONID=eec52ef2bb94d&ACK=Success&VERSION=70%2e0&BUILD=33490117

You can also get your credentials here : https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_get-api-signature&generic-flow=true

Good luck!

Magento 2 Product Import Template – Additional Attributes Column Hack

Anyone that has worked on the backend of Magento 1 importing products knows that Magento 2 has rewritten the book on how you import in custom product attributes in the Product CSV file.  Where Magento 1 used to allow a columnar approach where you could do 1 column for each piece of information (see below)

Custom Product Attribute 1
 Custom Product Attribute 2
Custom Product Attribute 3
Attribute 1 Value 1 Attribute 2 Value1 Attribute 3 Value1
Attribute 1 Value 2 Attribute 2 Value2 Attribute 3 Value2

Magento 2 does not allow that individual column (per attribute) approach, but rather a single area called “additional_attributes” that is used for all your custom Magento 2 product attributes.

Now, if you have a web developer on staff this won’t be any issue because developers can write code to bring together your old format with the new format.  However, if you are an owner operator or don’t have a web developer available it may be difficult or time consuming for you to match the new format of the Additional Attributes field.

I have created a template that does all the heavy lifting for you and all you have to do is update the Google Sheet with your own store’s information information.

View The Google Drive Sheet Document Here

To make your own copy of my sheet go to File and click Make A Copy.  You will need your own Google account to do this.

MAGENTO 2 PRODUCT IMPORT TEMPLATE – ADDITIONAL ATTRIBUTES COLUMN HACK - Make a copy

When you are done with that additional attributes field copy the row and PASTE SPECIAL into your Magento Product Import CSV.  Sample Product CSV here.

MAGENTO 2 PRODUCT IMPORT TEMPLATE – ADDITIONAL ATTRIBUTES COLUMN HACK - Paste Special

How to Setup Value Added Tax (VAT) in Magento 2

Some countries around the would charge what is called a “value added tax”, or most commonly known as “VAT”, on their goods and services.  Depending on which stage your business is in of the supply chain there can be different VAT rates.  If you are a manufacturer, wholesaler, b2b, and offer services all for the same product/product types you may need more than one VAT Tax.  For this case I am going to do a simple product that is shipping within Germany.

Configuring Magento 2 VAT Tax

The following instructions include a tutorial on how to set up a 19% VAT in the country of Germany for direct sales (B2C) to retail customers. For other tax rates and countries, follow the general procedure but enter the correct information that corresponds to your country, VAT rate, customer types that you need Magento to manage for you.

Before proceeding, make sure to find out which rules and regulations apply to VAT in your area and write them out on paper or notepad file.  Organization will keep you from pulling your hair out and keep you on task and focused.

In certain business-to-business transactions, VAT is not assessed. Magento can validate a customer’s VAT ID to ensure that VAT is assessed (or not assessed) properly.  I’ll write on this in the future.

Process Overview:

  • Step 1: Set Up Tax Zones and Rates
  • Step 2: Set Up Customer Tax Classes
  • Step 3: Set Up Product Tax Classes
  • Step 4: Apply Tax Classes to Products

Step 1: Set Up Tax Zones and Rates

HOW TO SETUP VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) IN MAGENTO 2 - Tax Zones

1. On the Admin sidebar, tap Stores. Then under Taxes, choose Tax Zones and Rates.  See screenshot above.

2. In the upper-right corner, tap Add New Tax Rate . Then, add the following new tax rates:

VAT Standard Rate Tax Identifier: VAT Standard

Zip/Post Code: * (a “*” means all zipcodes)

State: *  (a “*” means all states)

Country: Germany

Rate Percent: 19.00

HOW TO SETUP VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) IN MAGENTO 2 - New tax rates

3. Tap Save Rate for your new rate.

If you have many tax rates, you can use the grid filter controls to list only the new VAT rates.

