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What is Scrum?


Scrum is an Agile method for completing complex projects in a systematic way. It was originally created to help software development teams design more sustainable software products, but can be applied to any type of complex, project-driven work. Scrum is often combined with other practices of Agile project management, such as Lean and Kanban.

The Scrum framework includes Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artifacts, and rules. Each element of the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage.

Learn the basic elements of Scrum, and how they can help your team deliver more value, faster.

Definition of Scrum

According to the Scrum Guide, the definition of Scrum is:

Scrum (n): “A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.”

Scrum is:

  • Lightweight
  • Simple to understand
  • Difficult to master

It is lightweight, in that Scrum teams work to eliminate waste by planning work only two weeks in advance. This allows for more flexibility and adaptability than other methods.

It is simple to understand, in that it relies on a few very basic principles:

  • Develop iteratively
  • Optimize predictability
  • Control risk
  • Practice process control through transparency, inspection, and adaptation

It is difficult to master, because the Scrum values of commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect require individuals and teams to hold themselves to a high, disciplined standard of conduct.

Scrum teams are cross-functional, in that they have all the competencies required to accomplish the work associated with the project without depending on people who are not part of the team. They are also self-organizing, in that they choose how best to complete their work, rather than receiving direction from someone outside the team.

Scrum 101

Here are some of the essential elements of Scrum and how they help Scrum teams achieve their goals.

Product backlog

The Product Owner is responsible for guiding teams to maximize the value of the product. They are the sole owner of the Product Backlog, which is a list of possible improvements or additions to the product. Similar to a to-do list, each item on the backlog is assessed by the Product Owner to determine its business value. Storing improvement ideas in the backlog helps teams move through work in a systematic, prioritized, value-driven way.

Sprint planning

Scrum teams operate in set periods of time, called sprints, usually lasting between two and four weeks. Sprint planning is a time dedicated to planning all the work to be done during a sprint.

During this time, teams will decide how to implement the work (taken from the Product Backlog) and will delegate roles and assignments accordingly. Sprint planning helps teams define goals, set expectations, and scope out the work to be done during the sprint.

Sprints

Sprints contain the following elements:

  • Sprint planning, described above
  • Daily Scrums – 15-minute meetings in which each team member quickly and efficiently covers progress since the previous standup and brings up any obstacles that are blocking further progress
  • Working on projects
  • Sprint review and retrospective

Once a sprint begins, its duration is fixed, and the timeframe cannot be altered. During the sprint, teams stay focused on the goals and objectives determined during sprint planning. No changes are made that would endanger the sprint goal. The Scrum Master works to keep the team focused on the sprint goal.

Daily Scrum

The Daily Scrum is a short, time-boxed meeting where Scrum teams synchronize their activities and create a plan for the day. This meeting is held at the same time and place every day to reduce complexity. The purpose of these meetings is to help teams stay on track for delivering the sprint goal on time and on value.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that teams are adhering to Scrum rules, roles, and practices.

Sprint review and retrospective

The sprint ends with a sprint review and a sprint retrospective. During the review:

  • The team presents the work completed during the sprint
  • The product owner checks the work against acceptance criteria and accepts or rejects it
  • Stakeholders or clients provide feedback to ensure that the delivered product met the business need

The Retrospective gives the team and the Scrum Master an opportunity to focus on overall performance and identify strategies for continuous improvement on processes.

Both events offer Scrum teams time to inspect the work done during the sprint, adapt the Product Backlog as needed, and discuss opportunities for improvement for future sprints.

The cycle continues

As the next sprint begins, the team chooses more work from the Product Backlog and begins working again.

Getting Started with Scrum

Much of Scrum’s popularity comes from the fact that it provides a framework to guide teams while giving them flexibility when it comes to execution. Understanding exactly how to do this and implementing it with a team will take time and practice. Here are some steps for getting started with Scrum:

  1. Read the Agile Manifesto, the foundation document for the Agile movement and Agile frameworks, including Scrum.
  2. Read the Scrum Guide, an overview that explains Scrum principles, values, artifacts, roles, and events.
  3. Collaborate with people who are already following a Scrum framework: Ask them about the challenges they face, what they wish they had done differently when starting out, and how their team members responded to Scrum.
  4. Choose roles, create the backlog, plan and sprint, and get to work!