November 17, 2023

What Is Scrum? 

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Key takeaways

  • Scrum is an agile project management methodology that prioritizes adaptability and teamwork to manage complex projects.
  • Scrum is best for fast-paced industries that value creative problem-solving since it allows for rapid adjustments and dynamic project requirements.
  • Scrum isn’t ideal for rigid, predictable, or small-scale projects, and it may not work well for teams lacking diverse skill sets or a willingness to collaborate intensively.

Nov. 17, 2023: Irene Casucian revised the copy for clarity, accuracy, and depth. She also added examples of project management software solutions that offer Scrum-focused features.

Scrum definition

Scrum is an agile project management framework that focuses on adaptability and teamwork. The Project Management Institute defines Scrum as “a framework that helps teams to deliver valued products iteratively and incrementally, while continually inspecting and adapting the process.” It’s designed to manage complex projects by breaking them down into smaller, manageable tasks.

Scrum methodology has three artifacts: 

  • The product backlog is a detailed list of all the features, functionalities, and requirements the final product should have.
  • The sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog that focuses on the goals for the upcoming sprint.
  • The product increment is the outcome of all the work done in a sprint.

Scrum has five core values:

  • Courage is about tackling challenges head-on.
  • Focus keeps the team aligned on the sprint goals.
  • Commitment guarantees everyone is invested in the project.
  • Respect fosters a positive team environment.
  • Openness encourages transparent communication.

Scrum methodology

Scrum is a methodology that’s built on three core pillars. These pillars are transparency, inspection, and adaptation, and they guide the Scrum team in delivering high-quality results. These pillars are the backbone of the Scrum methodology. They make sure that the team remains aligned, efficient, and continuously improves.

A diagram showing the three pillars of Scrum, which are Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation, supported by the core values of Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness, and Respect.
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Transparency promotes an environment where everyone is aware of the challenges that others may be experiencing. It also makes all aspects of the project, from the backlog to the sprint progress, visible to every team member. Regular face-to-face conversations between cross-functional team members and project owners safeguard against miscommunication and information bottlenecks. This kind of transparent communication allows for accurate assessment and fosters constructive feedback. 

The inspection pillar in Scrum is all about continuous evaluation and reflection. It’s an ongoing process that happens through various Scrum events like Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. Inspection allows the team to assess their performance, the quality of the work, and the obstacles that may be hindering progress. By regularly inspecting their work and processes, the team can spot inefficiencies or issues early on. Hence, these issues can be addressed promptly. 

Adaptation is the Scrum team’s ability to respond to change—whether it’s a change in project requirements, team dynamics, or unforeseen challenges. This pillar is activated when the team’s inspection reveals that some aspects of the project are not going as planned. It’s about being flexible and agile, ready to pivot when necessary to deliver the best possible outcome.

What are the roles in Scrum?

Scrum involves a few distinct roles: product owners, Scrum masters, the development team, and stakeholders.

Product owner

This role monitors the project backlog, a list of mandatory features and requirements needed in the final product. The product owner is the customer’s advocate, whether the customer is internal or external, and makes sure the development team implements the end user’s needs and wants.

Scrum master

As the name implies, this person enforces the Scrum process and liaisons between stakeholders, the product owner, and the development team. They see to it that people communicate, reevaluate goals, and stay true to Scrum’s themes of constant evolution. Most likely, this is a project manager or team manager.

Development team

This is essentially the workhorses that do the labor to build the product. This team generally consists of individual contributors, like software developers or graphic artists. The team should have diverse skill sets to rapidly tackle new challenges and needs.

Stakeholders

Although not a formal role, external stakeholders wield a great deal of power. That’s because Scrum provides a voice to these individuals as they provide feedback after every sprint. With that feedback, the product owner adjusts the product backlog, and the development team acts accordingly.

What are Scrum’s key events?

The Scrum framework follows a set of essential ceremonies that keep the team aligned and the project on track. The cycle revolves around a narrow window of time called a sprint; in this two- to four-week period, the team is focused on a relatively small number of tasks that support broader milestones.

The cycle kicks off with a sprint planning meeting, followed by daily scrum meetings, a sprint review, and a sprint retrospective.

An illustration of the sprint cycle, including planning, development, review, and retrospective.
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Before each sprint kicks off, there’s a sprint planning meeting. Here, the team, along with the product owner and scrum master, decides on the goals for the upcoming sprint and what tasks must be completed to achieve those goals.

This is your quick stand-up meeting that happens every day at the same time and place. It’s a check-in for the team to discuss what they’ve accomplished since the last meeting and what they plan to tackle next. It’s also the time to bring up any roadblocks that might be in the way.

The sprint review is where the team presents what they’ve completed during the sprint. Stakeholders can provide feedback, and it’s an opportunity to assess how well the project aligns with overall objectives.

After the sprint review, the team gathers for the sprint retrospective. This is the time for some self-reflection. The team discusses what went well, what didn’t, and how they can improve in the next sprint. It’s all about continuous improvement.

Project management tools for mastering Scrum

In mastering Scrum, your choice of project management software can make a difference. The ideal tool should offer features like sprint planning capabilities, real-time collaboration, backlog management, and robust reporting options.

Read our overview of essential software features for Agile project management to help you make an informed decision.

monday.com

monday.com offers a sprint planning template to streamline the Scrum process significantly. It allows Scrum teams to plan, execute, track, and report progress visually. The template is highly customizable, enabling you to add action items, reorder based on priority, and assign team members to each task.

One of the standout features is its built-in automations, such as setting roadblock alerts and integrating with tools like Slack for real-time updates. This makes monday.com an excellent tool for managing Scrum sprints, as it offers flexibility in team composition, retaining sprint history, and even carrying forward unfinished backlog items to the next sprint without data loss.

