What is Scrum in Project Management?

Discover all you need to know about Scrum, becoming a Scrum Master, and how it relates and differs from agile project management.

What is scrum? 

According to the Scrum guide, "Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organisations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems." Unlike more traditional or linear frameworks that promote upfront planning and analysis, Scrum focuses on time blocks designed for developing solutions to complex problems. 

Scrum is a versatile product-delivery approach originally designed for software development but more recently is being used across several other business domains such as marketing, sales, HR, finance, and many others. Some of the popular scaling frameworks require the use of Scrum. SAFe, for example, uses Scrum roles and events to carry out team-level work. 

Scrum is simple. The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete as it is designed to be built upon by the collective intelligence of the people using it. It is designed for more than just the production of work. It is also designed for the analysis of processes and to allow teams to evaluate the collaborative value they are delivering. Scrum makes visible the relative efficacy of current management, environments, and work techniques so that improvements can be made. 

The term Scrum is actually inspired by a Scrum in the sport of rugby. In rugby, the team comes together in what they call a Scrum to work together to move the ball forward. So, simply put, Scrum is where the team comes together to move the product forward. 

Scrum methodology/framework 

Scrum is an evolution of Agile management. The creators of Scrum refer to it as a framework, not a methodology, because of the belief that the word methodology to be too prescriptive. As Scrum was originally designed for software development, it was based on the defined roles and practices that the software development process requires. The framework itself, however, is flexible enough to have grown in popularity beyond software. 

Scrum is designed to work in short, iterative time blocks called Sprints. A Sprint can last between one and four weeks although Scrum guidelines suggest an ideal length of two weeks.  

You can think of a Scrum as a series of Sprints that break down big, complex projects into bite-sized pieces. Start with a list of objectives/requirements that make up the project plan, then prioritise these with consideration for balance, value, cost, and time, and then chunk it up into smaller, more manageable segments; these are your Sprints. 

 This diagram shows all the moving parts of the Scrum framework and what a Sprint looks like. 

 Scrum is more than just this Sprint framework, though, it is a mindset and has a built-in value system. 

Scrum values in agile project management 

While Agile has its own12 principles of project management, Scrum has its own value system as well. the pillars of the scrum framework

Scrum is built on three pillars: 

  • Adaptation: Scrum is adaptive, it embraces change. The Scrum framework can easily accommodate a project changing tactical directions. 
  • Transparency: Transparency ensures everybody on the team, not just management, knows what is going on and why. It allows for collaboration and keeps everyone focused on how to keep moving forward.  
  • Inspection: Team members and stakeholders inspect projects consistently. This encourages the culture of innovation and improvement that makes Scrum so adaptive. 

One characteristic of Scrum that roots these pillars together is trust. If trust is not at the heart of a Scrum team, there can be stagnation, hesitation, tension, and bottlenecks; all of which get in the way of accomplishing the Sprint goal. 

In addition to these pillars, Scrum also has five important values: courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness. These elements must be considered by the Scrum team when working together to ensure effective collaboration. They are particularly important when it comes to environments where making progress involves experimentation. 

Scrum roles 

In the Scrum framework, there are three main roles: the development/Scrum team, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master. Depending on the size of your department, you may have several Scrum teams/Scrum Masters. A Scrum team should only consist of about five to nine people, and each Scrum team needs their own Scrum Master.  

  • Development team:The Scrum team, the people who do the work. It is just made up of the people who are doing the work that is laid out in the Sprint Plan. 

The development team ensures the transparency of the work via the daily Scrum (also known as a stand-up). The Scrum Master might facilitate the stand-up meeting, but ultimately it is the team’s responsibility to use that time to develop as a group and inspect and adapt their work to be more effective as a collective. 

  • Product Owner(s): The Product Owner knows and understands the client and the work that is needed. They create and manage the backlog and release schedule. Since a Sprint is a planning cycle and not a release cycle, work can be completed at any time. While ideally, continuous delivery through the Sprint would allow for the analysis of real feedback from the client in the Sprint Review, it is not always possible to do that. The Product Owner is responsible for knowing when things can and should be released.  

Beyond just knowing the logistics of the work, the Product Owner also needs to have a vision for the Scrum team’s delivery value. They are responsible for balancing the needs of the stakeholders and the operational capacity of the organisation. 

  • Scrum Masters:Scrum Masters are the glue that holds the Scrum together. They are the Scrum team leaders and have many responsibilities outside of just running the Scrum. We will go into more detail about this role in a moment. 

Scrum events 

In a Scrum, there are several events which each play a specific role in achieving success. 

