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Scrum: Your comprehensive guide

by Simon Buehring
Immerse yourself in the world of Agile Scrum. Explore how it can enhance your projects, spur innovation, and lead your team to success.
Scrum: Your comprehensive guide

Scrum introduction

Welcome to this comprehensive exploration of Scrum. Scrum is an influential Agile framework that’s transformed product development approaches.

This guide offers you an in-depth understanding of Scrum.  You will learn its underlying theory, unique method, and its relationship with Agile. You will find out about Scrum roles, artefacts, and events that make up its framework. You will learn about Scrum’s versatility in enhancing existing and developing new products.

This guide to Scrum provides invaluable knowledge. It is valuable for Agile enthusiasts and project management professionals. Let’s embark on this enriching journey together.

Scrum: what does it mean?

Scrum is a term originating from rugby. It represents a style of play where team members huddle together to quickly advance the ball. In an Agile world Scrum holds a similar sentiment. It focuses on collaboration, rapid delivery, and adaptability to meet the goal. Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework. Scrum is designed to manage complex work, typically software development. Due to its scalability and simplicity, it is now applied across industries.

Scrum has distinct roles, events, and artefacts. It orchestrates collaboration between the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and developers. The Product Owner champions the vision for the product. The Scrum Master ensures adherence to Scrum values. Developers build the product and bring it to life.

Scrum is iterative in nature. It uses time-boxes, known as Sprints. Each Sprint produces a potentially releasable Product Increment. The rhythm of Scrum is maintained through its artefacts. These are the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and the Product Increment.

What sets Scrum apart is its relentless emphasis on self-organisation and continuous feedback. It enables iterative progression to deliver increasing maximum value.

The theory behind Scrum

Scrum stands on a rich theoretical foundation. It is based on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Scrum was co-founded by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the early 1990s. They conceived Scrum to combat the rigidity of traditional development models. Scrum uses observable experiences and facts to measure progress, not detailed upfront planning. Hence, Scrum embodies three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

  • Transparency – This ensures every aspect of the process is visible to stakeholders.
  • Inspection – The regular scrutiny of the product and processes to detect variances.
  • Adaptation – Continual process improvement to improve the product and work environment.

The holistic approach of Scrum is encapsulated in the Scrum Guide. This definitive rulebook outlines the theory, practices, rules, and roles of Scrum. The guide is maintained by Scrum’s co-creators. It serves as the blueprint for implementation of Scrum. It is regularly updated to reflect the ever-evolving understanding of Scrum.

Scrum’s theoretical underpinnings empower teams to learn through experience. It enables them to self-organise their work. It enables continuous improvement by the team reflecting on their wins and losses.

Scrum and Agile comparison

Scrum and Agile are often mentioned interchangeably, yet they are not identical. Agile refers to a set of principles for software development. These enable solutions to evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organising, cross-functional teams. Agile is a mindset. It is a philosophy that encourages flexibility, customer collaboration, and responsiveness to change. Agile methodology encompasses various frameworks. These include Scrum, Kanban, Lean, XP, and others.

Scrum, on the other hand, is a specific Agile framework. Scrum is used to develop complex projects. It provides a set structure of roles, events, and artefacts for implementing Agile. Agile principles guide the approach and thought process. Scrum provides the tangible steps and rules to follow to implement Agile.

They both share common views, but their differences lie in their approach. Agile is a broad philosophy. Scrum is a practical application of this philosophy.

Understanding Agile Scrum

People often talk of ‘Agile Scrum’ as if it is somehow different from Scrum. It is not. They are one and the same thing. Scrum is just one method (of many) within the broader Agile context.

Scrum adapts Agile’s values and principles in its framework. User stories in the Product Backlog. Iterations in the form of Sprints. Constant feedback through Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. These all adhere to Agile’s core premise of iterative development and continuous collaboration.

Scrum is an Agile framework due to its adherence to Agile principles. As such, it focuses on delivering value in a collaborative, iterative manner. Scrum serves as a practical tool for teams to incorporate the Agile mindset in their ways of working. Scrum fosters an environment of continuous learning and improvement.

Scrum framework: artefacts, events, and roles

The Scrum framework is characterised by specific artefacts, events, and roles. In unison, these facilitate transparency, inspection, and adaptation. We will now try to understand these components to see how they intertwine to create the rhythm of Scrum.

Scrum artefacts

In the Scrum framework, three primary artefacts interact. Together, these provide a clear understanding of the work done and the work left to do. These are the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment.

