Scrum is a framework to implement agile project management. It is an iterative approach that uses fixed-length intervals to split the project timeline, these are called sprints. Scrum promotes learning through experiences, self-organize while working, and reflecting on successes and failures to continuously improve.
While scrum is widely used by software development teams, its principles and lessons can be adopted by most organizations or teams to manage their projects. This makes scrum a popular Agile Project Management framework. Scrum defines a set of meetings, tools, and roles that work in cohesion to support teams to organize and manage their work.
Scrum is a flexible, fast, and effective agile framework that is created to deliver value to the customer throughout the lifecycle of the project. The main focus of Scrum is to satisfy the customer’s requirement through an atmosphere of transparent communication, collective responsibility, and continuous value delivery.
History of Scrum
The foundation of Scrum is the article titled, “The New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka back in 1986 in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). This article explains how companies such as Fuji-Xerox, Canon, and Honda, are able to produce new products globally using a scalable and team-based approach to product development. This approach highlights the importance of empowering self-organized teams.
The article encouraged the development of many concepts that gave birth to Scrum. In 1993, at Easel Corporation, Jeff Sutherland and the team developed the Scrum framework, primarily to be used in software development.
What is scrum used for?
Scrum is used to execute large-scale complex projects where most are unknown, and little is known. In other words, where greater flexibility and fast response are required towards changing customer and business needs, Scrum is used.
Scrum Methodology & Process (The Framework)
Scrum is precisely a framework of Agile Management. It is based on a set of defined practices and roles that must be followed during the project delivery. It is a flexible approach that applies the 12 agile principles in a context agreed by all the team members of the project.
Scrum is implemented in intervals that are short and periodic, called Sprints, which typically range from 2 to 4 weeks. Each Sprint starts with planning and ends with feedback from stakeholders. The process starts by listing the objectives/ requirements that make up the project plan. The client of the project prioritizes these objectives considering the right balance between the value and the cost thereof, that is how the iterations and subsequent deliveries are planned.
Roles in Scrum
Scrum Master is the champion of the scrum methodology. Scrum Master ensures that the scrum framework is effectively implemented. He/She guides the team to observe the rules and processes of the framework. Scrum master removes the impediments of the project and works with the Product Owner to maximize the ROI. The Scrum Master oversees that Scrum is up to date by teaching, guiding, mentoring, and training the teams as needed. Scrum Master recognizes the work being performed by the team and provides assistance to the team to improve the transparency and delivery flow. As the main facilitator, he/she augments the necessary resources for Scrum.
The product owner acts as a representative of customers and other stakeholders. He/she creates and manages the product backlog, in other words, he/she maintains an action item list of all the work and organizes based on project priority. Product owners are the champion for the product/project being delivered. They are focused on understanding customer requirements, business requirements, and market conditions and accordingly prioritize the work to be done by the team.
Effective product owner orders and prioritizes the product backlog. He/She ensures that everyone understands the work items in the product backlog. Guides the team on which features to deliver next. Decide when to deliver the product. It is important to note that the product owner is always an individual and not a team.
It consists of team members who actually perform all the technical work needed to execute the project. The definition of a development team is that it is a team of professionals with the essential technical knowledge to develop the project. An ideal scrum team is co-located, closely connected, and has five to seven members only.
Each Team Member has a unique skill set and can train each other so no single member becomes a holdup in the delivery of the project. Scrum teams are self-organizing and united. All members help each other to make sure that each sprint is completed successfully.
The scrum team creates a plan for each sprint which is called “Sprint Backlog”. They estimate the work they believe they can deliver in the iteration/sprint. Fixed-length iterations provide the team important feedback on their estimates and process of delivery, which in turn makes their estimates more accurate over time.
Events in Scrum
There are four key events that are structured into each sprint. These events are also known as Scrum ceremonies.
The Sprint is a timeboxed event which is usually one month or less during which the team creates a releasable product Increment (i.e., a piece of work or deliverable that can be issued to the customer). Sprint is also called a “container event” of all other events since all other sprint events are happening during the sprint. The main features of Sprints are:
- Each sprint has a fixed duration throughout the project lifecycle
- A new Sprint immediately starts after the previous Sprint is over
- Start and end dates usually remain unchanged
In this event, the team meets to plan the activities for the next Sprint (interval or iteration). The purpose of Sprint Planning is to outline what will be completed in the Sprint and how it will be completed. This is the starting event of each Sprint. Sprint Backlog shall be ready at the end of Sprint Planning. During Sprint Planning the product owner and the team settle on which product backlog items will be contained within the Sprint and determine how to successfully deliver the identified product backlog items. The product backlog items selected for delivery are collectively called the Sprint Backlog. Important to note that once the sprint backlog is established, no more items can be added. This ensures that there is no scope change within a sprint and team can focus on the work at hand.
Also popularly known as Daily Standup. As the name suggests, it happens daily. In this event, the team meets to discuss what is accomplished yesterday, what’s the plan for today, and if they are facing any difficulties. The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to assess the progress, harmonize the activities within the team, and create a plan for the day. It is a very short meeting that takes place daily usually at the same time and place, for convenience. Usually. three questions are answered by everyone:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What is my plan for today?
- What do I need to accomplish my planned activities?
The Scrum Master is responsible to solve problems and obstacles that arise. A daily scrum should be more of a communication session that a status update session.