Step 2: Set Up Customer Tax Classes

1. On the Magento 2 Admin sidebar, tap Stores. Then choose Tax Rules from the menu items.

HOW TO SETUP VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) IN MAGENTO 2 - Tax rules

2. Expand the Additional Settings section at the bottom of the screen and do the following steps:

a. In the Customer Tax Class box, make sure that there is an appropriate customer tax class to use with the VAT. If you need to create an additional class, tap Add New Tax Class.  ***In this example I used the stock “Retail Customer” customer tax class group.

b. Enter a Name for the new customer tax class, and tap the checkmark to Save.

Step 3: Set Up Product Tax Classes

1. In the Product Tax Class box, tap Add New Tax Class, Then, create the following product tax

HOW TO SETUP VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) IN MAGENTO 2 - Product tax classes

classes: “VAT Standard”

2. Tap the checkmark to Save each new class.

Step 4: Set Up Tax Rules in Product

1. On the Admin sidebar, tap Products. Then under Inventory, choose Catalog.

2. Open a product from your catalog in edit mode.

3. Under Product Details, set Tax Class to the VAT class that you want to use for the product.

HOW TO SETUP VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT) IN MAGENTO 2 - Product details

4. When complete, tap Save and you should be charging 19% VAT Tax when someone order’s this item.

How To Reset Customer Password Magento 2

In Magento 1 there was a field for easily updating a customer’s password to a specific string, however in Magento 2 that feature has been removed and the expectation is that if you are in the admin panel you will reset their password and Magento will request the user themselves to create a new password by following a link sent to them in their email.

While this is safer and more streamlined it can pose an issue if you have a customer that wants a specific password, or can’t receive emails (or they all go to spam).  I’ll show you how to easily reset a customer password in Magento 2.

This is really helpful for developers as well if they are working on a staging or development site and emails are setup to send.

READY? SET? MAGEN-GO!

1. Login to your Magento 2 admin panel

2. Navigate to the customer you want to modify and copy their email address for later on in the Magento 2 walkthrough.  You need to have their exact customer account email address for this method.

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Customer

3. Now Navigate to System>Data Transfer>Export

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - System

4. From the dropdown select “Customers Main File”.

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Export

4b.  If you want the full customer list you can skip step 5.

5. Paste in the email address for the single customer you are looking to modify.  I really like to limit my exposure to “fracking something up” so I only deal with the minimum amount of data that I need to.

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Customer data

6. Scroll to the bottom of the page and hit the “Continue” button.  A file will download to your browser or ask you to save the file.

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Customer data continue

7. Find the location of your recently downloaded file and open it up.  It is a CSV (comma separated values) file so you’ll need an application to open that.  My favorite apps to use are OpenOffice (the excel knockoff) or even Google Sheets if you use Gmail.

8. Scroll all the way to the right and update the “Password” column to be the password the customer, or you, want to use.  Don’t use spaces. It must be one continuous word or numbers.

Helpful tip: If your customer has set a previous password (at ANY point) the column named password_hash will be filled in.  You’ll want to delete that hash value before importing your file.

9. Save your CSV file and go back to Magento.  Navigate to System>Data Transfer>Import.

10.  Choose from the dropdown Customer Main File then on the next screen “Add/Update Complex Data”.  DO NOT CHOOSE ANY OTHER OPTION. 

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Import

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Import Behaviour

11. Find your local CSV that you edited and then upload it.

HOW TO RESET CUSTOMER PASSWORD MAGENTO 2 - Import File

12 THATS IT! The Magento 2 customer should their password reset to the password they want.

Importing Configurable Products for Magento 2

The built-in import feature in Magento can often be frustrating due to its complexity and less than forgiving nature. In Magento 1, many extensions were created to aid in importing products quickly and easily. With the recent release of Magento 2, there are not many extensions to help with importing products. Documentation is also sparse when it comes to various methods of importing products.

Importing simple type products in Magento 2 isn’t that difficult. You can export a simple product under:
System -> Export

and then look at the format. For configurable products (products that have ordering options like size, color, etc… where a number of simple products are attached to a main configurable product), the import process is much more complicated. You can export a configurable product with its associated simple products, but it may not be obvious what is required to have a successful import.