The Product Backlog is maintained by the Product Owner. The Product Backlog is a prioritised list of everything needed in the product. Higher priority items appear at the top. The Product Backlog evolves as the product and the working environment evolves. It encapsulates user requirements, fixes, and enhancements. Items can be expressed in any agreed way. That might be as user stories, use cases, or any collaborative, customer-focused manner.

The Sprint Backlog is a subset of items from the Product Backlog. The Sprint Backlog forms a list of items that the team commits to completing in a Sprint. It’s a forecast by the team about what functionality will be in the next Increment. It is used to plan and guide the work needed to deliver it. Each Sprint has its own Sprint Backlog.

The Increment includes all Product Backlog items completed by the end of a Sprint. The Increment also includes all the items delivered from previous Sprints. At the end of a Sprint, a new Increment should be available. This should consist of potentially shippable product functionality.

Scrum events

Scrum rhythm is fashioned by its core events or ceremonies. These are time-boxed to ensure regularity and minimise unnecessary meetings. These events are the Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective.

The Sprint is the heartbeat of Scrum. A Sprint is when a usable and potentially releasable Product Increment is developed. Other events serve for planning, inspection, adaptation, and improvement.

Sprint Planning answers what can be done in the upcoming Sprint and how it will be achieved.  Sprint Planning is where items from the Product Backlog are moved to the Sprint Backlog. It is usually done in a workshop lasting a maximum of 4 hours.

Sprint Planning is a collaborative event between the whole Scrum Team. This Sprint Backlog becomes the plan outlining the work of the Scrum Team in the next Sprint. It defines a Sprint Goal communicating why the Sprint is valuable to stakeholders.

A Daily Scrum is a short get-together for the team to plan for the day. Typically, these are limited to 15 minutes. The Daily Scrum enables the team to report, progress and identify impediments. The team adapts the Sprint Backlog if needed. Daily Scrums improve communications, identify impediments, and promote quick decision-making. They eliminate the need for other meetings.

At a Sprint Review the attendees inspect the Increment. They include the Scrum Team and key stakeholders. The purpose of the Sprint Review is to review progress towards the Product Goal. They discuss what was achieved in the Sprint. They collaborate on what to do next. The Product Backlog is adapted if needed.

The Sprint Retrospective is where the Scrum Team inspects itself. The Sprint Retrospective creates a plan for improvements. It discusses what went well and went badly during the Sprint. It discusses the problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved. It focuses on individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their ‘Definition of Done’.

Scrum roles

Scrum identifies three key roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developers.

The Product Owner maximises the value of the product developed by the Developers. The Product Owner role is a sole person. It manages the Product Backlog and accepts or rejects work results.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master role is a sole person. It ensures the team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. It helps those outside the team to understand Scrum and maximise the team’s value.

Developers are usually technical staff. Scrum Developers deliver a potentially releasable Increment at the end of a Sprint. They are self-organising, cross-functional, and accountable for accomplishing the Sprint Goal.

Scrum pillars

Scrum stands on three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Each pillar plays a critical role in applying the Scrum framework.

Transparency is the visibility of all aspects of the Scrum process and its artefacts. Everything is open and visible to all stakeholders – team members and Product Owner. This includes the backlog items and the team’s progress. Transparency ensures everyone has a shared understanding. This includes what is being worked on, why it’s valuable, and how the team is progressing towards goals. It paves the way for trust, critical for the success of Scrum.

Next, we have inspection. Scrum demands regular inspection of the product and progress towards the Sprint Goal. Inspection aims to detect undesirable variances. These inspections are woven into the Scrum Events such as Sprint Review and Daily Scrum. The aim of inspections is not to micromanage. It is to assess progress and make informed decisions.

Finally, adaptation. This happens during an inspection. If the team identifies a problem affecting progress or quality, it must then adjust. Adaptation can lead to many different types of adjustments. Changes in strategy. Improvements in work practices. Alterations in communication. Even adjustments in the team’s composition.

The three pillars work in unison. They work to support a productive and effective Scrum environment. They create a framework that encourages open communication and continuous review. They provide the flexibility to adapt – all aimed at delivering maximum value.

Building a Scrum team: values and dynamics

A Scrum team isn’t just an assembly of individuals. It is a collaborative entity that embodies specific core values and dynamics. These values and dynamics guide team actions, decisions, interactions, and ultimately, their success.

Values leading the way

Scrum identifies five fundamental values. These values form the bedrock of any Scrum team’s culture and behaviour. They are courage, focus, openness, respect, and commitment.

