What is Scrum?
Scrum is a lightweight yet incredibly powerful set of values, principles, and practices. Scrum relies on cross-functional teams to deliver products and services in short cycles, enabling:
- Fast feedback
- Quicker innovation
- Continuous improvement
- Rapid adaptation to change
- More delighted customers
- Accelerated pace from idea to delivery
At its heart, scrum works by breaking large products and services into small pieces that can be completed (and potentially released) by a cross-functional team in a short timeframe.
Scrum teams inspect each batch of functionality as it is completed and then adapt what will be created next based on learning and feedback, minimizing risk and reducing waste. This cycle repeats until the full product or service is delivered—one that meets customer needs because the business has the opportunity to adjust the fit at the end of each timeframe.
Definition of Scrum
According to The Scrum GuideTM, scrum is “a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.1” Scrum is the most widely used and popular agile framework. The term agile describes a specific set of foundational principles and values for organizing and managing complex work.
Scrum co-creators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland wrote and maintain The Scrum Guide, which explains Scrum clearly and succinctly. The guide contains the definition of Scrum, describing the Scrum accountabilities, events, artifacts and the guidance that binds them together.
Scrum is the leading Agile development methodology and is used by Fortune 500 companies around the globe. When Jeff Sutherland created the scrum process in 1993, he borrowed the term “scrum” from an analogy put forth in a 1986 study by Takeuchi and Nonaka, published in the Harvard Business Review. In that study, Takeuchi and Nonaka compare high-performing, cross-functional teams to the scrum formation used by rugby teams.
Though it has its roots in software development, today scrum refers to a lightweight framework that is used in every industry to deliver complex, innovative products and services that truly delight customers. It is simple to understand, but difficult to master.
Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed. Lean thinking reduces waste and focuses on the essentials.
Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and to control risk. Scrum engages groups of people who collectively have all the skills and expertise to do the work and share or acquire such skills as needed.
There are four formal events for inspection and adaptation within a containing event, the Sprint. These events work because they implement the empirical Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living five values:
These values give direction to the Scrum Team with regard to their work, actions, and behavior.
The decisions that are made, the steps taken, and the way Scrum is used should reinforce these values, not diminish or undermine them.
The Scrum Team members learn and explore the values as they work with the Scrum events and artifacts.
When these values are embodied by the Scrum Team and the people they work with, the empirical Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life building trust.
People are the focus of scrum. Scrum organizes projects using cross-functional teams, each one of which has all of the capabilities necessary to deliver a piece of functionality from idea to delivery. They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.
The Scrum Team consists of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and Developers. Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, the Product Goal.
The Scrum Team is small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within a Sprint, typically 10 or fewer people.
They are structured and empowered by the organization to manage their own work. Working in Sprints at a sustainable pace improves the Scrum Team’s focus and consistency.
The Scrum Team is responsible for all product-related activities from stakeholder collaboration, verification, maintenance, operation, experimentation, research and development, and anything else that might be required.
The scrum framework guides the creation of a product, focusing on value and high visibility of progress. Working from a dynamic list of the most valuable things to do, a team brings that product from an idea to life using the scrum framework as a guide for transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The goal of scrum is to help teams work together to delight your customers.
The Sprint is a container for all other events. Each event in Scrum is a formal opportunity to inspect and adapt Scrum artifacts. These events are specifically designed to enable the transparency required.
Failure to operate any events as prescribed results in lost opportunities to inspect and adapt. Events are used in Scrum to create regularity and to minimize the need for meetings not defined in Scrum.
The Five Scrum Events
- Sprint Planning
- Daily Scrum
- Sprint Review
- Sprint Retrospective
- The Sprint
Optimally, all events are held at the same time and place to reduce complexity.
In a nutshell, Scrum requires an environment where:
- Increments of valuable work are delivered in short cycles of one month or less, which are called Sprints. Ongoing feedback occurs during the Sprint, allowing for inspection and adaptation of the process and what will be delivered.
- The Scrum Team has a Scrum Master, a Product Owner and Developers, who are accountable for turning the selection of the work into an Increment of value during a Sprint.
- The Scrum Team and other members of their organization, business, users or customer-base known as stakeholders, inspect the results of the Sprint and adjust for the next one.
Want to learn more? Enroll in Scrum Alliance’s free Introduction to Scrum eLearning module.
We can also highly recommend Mike Cohn’s Scrum Foundations Video Series. This free video series is the perfect introduction to (or review of) Scrum and includes all the foundational knowledge of Scrum including: the framework, values, different roles, meetings, backlogs, and improving efficiency & quality.