Here are the steps needed to successfully import configurable products (with associated simple products) into Magento 2:

Prerequisites

Before you perform an import, the following items should be completed beforehand:

  1. Product attributes should already be created and defined properly. (Stores -> Attributes -> Products)
  2. The product attributes you plan to import should be assigned to an attribute set. (Stores -> Attributes -> Attribute Set)
  3. The category / categories these products will go into should already be set up. (Products -> Categories)
  4. Non of the simple products or configurable products should exist in the catalog before importing.

The CSV import file

Magento accepts a valid Comma Separated Value (CSV) text file for import. The file should, by default, use a comma as the field and multiple value separator. You can change these during the import options being selected in the admin panel, but it may cause issues.

There are 5 items you have to take into account when creating the CSV file:

  1. All simple products should be listed before the configurable product in the CSV file. This is required.
  2. The “attribute_set_code” field should match the Attribute Set that contains the attributes for each product.
  3. The “configurable_variations” field should be a pipe separated set of sku/option combinations for each simple, and be populated only for the configurable product.
  4. The “configurable_variation_labels” field should correlate the Attribute code to the Label Name, and be populated only for the configurable product.
  5. The “additional_attributes” field should list the options for each simple product (comma separated if more than one attribute per simple product).

Example Configurable Product

We’ll look at a basic configurable product as an example:
a T-shirt that comes in two colors: Black and Red

In this example, we assume the Product Attribute “color” exists and has defined colors that include Black and Red. We also assume the Color attribute exists in the “Default” Attribute Set. We set the category for the products to “Default Category/Gear/Bags” as an example category.

Here is an example CSV file to import these 3 products (2 simple products and the configurable product):

sku,store_view_code,attribute_set_code,product_type,categories,product_websites,name,description,short_description,weight,product_online,tax_class_name,visibility,price,special_price,special_price_from_date,special_price_to_date,url_key,meta_title,meta_keywords,meta_description,base_image,base_image_label,small_image,small_image_label,thumbnail_image,thumbnail_image_label,swatch_image,swatch_image_label,created_at,updated_at,new_from_date,new_to_date,display_product_options_in,map_price,msrp_price,map_enabled,gift_message_available,custom_design,custom_design_from,custom_design_to,custom_layout_update,page_layout,product_options_container,msrp_display_actual_price_type,country_of_manufacture,additional_attributes,qty,out_of_stock_qty,use_config_min_qty,is_qty_decimal,allow_backorders,use_config_backorders,min_cart_qty,use_config_min_sale_qty,max_cart_qty,use_config_max_sale_qty,is_in_stock,notify_on_stock_below,use_config_notify_stock_qty,manage_stock,use_config_manage_stock,use_config_qty_increments,qty_increments,use_config_enable_qty_inc,enable_qty_increments,is_decimal_divided,website_id,related_skus,crosssell_skus,upsell_skus,additional_images,additional_image_labels,hide_from_product_page,bundle_price_type,bundle_sku_type,bundle_price_view,bundle_weight_type,bundle_values,configurable_variations,configurable_variation_labels,associated_skus
shirt-black,,Default,simple,Default Category/Gear/Bags,base,T-Shirt - Black,,,1,1,Taxable Goods,Not Visible Individually,1,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,1/23/2016 19:45,1/23/2016 19:45,,,Block after Info Column,,,,,,,,,,,,,color=Black,5,0,1,0,0,1,1,1,0,1,1,,1,0,0,1,1,0,0,0,1,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
shirt-red,,Default,simple,Default Category/Gear/Bags,base,T-Shirt - Red,,,1,1,Taxable Goods,Not Visible Individually,1,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,1/23/2016 19:45,1/23/2016 19:45,,,Block after Info Column,,,,,,,,,,,,,color=Red,5,0,1,0,0,1,1,1,0,1,1,,1,0,0,1,1,0,0,0,1,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
shirt,,Default,configurable,Default Category/Gear/Bags,base,T-Shirt,,,1,1,Taxable Goods,"Catalog, Search",,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,1/23/2016 19:45,1/23/2016 19:45,,,Block after Info Column,,,,,,,,,,,,,size=55 cm,0,0,1,0,0,1,1,1,0,1,1,,1,1,1,1,1,0,0,0,1,,,,,,,,,,,,"sku=shirt-black,color=Black|sku=shirt-red,color=Red",color=Color,

You may also download the sample CSV file.

