What is Scrum in Agile Project Management

Scrum, a widely adopted framework under the Agile methodology, has revolutionized the way teams approach project management and software development. With its focus on iterative delivery, continuous improvement, and effective collaboration, Scrum has become the go-to choice for organizations seeking to stay ahead in the fast-paced digital landscape.According to the 15th Annual State of Agile Report, Scrum and its variants are used by 66% of Agile practitioners worldwide (CollabNet VersionOne, 2021). This widespread adoption underscores the effectiveness of Scrum in delivering value to customers quickly and efficiently

Origins of Scrum

The Scrum framework derives its name from the sport of rugby. In rugby, a “scrum” refers to a formation where players lock their heads together and lean forward, working as a cohesive unit to gain possession of the ball (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020). This concept of teamwork and collaboration is at the heart of the Scrum framework, which has revolutionized the way organizations approach complex projects.The term “Scrum” was first introduced in the context of software development by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 Harvard Business Review article, “The New New Product Development Game“.

In this influential paper, the authors drew parallels between high-performing product development teams and rugby teams, emphasizing the importance of cross-functional collaboration and iterative development.Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-creators of the Scrum framework, further developed and popularized the concept in the early 1990s. They recognized the potential of the rugby scrum analogy to foster a culture of teamwork and continuous improvement in software development projects.Today, the Scrum framework is widely recognized as one of the most effective Agile methodologies, with a focus on iterative development, regular feedback, and continuous improvement (CollabNet VersionOne, 2021). The rugby scrum metaphor continues to inspire Scrum teams to work together, adapt to changing circumstances, and deliver value to their customers.

How Scrum Works

In Scrum, the project work is completed in short cycles called sprints, which are typically 1-4 weeks long (2 weeks is most common). The team operates with a few key artifacts and events:

Diagram depicting key Scrum elements from Agile methodologies, including the product backlog, sprint, sprint review meeting, daily Scrum meeting, sprint backlog, and increment
The image illustrates the essential Scrum elements and Agile methods used in project management. The product backlog contains prioritized requirements, while sprints are fixed-duration iterations that result in functional intermediate results. Daily Scrum meetings keep the team synchronized, and sprint review meetings present the results to stakeholders for feedback. The sprint backlog organizes work for team members, and the increment represents the work package completed during the sprint.
  • Product Backlog: A prioritized list of requirements for the new product. The Product Backlog can be changed and adapted at any time, with requirements being prioritized and divided into work packages.
  • Sprint: The current iteration in Scrum, which has a fixed duration (time-boxed). The sprint results in a functional intermediate result, known as an increment.
  • Daily Scrum Meeting: A daily 15-minute meeting where team members share information about their progress and synchronize their efforts. Everyone always shares what each team member is working on at the moment.
  • Sprint Backlog: The Sprint Backlog involves splitting the work package into smaller packages and allocating them to team members. This helps with documentation of the remaining work for each package.
  • Sprint Review Meeting: At the end of each sprint, the team presents the intermediate result to the Product Owner and stakeholders. Feedback is integrated into the next sprint.
  • Increment: The work package that is not modified during the sprint. It represents a functional intermediate result (increment of potentially shippable functionality).

During Sprint Planning, the team selects the highest priority items from the Product Backlog that they believe they can complete during the upcoming sprint. These items form the Sprint Backlog. Throughout the sprint, the team works together to complete the items in the Sprint Backlog. They coordinate their efforts daily in the Daily Scrum meeting.

At the end of the sprint, the team demonstrates the completed work (increment) to stakeholders in the Sprint Review meeting and gathers feedback. In the Sprint Retrospective, they reflect on the sprint, identify improvements, and plan for the next sprint.

Scrum Roles

Scrum defines three core roles:

  • Product Owner: Responsible for maximizing the value of the product. They own the Product Backlog and have the final say on priorities.
  • Scrum Master: Responsible for ensuring the team follows Scrum values, principles and practices. They help remove blockers and foster an effective team environment.
  • Development Team: The cross-functional group of professionals who do the work of delivering the product.

The ideal Scrum team size is 6-9 people – some say this is the number of people who can share a large pizza! Less than that, the team may lack key skills. More than that, communication overhead becomes too great.

Diagram showing the roles and responsibilities of a Scrum team, including the Product Owner, Development Team, Scrum Master, and Organization.
The Scrum team consists of the Product Owner, who helps manage the Product Backlog; the Development Team, who create the product; the Scrum Master, who facilitates Scrum implementation; and the broader Organization, which leads Scrum adoption and helps the team understand Scrum.

Why Scrum is So Popular

There are several key reasons for Scrum’s popularity:

  • Clear roles and responsibilities, with emphasis on team collaboration
  • Simple, regular, and predictable meeting and delivery cadence
  • Aligns with and reinforces core Agile values and principles
  • Lightweight framework that is free and open for all to use
  • Large existing knowledge base and community, with Scrum-specific training and certifications available

The Scrum Values: The Foundation for Agile Success

At the heart of the Scrum framework lie five core values that guide the behavior and mindset of Scrum teams: Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness, and Respect. These values, which were added to The Scrum Guide in July 2016, provide a foundation for effective teamwork, continuous improvement, and the delivery of high-quality products

Scrum framework diagram showcasing the 5 values of Scrum: Focus, Openness, Commitment, Courage, and Respect
The image illustrates the 5 core values of Scrum. At the top of the pyramid is Focus, where teams pay close attention to the results. Next is Openness, which ensures teams hold each other accountable. Commitment comes third, with team members ensuring the whole team is committed. Courage follows, as team members engage each other in healthy conflicts. Finally, at the base of the pyramid is Respect, where team members earn respect by building trust among the teams.

Commitment: Dedicated to Success

Scrum teams work together as a unit, with each member committing to the sprint planning process and the overall success of the customer and organization. This commitment is demonstrated by team members scaling their work to their ability to meet the team’s expectations and delivering on their promises .

Courage: Embracing Innovation

Innovation requires courage, and real product breakthroughs happen when team members feel empowered to take bold actions. Courage can take many forms, from speaking up about challenges to making tough decisions. Project managers who encourage honest discussions and address issues transparently during sprint reviews help foster a culture of courage .

Focus: Delivering Value

Delivering quality sprints on time requires focus Scrum tools and practices, such as the product backlog and sprint planning, help teams stay focused on their goals and prioritize the most valuable work. By maintaining focus, teams can consistently achieve their objectives and deliver value to customers

Openness: Transparent Communication

Scrum teams must communicate openly and honestly to ensure project success . Openness helps teams identify problems, work toward solutions, and value everyone’s contributions. A foundation of transparent communication encourages sharing successes, evaluating setbacks, and discussing insights while ensuring team engagement .

Respect: Valuing Diversity

Dealing with different perspectives is a natural part of teamwork. Nurturing respect requires an active commitment to valuing individual differences and varied viewpoints to explore new ideas and solve complex problems . Diversity results in more ideas, leading to better problem-solving, and teams that feel respected and empowered are more likely to share their ideas, fostering positivity.By embracing these core values and incorporating them into their daily work, Scrum teams can create a strong foundation for success, foster a positive team culture, and deliver exceptional products to their customers.

To learn more about how Scrum compares to other Agile methodologies, check out the sections on Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and Lean. You can also learn how to blend Agile and Waterfall approaches for your specific project needs.