  • Courage empowers Scrum team members to improve the product and address issues. Courage fosters a culture of innovation and problem-solving.
  • Focus ensures that the team concentrates on the work of the Sprint and meeting the Sprint Goal.
  • Openness encourages team members to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This creates an environment that nurtures trust and collaboration.
  • Respect is about honouring the individuality, competence, and diversity of team members.
  • Commitment is the personal promise of each team member to achieving the team’s goals. The personal promise extends to supporting the team.

Dynamics of a Scrum team

Scrum team dynamics revolve around collaboration, communication, and adaptation.

  • Collaboration is the cornerstone of the Scrum team. Team members actively work together. Collaboration taps into diverse skills and perspectives to create high-value products.
  • Communication in Scrum involves frequent, clear, and honest interactions. This is vital for managing work, resolving issues, and fostering a shared understanding.
  • Adaptation captures the team’s ability to respond to changes. These may be changes in project requirements, team composition, or unforeseen challenges. Adaption ensures the team remains productive and effective in the face of change.

These dynamics foster a productive work environment. They also lay the foundation for a resilient and high-performing Scrum team.

Scrum in action: real-world applications

Scrum’s beneficial impact transcends industries and sectors. This is dues to its versatility and focus on delivering maximum value. Its real-world applications range from technology to education. Scrum continuously demonstrates its effectiveness in diverse contexts. Here are a couple of examples that bring Scrum’s practical application to life.

In the realm of software development, Scrum’s birthplace, its value is unmistakable. Giants like Google, Apple, and Spotify use Scrum to manage complex product development. It helps them drive innovation and deliver high-quality products rapidly. For instance, Google’s Ads team uses Scrum to handle its vast, complex product suite. Scrum empowers its teams to self-organise, adapt, and focus on small, manageable tasks. This leads to increased productivity, enhanced product quality, and more satisfied customers.

Beyond the tech world, Scrum has found a home in education. University of California instructors applied Scrum to manage and enhance their course curriculum. They used Scrum’s iterative approach to test new teaching methods and gather feedback. They could then adapt their teaching practices. The resulting value was more engaged students and significant improvement in course outcomes.

Scrum’s application also extends to the non-profit sector. The World Bank implemented Scrum amongst their development teams. This helped it achieve timely delivery from their Information and Technology projects. Scrum helped boost team morale and achieve better project visibility. It also increased delivery speed, and improved stakeholder satisfaction.

Whether enhancing existing products or driving new projects, Scrum has proven itself. The strength of Scrum lies its simplicity, adaptability, and focus on delivering value. These make Scrum an invaluable tool in today’s complex business world.

Scrum’s dual role: enhancing existing products and driving projects

Scrum was designed to streamline the development of complex software products. Yet it can be used in both business-as-usual and project contexts. This is due to its agility and focus on continuous improvement. Its dual role is evident in its ability to enhance existing products and develop new ones. Scrum provides teams with the tools to handle changing requirements and unpredictability.

For existing products, Scrum enables teams to incrementally enhance and adapt products. This enables them to meet evolving market needs or address emerging issues. Product Backlogs can be continuously refined, and user feedback regularly incorporated.

In projects, especially when creating new products, Scrum facilitates iterative and incremental development. This enables teams to produce usable increments at the end of each Sprint. Scrum fosters adaptability. This enables teams to respond changing customer requirements, technology, or market trends.

Many people think Scrum is a project management approach. It is not. Scrum offers a structure for managing complex work. It does not replace a project management approach. Project management techniques are still required for areas outside the Scrum Team’s domain. These might be areas like procurement, broader risk management, and stakeholder engagement.

Scrum and project management should therefore be seen as complementary. Scrum can drive product development within the project. Project management ensures alignment with broader business and project objectives.

Using Scrum beyond software

The application of Scrum isn’t confined to its software development birthplace. Scrum is now widely used across diverse industries. Scrum’s inherent flexibility and focus on delivering customer value have facilitated this adoption.

This underscores Scrum’s versatility and the universal appeal of its principles. Scrum’s power to foster collaboration, transparency, and adaptive planning is proving invaluable.

Scrum certification

For professionals wanting to learn more about Scrum or seeking to develop their careers in an Agile world, Scrum training and certification is highly recommended. Scrum training comes in the form of both instructor-led and self-paced Scrum courses.

For those seeking a professional qualification, there are many Scrum certification options. Professionals often choose to get a Scrum Master certification if they come from a technical background. Others choose the Scrum Product Owner certification if they want to operate more on the customer side.


Scrum infographic

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