Key fields include:

additional_attributes:
For the Black T-shirt: color=Black
For the Red T-shirt: color=Red

configurable_variations: For the configurable T-shirt product:
“sku=shirt-black,color=Black|sku=shirt-red,color=Red”

configurable_variation_labels: For the configurable T-shirt product:
color=Color

The import process

Once you have your import file built, you may import it in the admin panel under:
System -> Import

Default options for the import should look like:

IMPORTING CONFIGURABLE PRODUCTS FOR MAGENTO 2 - Import Options
Import Options

Then you can click “Check Data” in the upper right of the screen. This should complete fairly quickly. If it hangs up for a very long time, it’s very likely your import file either has bad header options, or is not a properly formatted CSV file.

If the check passes, you may click the “Import” button at the bottom to perform the import. Once it is complete, you should go edit one of the configurable products and make sure that on the bottom of the edit product screen, the list of expected simple products are present in the Configurations section:

IMPORTING CONFIGURABLE PRODUCTS FOR MAGENTO 2 - List of simple products
List of simple products

If you do not see a list of associated simple products, your import file likely had bad data or formatting in the “configurable_variations” field for the configurable product.

Summary

As you can see from the details above, importing configurable products into Magento 2 requires many steps and proper configuration before-hand. If you follow the guidelines above, you should be able to successfully import configurable products into Magento using the native Import function.

3 Must Do Holiday Ecommerce Marketing Tips 2016

The holiday season is just around the corner, and if you’re hoping to exceed your sales goals, you’ve come to the right place. Whether your holiday marketing plan is in full swing, or you’re still not sure where to start, let us help you maximize your site’s exposure and make this season a success.

Last year, consumers spent $69.1 billion online during the holidays, and that number is expected to increase by 10 percent this year. Gone are the days of driving to the mall, fighting for a parking spot and standing in line. Today’s consumer understands – and appreciates – the convenience of shopping from home. But with so many outlets to choose from, it’s more important than ever that your website is holiday-ready because we know online shoppers don’t have the desire – or time – to stumble through a winding checkout process or be subjected to a sub-par user experience.

What are some ways you can prepare for the holiday surge and ensure you get a piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie?

1) You can start by reviewing your mobile presentation. According to the National Retail Federation, more and more people are shopping online using mobile devices. In fact, it reported that 56 percent of holiday shopping searches were conducted on a mobile device. It makes sense when you think about it because we’re all tied to our cellphones and tablets. Why wouldn’t consumers order items while watching TV, waiting in line for coffee or during their lunch breaks? Columnist Christi Olson, who recently wrote about preparing search campaigns for the holidays, recommends updating your mobile bid modifiers to make sure your brand is visible on mobile devices. It’s imperative that your mobile presence is visually pleasing and easy to navigate. Create welcoming holiday visuals to help put shoppers in the Christmas spirit. This is an audience you can’t afford to ignore.

2) Another way to drive traffic to your site is by creating buzz through discounts and limited-time offers. Today’s shoppers spend time researching their items before committing to a purchase. No one is going to pay more for something they found elsewhere for less. Help your clients save money by offering deals such as free shipping, discounts and buy-one, get-one offers. Knowledgeable consumers want the best deal and it’s up to you to provide it.

Olson also suggests reviewing last year’s purchase trends, in addition to recent sales, to determine how much to boost desk and mobile bids by both day and time to capitalize on holiday sales. She also recommends using scripts to notify you so you don’t exceed your budget.

3) Cross-channel promotions are key in any marketing plan. Consumers use multiple channels to research and purchase products, and it’s critical that you provide a consistantly on-brand experience through all of those channels. Olson urges business owners to “sync with your peers” across channels like email, display and social media to create a cross-channel promotional calendar. Find out what promotions they’re running and when, and ask about their holiday message and campaign tagging. Put that information to use by creating “remarketing audiences” based on cross-channel consumers, what Olson refers to as “target and bid.” “You can adjust your search messaging based on the cross-channel promotional messaging and match your ad extensions to take consumers further down the funnel,” she said. She suggests developing audiences through email campaigns, such as loyal shoppers; Pinterest and social shoppers; and affiliate discount shoppers. For each remarketing campaign, view your cross-channel calendar “and adjust the ad copy to include the right promotions, and adjust your site links based on where the consumer might be within the purchase cycle.”

