What is scrum methodology? It’s a simple framework that facilitates team collaboration on complex projects. The good news is that scrum is easy to understand. The bad news, it’s hard to master.
Scrum emphasizes teamwork in project management. It stresses accountability and is an iterative progress towards a well-defined goal. Scrum is part of agile software development and teams practicing agile. The name comes from the sport of rugby, where scrum is a formation where everyone plays a specific role, but everyone is working towards a quick adoption of strategies.
When working with a scrum methodology, start with what is known and then track the progress, changing your actions as needed.
The History of Scrum
The scrum process has its origins in the early 1990s. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber come up with process, which they presented to the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications (OOPSLA) conference in Austin, Texas in 1995. They then formalized the methodology in a published paper called “SCRUM Software Development Process.”
The name scrum, however, was inherited from a paper published in 1986 by management experts Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, called “The New New Product Development Game.” They were using the word scrum as it related to rugby as a means of stressing the importance of team collaboration for project success.
The paper reported on research that showed how performance in developing new, complex projects benefited from small, self-organizing teams are given objectives rather than tasks. The teams that excel are the ones given direction, but with autonomy to create their won tactics towards achieving those objectives.
The scrum framework then applied this research on adaptive practices to software development. Along the way, Schwaber recruited Professor Babatunde A. Ogunnaike Tunde, a process control research engineer, to see how scrum worked with other methodologies.
It was determined that methodologies such as waterfall and other traditionally structured processes were not aligned with the scrum framework. Professor Tunde concluded that an empirical approach was the process that best worked with scrum.
By 2001, Sutherland and Schwaber and 15 other software development leaders created the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Shortly afterwards, the Agile Alliance was founded, and Schwaber became its first chairman. Schwaber co-authored with Mike Beedle, the first book on scrum, Agile Software Development with Scrum, in 2001.
The Scrum Alliance was founded in 2002 by Schwaber, a chairman, with Mike Cohn and Esther Derbry. They later added a certification arm to the organization, with Certified ScrumMaster programs. In 2006, Sutherland created Scrum, Inc., and continues to teach the Certified Scrum courses.
Changes in the scrum community continued when in 2009 Schwaber left the Scrum Alliance to start up Scrum.org, which offers the Professional Scrum Series.
Since then, scrum has taken on a global role in project management with the first publication of the Scrum Guide in 2010, which has been updated in 2011 and 2013. It is today known as one of the most used agile frameworks in managing projects.
It’s even growing to work with large teams. Scrum of Scrums applies to the use of the technique to scale scrum to large groups.
How Does Scrum Fit into Agile?
Scrum is a part of the agile process, but certainly not the only part. Agile is a large tent, but scrum is an important pillar. Think of scrum as a framework by which you can implement agile development.
Agile does not have a set of steps to follow, therefore scrum provides a means to apply agile to your project. There are many frameworks that you can use in agile development, such as extreme programming or feature driven development, but scrum’s simplicity and autonomy are selling points.
Scrum can also be used as an entry point to other agile practices. It’s also not solely a framework for software, but can benefit many other kinds of projects.
Glossary of Scrum Terms
Before defining the framework of scrum, here’s a short list of some of the more common terms used when working within a scrum environment.
Burndown Chart: How much effort is left compared to time.
Burnup Chart: Measures the increase in a measure against time.
Daily Scrum: Short scrum meeting on the day’s work.
Definition of Done: When the project is completed and meets shared expectations.
Development Team: Responsible for managing work related to every sprint.
Emergence: When a new information arises during the project.
Empiricism: A process that allows for decisions solely based on observation, experience and experimentation.
Engineering Standards: Shared standards for incremental development of project.
Forecast: Items used for implementation of sprint.
Increment: The small steps that lead to the finished project.
Product Backlog: Work to be done in specific order.
Product Backlog Refinement: When product owner and team add detail to product backlog, also known as backlog grooming.
Product Owner: The manager who is responsible for product and team.