In this session, accomplished work is presented to stakeholders, and feedback is received. The purpose of the sprint review is to showcase what has been completed with respect to the plan i.e., the Spring Backlog, and provide a holistic picture with respect to the overall product backlog. This is the concluding or last event of the Sprint where the entire team (including product owner and Stakeholders) reviews the outcome of the sprint. The sole purpose of this discussion is to demonstrate the work and obtain feedback from stakeholders. Providing a status report is not the intention of Sprint Review. Feedback obtained from stakeholders is placed into the Product Backlog for the future.
This session is for reflecting on what’s going well and what’s not. The team notes down the good and the bad so that mistakes are not repeated. This session helps to implement improvements from the point of view of continuous improvement. The purpose of the sprint retrospective is to identify the scope for improvements and create a plan to implement in the next Sprint.
Product Backlog Refinement
This is an optional event however usually practiced by Scrum teams. Sometimes known as organizing the backlog or backlog grooming. This is generally led by the product owner. Since the product owner’s role is to drive the product or the project towards the customer’s vision and business need, therefore, he/she manages the product backlog by organizing the items based on priority and keeping the list ready to be worked on at any instant.
Scrum teams are expected to follow 5 Scrum values:
- Commitment– Team members are always committed to achieve team goals
- Courage– Team members have the courage do the right thing and work on solutions of the problems.
- Focus– Concentrate on the work selected for the sprint and focus on achieving team goal.
- Openness– Everyone is open about all the work and the challenges being faced.
- Respect– Everyone on the team respect each other to be independent and capable for executing respective activities.
Principles of Scrum
Following are 3 principles that underpin the empirical nature of scrum:
- Transparency- The team works in a transparent environment where everyone is aware of what challenges other team members are facing. Members immediately surface the issues that get in the way of the team’s success.
- Inspection– Regular inspection checkpoints are built into the framework which provides the team an opportunity to know on how the process is working. Daily Scrum and the Sprint Review are few of these inspection checkpoints.
- Adaptation– The outcomes of the inspection are adapted by the team to improve the performance.
Scrum principles are interdependent in a way such that Inspection without Transparency is not useful, and Inspection without Adaptation is pointless.
There are 3 Scrum Artifacts that are designed to ensure transparency in decision making. Each artifact consists of a commitment to make sure it improves transparency:
- For the Product Backlog- Product Goal.
- For the Sprint Backlog- Sprint Goal.
- For the Increment- Definition of Done.
Product Backlog (PB):
The product backlog is a list of requirements to satisfy potential customers. It is prepared and managed by the product owner. The Product Goal is the commitment that describes the future state of the product and it serves as a target for the Scrum Team to plan against. It is part of the Product Backlog. The rest of the Product Backlog is developed to explain “what” will accomplish the Product Goal.
Sprint Backlog (SB):
It is a part of the product backlog. The item is Sprint Backlog is handpicked by the team to perform during the sprint. Usually, it is displayed on a board called the Scrum board that makes the development process visible to everyone. The Sprint Goal, being the objective for the Sprint, is finalized during the Sprint Planning and made part of the Sprint Backlog. Sprint Goal is kept in mind by the developers, as they work during the Sprint.
In simple terms, an Increment is work accomplished during the Sprint. Each increment is an addition to all the previous ones. The Increment must be useful in order to add value. The increment is considered useful only when it meets the Definition of Done. The Definition of Done is a simple description of the quality measures required for the product. When a Product Backlog item matches this description, an Increment is born. The Definition of Done provides transparency by describing what work was completed as part of the Increment. If a Product Backlog item does not fulfill the Definition of Done, it is not ready to be released or even presented at the Sprint Review. Instead, it should return to the Product Backlog.
It is a tool to assist in the effective implementation of the Scrum framework. A scrum board is used to visualize and manage all the work items that need to be done in a given sprint. During the sprint planning session, the team transfers work items also known as Product Backlog Items (or PBIs) from the product backlog into the sprint backlog. Scrum boards generally have multiple sections visible in the workflow, like To-Do (which is basically Sprint Backlog), In Progress (where work in progress items are moved from To-Do list), and Done. Scrum boards are a very important component for ensuring transparency in Agile Project Management.
Benefits of Scrum Framework
Some of the major benefits of the Scrum framework are
- Scrum is Easily Scalable
- It is highly flexible towards the changes. It can respond and adapt quickly as needed.
- Reduction in Time to Market reduction i.e., customers can start using the key functionalities/deliverables of the project before the project is completely ready.
- It provides higher quality in project delivery.
- Better and reasonably accurate estimations of time and efforts.
- Early identification of problems and challenges helps in the reduction of risks.
The Difference Between Agile and Scrum
The key difference between Agile and Scrum is that while Agile is a project management philosophy and it is one of the project management methodologies that emphasize breaking down a project into several smaller and manageable pieces of work and utilizes a set of values and principles. On the other hand, Scrum is one of the Agile methodologies that is used to facilitate a project. It is essentially a framework that promotes the Agile approach.
Useful Tools for Scrum
Some of the most widely useful Scrum tools are listed below.
- Pivotal Tracker
The Scrum framework is simple to understand. However, it takes time to fully understand, especially in the organization or teams where people are familiar with a typical waterfall model. The concepts of Sprints or smaller iterations, sprint planning sessions, daily scrums, sprint reviews could be a challenging cultural shift for a new team. However, the long-term benefits will definitely outweigh the initial learning curve, if the framework is adapted effectively.
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