Enough of Scrum Already

The conversation goes on in the Scrum and Agile circles about how far a team can stray from the hard and fast “Rules of Scrum” before becoming a “Scrum Outcast” and … earning the derision and scorn of the “True Believers.”  But there is something about the stasis of staying the same and always playing by those rules that might bother some people.
Here are some thoughts on the concept of keeping to the rules or improving out of them.

The Rules Of Scrum

Scrum, despite its definition by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland as “a framework for developing and sustaining complex products” [1], has a distinct set of rules. Unbreakable rules. In fact, the subtitle of the Scrum Guide from which that definition is taken is “The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game.

The rules are what make Scrum, Scrum. If you don’t follow the rules you are not doing Scrum.

Now this is not a consideration uniquely tied to Scrum. If you want to play chess, you follow the rules of the pieces (the way they move), the board (8 x 8), and the other rules of the game. If you want to do something else (say, introduce a new piece, for example, the “jester” (moves 2 up, 2 over, and the player has to tell a joke) then you are no longer playing chess. There are many variations of a game with balls, bats, bases, and players, but there is only one set of rules governing baseball. And so forth.

Each of the agile approaches has rules. Extreme Programming (XP) has its Twelve Principles which establish the rules for XP. If you do not follow all twelve of the Principles, you are not doing XP. Feature Driven Development (FDD) has its processes. And so on.

The concerns of the Scrum elite are valid. They are trying to make sure that teams that only follow some of the Scrum rules and not others, and fail, do not blame Scrum for the failure. In other words, the belief is that if you follow Scrum exactly as it is defined in the rules of Scrum, the software development (or the product development) effort will be successful. If not successful, the rules were not followed, in the form of software development called “Scrumbut” (“we are doing Scrum, but [specify some rule that is not followed. e.g. we still have a project manager] ).

When asked if Scrum can be performed without various of the defined components, such as having a Scrum Master, or daily stand-ups, or a retrospective, the Scrum community is fairly unanimous is saying, “no.”

Here are some random comments from the Yahoo Scrum Development Group and the LinkedIn Agile and Lean Software development Group over the past several years.

When asked if it were possible to “do Scrum” without Scrum Master (names withheld):

“No, it is not possible to have Scrum without Scrum Master. Have a great day.”

“You can still go and do the development work without a Scrum Master, but you can’t call that Scrum.”

“If you do not have a Scrum Master on your team, you are not doing Scrum. If you do not have two bishops at the start of a chess game, you are not playing chess.”

Similar responses applied to doing Scrum without a standup and without a formal end of sprint retrospective: “It’s not Scrum, it’s Scrumbut.” So changing the rules should be avoided since no one likes to be called a “but” especially a “Scrumbut.”

What If The Rules Stop Applying?

But what happens when the team or the players find the rules constraining or restricting or decidedly non-Agile?

Is that possible?

Example:

The team had been together over three years, using Scrum as their software development approach. They were by any measure a performing team under the Tuckman model. They regularly made all their sprint commitments and performed at a high velocity especially when compared to the other Scrum teams in the department.

Over the years, in their quest for continual process improvement, they made a number of changes which affected the basic tenets of Scrum.

Because they were co-located and talked among themselves continually, they decided that their Daily Stand Up was redundant. At the Stand Up, they retold what everyone already knew from the day before. Basically, they all knew what each other was doing. They said that they didn’t miss the Stand Ups and liked the extra fifteen minutes a day the got by not having it.

They also decided that waiting until the end of the Sprint to review what they were doing was too late, making the Retrospective also redundant. They were making changes during the Sprint and adjusting and having ad hoc meetings to address issues. The Retrospective had become a review of what already happened and a waste of time.

They eliminated it.

Finally, they realized they were able to deal with all the obstacles and impediments themselves. They didn’t need to go to a Scrum Master to act as an intermediary. They ran their own Sprint Planning Sessions, and Reviews with the Product owner and they certainly needed no further instruction on how Scrum works.