Asana

Asana offers a comprehensive set of features that align well with the Scrum methodology, making it a valuable tool for Agile teams. With Asana, you can break work into tasks with clear owners and due dates, organize these tasks into shared projects, and visualize your work through various project views like lists, calendars, timelines, and even Kanban boards.

The platform also supports custom fields for labeling tasks, which can be particularly useful for categorizing user stories, epics, or sprints. Automation features can streamline routine tasks, allowing Scrum teams to focus more on delivering value. Overall, Asana provides a flexible and feature-rich environment that can adapt to the iterative and collaborative nature of Scrum.

Trello

Trello’s board-based layout is a natural fit for Scrum, allowing teams to create boards for sprints and backlogs. Each card can represent a user story or task, and the lists within a board can signify different stages of the Scrum process for clear visibility.

Trello’s flexibility allows for custom labels, checklists, and due dates. These functions make it easier to manage sprints and track progress. The platform also supports various integrations and power-ups, like time tracking and reporting tools, which can enhance the Scrum process further.

Jira by Atlassian

Jira by Atlassian is designed to be a comprehensive tool for Scrum teams because it offers specialized boards that serve as single sources of truth. These boards facilitate sprint planning and iterative development, allowing teams to organize their work around specific sprint timeframes.

Jira boards also enhance communication and transparency among team members, providing features like burndown and velocity reports to track progress. The platform even extends its utility to non-technical teams, making it a versatile tool for implementing Scrum across different departments.

How is Scrum different from other project management methodologies?

Understanding how Scrum differs from other methodologies is necessary for selecting the right approach for your project’s needs.

ScrumWaterfallKanbanLean
FrameworkEmpirical and iterative; based on Agile principles.Linear and sequential; each phase depends on the deliverables of the preceding phase.Flow-based; focuses on visualizing the workflow.Focuses on eliminating waste and optimizing flow.
FlexibilityHigh: Changes are welcome even late in the development process.Low: Changes are costly and difficult to implement once the project has started.Very high: Work items can be added at any time.High: Adapting to customer needs and requirements is most important.
Delivery timeFixed sprints, usually lasting 2-4 weeks.Long phases, often months.Continuous, items are delivered as soon as they are done.Pull-based, items are delivered as they are needed.
Risk and UncertaintyManaged through daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives.Risks and issues are often discovered late in the project timeline.Managed through work-in-progress (WIP) limits and a pull system.Low-risk, as the focus is on the value stream and reducing bottlenecks.

If you’re interested in Scrum but need more flexibility, Scrumban might be a better methodology for your project. Learn how it combines the best of both Scrum and Kanban: What is Scrumban?

What is Scrum best for?

Scrum is best for dynamic, fast-paced environments. That’s because the framework focuses on adjusting a project’s course on the fly, rather than adhering to a rigid, predetermined path.

As a result, you’ll need a generous amount of freedom to explore unconventional solutions. Indeed, some industries, such as software development, are better built for this kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

And since Scrum operates on a fast-paced work and feedback cycle with sprints, you’ll need a team that embraces speed and regular collaboration.

When should Scrum not be used?

Sure, project managers talk a big game about Scrum. But despite its fame, the framework isn’t suitable in all cases.

Here are some situations where Scrum should not be used:

  • Rigid or highly predictable projects: Scrum requires lots of flexibility since it involves constantly changing course throughout a project’s timeline. So, if you deal in tried-and-true project maps that aren’t open to evolution, then Scrum is not for you.
  • Simple or small-scale projects: Scrum’s too complex for something that might only involve a few people and a straightforward process. As a result, it’s better to ditch the framework and cut to the chase with a simpler project plan.
  • Limited skill sets: Scrum focuses on quickly thwarting challenges and carrying on. As a result, having a team full of diverse skills is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and money trying to hire people in the middle of a project.
  • Limited social and collaborative appetite: Scrum is an extrovert’s paradise since it requires heavy interpersonal contact. As a result, if your team members prefer autonomy and solitude, Scrum won’t work.

Additionally, Scrum doesn’t work in some industries. For example, businesses involved in highly regulated environments, such as health care, are unsuitable for this project management framework. These sectors don’t allow for the high degree of flexibility and unconventional solutions Scrum demands.

Is Scrum right for you?

If you work in a highly creative industry without rigid regulations, then Scrum is ideal. And although not required, a team of extroverted people interested in constant meetings and feedback cycles would also perform well within the framework.

Many project management tools can accommodate the Scrum framework and ease some of the more labor-intensive steps. So if you don’t yet have fitting software or are considering a new solution, check out our favorite PM software.


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About the author


Featured project management partners

1 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is the project management software that helps you and your team plan, execute, and track projects and workflows in one collaborative space. Manage everything from simple to complex projects more efficiently with the help of visual boards, 200+ ready-made templates, clever no-code automations, and easy integrations. In addition, custom dashboards simplify reporting, so you can evaluate your progress and make data-driven decisions.

Learn more about monday.com

2 Quickbase

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Big ideas aren’t simple to execute. So we’re here to help you tackle any project, no matter how complex. We’re Quickbase.

Quickbase helps customers see, connect and control complex projects that reshape our world. Whether it’s raising a skyscraper or coordinating vaccine rollouts, the no-code software platform allows business users to custom fit solutions to the way they work – using information from across the systems they already have.

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3 Wrike

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Wrike’s top-notch workflow management software allows you to easily visualize priorities, boost collaboration, and maintain control of your projects. Bonus: you can move seamlessly between apps, without logging in or out. Wrike has more than 400+ integrations with popular platforms such as Google, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and many more. Automation and AI features strip away time-consuming admin tasks so you can do the best work of your life.

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