What is Scrum?

Picture of Scrum in Rugby
Scrum in Rugby

To understand scrum and the scrum methodology employed by many agile project managers, you can look to the sport of rugby for the origins of this strange nomenclature. In the game of rugby, team players scrum during a pause in game play, brought on by some minor infringement of the rules, such as a forward pass. Within this scrum formation, players then synchronize their next set of actions and move the ball forward once play resumes.

This rugby metaphor translates into the agile project-management practice of stopping project work momentarily to regroup and then plan a move forward with the next set of tasks. For those more familiar with American football, the rugby scrum is analogous to a team huddle, where the attacking team regroups to plan their next play.

No matter which game you are playing (rugby, football or project management), the idea of a scrum is the same. Whenever team players huddle up to plan and execute their next set of tasks, they are “scrumming.”

Scrum in Practice

An agile project begins with an initial scrum (think project kick-off meeting) that lays out what must be done first, and then the game begins, so to speak. The initial deliverables are identified, and the task work begins.

Since running projects using the agile approach is highly iterative in nature, a scrum is held periodically within the overall schedule to give team members a chance to “kick-off” the next set of tasks to be completed and to review the previous set of tasks done — or left unfinished!

In agile lingo, the next set of tasks to be completed within a period is akin to another sports metaphor, called a sprint. However, an agile sprint is not measured in meters and seconds, but in days or weeks, during which time a set of work is performed as defined during the preceding scrum (or after the initial scrum that kicks off the project).

If one or more tasks are not accomplished in the first or following sprints, during the next scrum, team players must determine what to do with incomplete tasks — either to not do the work or to push the work into a later sprint.

The Scrum Master

To have an agile scrum, you need a scrum master. This role is similar to the role of a traditional project manager within the waterfall approach, but with slight differences. The scrum master is not micro-managing project activities. He or she is ensuring that the rules of play (whatever they may be) are enforced and that scrums are held as scheduled and that the team is briefed and ready for the next sprint.

A scrum master will also escalate any problems that the team can’t resolve itself — much like the American football quarterback does when he calls time-out and consults the sideline coach for a better play. However, the responsibilities of the agile scrum master are passed around the team, giving everyone a turn at managing at least one sprint during the life of the project.

Both the quarterback and the scrum master manage the action, while the entire team incrementally marches down the field towards the intended goal, whether that be upright goal posts or a successful project completion.

For more information on the use of scrum methodology, see this PowerPoint presentation on MPUG.org.

Want to learn more about agile project management? Read, “What is Agile Project Management?” on MPUG.

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The Basic Roles in Agile Projects
Scrum: First Establish a Firm Foundation
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Written by Jigs Gaton
Jigs Gaton is CEO of Phoenix Consulting and Training Worldwide, a company that helps developers design and implement better programs and build capacity with training and other resources. Jigs has over 30-plus years of experience in both the private and public sectors working as a project manager and PM consultant. He's currently based in Kathmandu, helping organizations with post-earthquake reconstruction and other disaster-relief efforts.

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