Since they were functioning as a high performing team, they also worked out all their issues among themselves. They suggested that the Scrum Master could better spend his time with other teams. The Scrum Master did. (I talked to the Scrum Master, who voiced no feeling of failure or resentment at being relieved of his duties. He had more of a sense of a parent watching the child graduate from college and enter the workforce on his own. He expressed that he hoped other teams would ask that he be removed.)

Their velocity and output continued to be high in terms of both quantity and quality. But they were not doing Scrum because they were not following the Rules of Scrum. And this is all right. Certainly, the team was not concerned about labels and in any case they still assumed they were doing Scrum. The Scrum Sheriff had not arrived in town as yet to tell them to cease and desist.

First Follow All The Rules

You have to follow the rules because you need a baseline from which to evolve. Otherwise, how would you know you have improved? To paraphrase the comment from Seneca, how are you going to know the direction you want to take if you don’t have a point to start from?

If you improve your process and change one of the rules of Scrum to make it better for you, then you are no longer doing Scrum. You can call it something else. Maybe Cricket or NuScrum or Murcs (Scrum spelled backward).

What Do You Call It?

So if it is not Scrum then what is it? We can probably call the process whatever we want. The team mentioned above had just such a discussion. One suggestion was to call it “Elvis” (from an Elvis fan) because “We’re fast and we rock.” Other suggestions included “Super Scrum” (with appropriate uniforms), “Uber Scrum,” “Scrumptious,” and, of course, “Over Scrum” which the team member highlighted the double entendre by stating, “We are so over Scrum.”

What was their final answer? What did they answer when other developers or management asked them what they were doing? What did they finally end up calling their approach?

Nothing. They decided that they didn’t need a name. Or a title. Or an “Agile approach.” They decided that they didn’t even need to call themselves “Agile.” They were simply developing software the best way they knew how. And that was enough for them.

Agile Is Not About Developing Software Or Product

Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe “Agile” is not about better ways to develop software. Maybe Scrum isn’t really a “product development framework.” Maybe Agile is a way to get a group of software developers together and work as a team and then as a high functioning team. Maybe software development is just what is done while the team is forming and performing. All of the practices and indications of Agile, from pair programming to the Scrum Master, to collective ownership of code, and so forth seem to be about improving the collaboration of the team as much as producing software.

Perhaps if we view “Agile” as a team development method rather than a software development approach, all the issues with being one approach or another start fading away. When the focus is on developing a high-performance team, backlogs, refactoring, having only three roles, Feature Lists, prototyping sessions, and all the rest become methods and techniques for developing the high-performance team.

Graduation Time

In the public school system in the US during the 1950s (I don’t know how long it continued) a graduation ceremony was held when the children moved from kindergarten to first grade of elementary school. I have an old photograph of myself graduating from kindergarten, passed on to my wife from my mother. In sepia tones, I am standing in front of a school wall replete with suspenders (the dress of the day), mortar board and some kind of certificate in my hand.

Am I suggesting that Scrum is like kindergarten? In a way.

Just as Robert Fulghum said, “All I really need to know (about life) I learned in kindergarten” so we might say about Scrum: “All we need to know to be a highly productive software development team we learn in Scrum.”

Just as in kindergarten and throughout all school, the ultimate goal is to learn something and to graduate. With Scrum (and with all Agile approaches) our goal is to learn something (especially about being in a team) and eventually to graduate from Scrum. And it doesn’t matter what we call the process we use after we “graduate” from Scrum. We can simply call it “Agile,”

Your goal should be to start with all the rules of Scrum so that you are doing Scrum and then improve to the point where you are not doing Scrum and graduate to something better: your team’s own software development process.

As Tobias Meyer once said,” the ultimate goal of Scrum is to eventually stop using Scrum.”

Author: 

Steve Blais, PMP, has over 43 years’ experience in business analysis, project management, and software development.  He provides consulting services to companies developing business analysis processes. He is on the committee for the IIBA’s BABOK Guide 3.0. He is the author of Business Analysis: Best Practices for Success.