Ready: Product owner and team shared understanding of product backlog when planning sprints.
Scrum: Framework for team collaboration on complex projects.
Scrum Board: A board that visualizes progress for team.
Scrum Master: The scrum master role is akin to a coach who helps team with their expertise.
Scrum Team: Product owner, team and scrum master. Learn more about the scrum roles.
Self-Organization: Team autonomy within bounds of project objectives.
Sprint: Short tasks, one following immediately after the completion of another.
Sprint Backlog: What the team needs to complete the sprint.
Sprint Goal: The purpose of the sprint.
Sprint Planning: Short plan for upcoming sprint.
Sprint Retrospective: Short post-mortem of sprint.
Sprint Review: Short review of sprint to help add improvements to the next one.
Stakeholder: Non-team member who is usually the initiator of project.
Velocity: The average amount of product backlog turned into increment of project during sprint.
The Scrum Framework
The scrum framework should be simple. It is less a traditional methodology and more a framework for learning. The framework, as stated, is part of the agile software development, and consists of a product owner, scrum master and team.
Beginning with a product backlog, which leads to sprint planning and then the sprint, which is only completed when a deliverable is ready for the customer or stakeholder. Following that process is a review and then the whole framework begins again. All this is being watched over by the scum master.
- Product Backlog: The product owner will make a list of work that needs to be done, and they will they place it in order according to priority. This is building your project backlog. They do this by determining what is a must-have item, which are less critical and those that don’t fit into the timeframe allotted. That means the value of each item must be clear. What is their impact, risk and how the item might help in the learning process?
- Sprint Planning: Using the product backlog, teams start with the highest priority items and determines how to achieve this objective. A good tip when planning is to do the due diligence and only start with items that are ready. Also, remember that planning is a short process, so don’t get bogged down in the details. Just get to work on meeting the objectives. Keep the plan collaborative. The team should also ask the product owner and stakeholder questions.
- The Sprint: A short duration to complete objectives, usually two to four weeks, but with daily scrum meetings to make sure things are progressing as needed. To make sure your sprint is as efficient and productive as possible. During the sprint there should be no changes that would put the sprint objective in jeopardy. Scope, however, can be clarified and revised between the product owner and team.
- Oversight by Scrum Master: The scrum master is just that, an expert on scrum, who is overseeing the project throughout and offering advice and direction based on their experience and skills. The scrum master should only be working on one project at a time, to provide it their full attention, and focus on improving the team’s effectiveness. They are not managers, but facilitators, and it’s crucial they clearly define what being done means.
- Completed Sprint: The sprint is complete only when the work is ready to be delivered to the customer or shown to the stakeholder. That means doing regression tests, not rerunning everything on the sprint, but being selective. This collects additional data, but can be expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, you want to be as efficient as possible. Automation can help resolve the issues of cost and time.
- Review: You want to look back on the sprint and see what worked and what didn’t. You can then take the information and apply it to future sprints to replicate the positive and reduce the negatives. Begin the process by thanking participants, offering short introductions and setting ground rules for the discussion.
- Repeat: Once through this cycle, it starts over again by going back to the backlog and taking the next ready item at the top of the priority list. Then you just follow the above steps, improving the process through the prior experience, continuing to refine the work to make it as efficient as possible.
Scrum Is One More Tool in Your Toolbox
Scrum is an excellent framework for project management. But it’s not the only one. Depending on your project, there might be need for a more structured and traditional approach. Or maybe you can mix and match your methods to different parts or phases of the project.
The great thing about scrum is that it’s adaptable. If you’re looking to create a hybrid methodology, you can always punch in scrum where it would serve the project and use other methodologies where they would prove more productive.
Agile might be a tent under which frameworks like scrum are covered, but other methodologies, even traditionally structured ones such as waterfall, can benefit from using scrum. The smart project manager is going to use all the tool available to them to best address the issues of a project and steer it towards success.
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