  • Sprint Planning: This is the first event in a Sprint. The Product Owner and Scrum Master lead the team in determining what items from the Product Backlog will be included in the Sprint. The Product Owner is primarily in charge of prioritising what gets tackled, but other members of the team are allowed to raise issues as needed. Once these Product Backlog items have been decided, the Product Owner sets a Sprint Goal and Sprint Backlog that everyone agrees is realistic and achievable. 
  • Daily Scrum: The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute meeting also known as a stand-up. Standing up is not required, but many teams find it to be a useful technique to keep the event short and focused. The Daily Scrum is an opportunity for the developers to check in about their progress towards achieving the Sprint Goal and to review and plan their tasks for the next 24 hours. 
  • Sprint Review: At the end of a Sprint, the team meets to present the work they have achieved and review it together in the Sprint Review. The focus of the meeting is on how the team can improve the Sprint outcome and to review everything that was achieved. The Sprint Review is also suited for reviewing any feedback that can be used to guide future Sprints. 
  • Sprint Retrospective:After the Sprint Review, the Sprint Retrospective is designed to help teams build a habit of continuous process improvement. The Retrospective is a review of how the team worked together over the Sprint and it may include discussing roadblocks, workflow issues, or difficult team dynamics. The Retrospective is also a place to celebrate what went well, give praise to colleagues, and discuss how successes can be replicated in the future. 
  • The Sprint: The Sprint itself is an event. It contains all the work and other events that happen during the time-boxed period of development. 

Scrum artefacts 

In addition to the events that underpin Scrum as a framework, certain artefacts are crucial to understand. These artefacts work together to facilitate a functional Scrum framework. 

  • Product Backlog: A list of new features, changes, bug fixes, tasks, or work requirements needed for the product. It is ever-evolving and ordered by the Product Owner and is where all of the work undertaken by the Scrum team originates. The Product Backlog also influences the product goal, which the team is working toward on a larger scale. 
  • Sprint backlog: A list of work that the development team is intended to complete during the Sprint. This backlog may change and evolve as blockers arise or tasks change. It influences the Sprint goal, the main objective for that specific Sprint. 
  • Product increments:Product increments are the pieces of work that are completed during a Sprint. An increment is determined during the Sprint Planning phase and is not necessarily punctuated by a release. There can be as many or as few increments as needed during the Sprint, this depends on what was decided to be the ‘definition of done’, meaning what it takes for an increment to be considered complete. 

What is a scrum master? 

A Scrum consists of three main roles, the developer (or development team/Scrum team), the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master. While all three roles are crucial to the success of the Agile Scrum framework, a Scrum isn’t really a Scrum without a proper Scrum Master.

They are the ‘servant leader’ of the Scrum team and are largely the role that keeps the other roles working in harmony and on schedule. An easy way to compare the role of a Scrum Master to the non-agile counterpart is to say it is similar to that of a project manager. It is important to keep in mind that while any Scrum Master could easily be a project manager, not every project manager is suited to be a Scrum Master.

There are, of course, some occasions where the project manager role is more closely equated to that of the Product Owner. 

What does a scrum master do?  

The Scrum Master is the beating heart of Scrum. They are responsible for helping everyone in the organisation to understand Agile Scrum’s practices, rules, theories, and values. The Scrum Master leads and serves the Scrum Team while also helping non-team members see which interactions with the Scrum Team are useful, and which are not. A handful of their main responsibilities include: 

  • Team support and coaching:This can be anything from coffee runs to 1-to-1 development meetings. The Scrum Master is a ‘servant’ leader because one of their primary goals is to facilitate the Scrum team in any way that keeps them on track and allows them to work effectively. 
  • Focusing the team: Through the daily stand-up meeting, the Review and Retrospective, and even the Sprint itself, the Scrum Master is trained on keeping their team focused on the goals they set during Sprint Planning. 
  • Removing obstacles: The Scrum Master is also a sort of guardian for the Scrum team. They are what stands between the larger organisation and the Scrum team. This means that, on occasion, the Scrum Master needs to remove obstacles that could impede the Scrum team’s progress. This can include things from project blockers to team conflict or disruptive interference from management outside of the team. 
  • Reporting and organisation:Organisation and efficient reporting are both requirements for measuring success. The Scrum Master is responsible for doing these for their team by creating burndown charts, scheduling meetings, and maintaining the Sprint timeline. They are set to ensure all Scrum events are positive, productive, and timely, and their work pays off in dividends during the Review and Retrospective as the team depends on them to give concrete data about how well the Sprint goals were accomplished or how the team can improve for next time. 

How to become a scrum master / Scrum qualifications 

Becoming a Scrum Master isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Officially recognised Scrum Masters only need three things to be certified. They need to: 

  • become familiar with Agile and Scrum itself, particularly its lifecycle and framework. 
  • take the two-day Certified Scrum Trainer-led CSM course.
  • pass the CSM certification exam. 

Outside of the formal requirements, it is suggested that having excellent communication, organisational, and leadership skills are key. Also, having a background in software design, testing, or development may help but is by no means required to do the job well. 

Scrum master jobs / salary

Being as central to the function of the Agile method as they are, The Scrum Master's job is in high demand and offers excellent career growth opportunities. In 2020, Scrum Master roles were in the top 15 most promising emerging job roles. With more organisations embracing the Agile methodology, it is predicted that employment for Scrum Master roles will increase 24% every year through 2026. 

The current average salary for a Scrum Master in the United Kingdom is approximately £76,000 and in the United States, the average is approximately $105,000.  

Does my business need a scrum master? 

The short answer is, yes. A Scrum Master is an essential part of the agile Scrum framework and is needed to keep the team focused on Agile principles and Scrum values and to act as the main source of information about the Agile way of working.  

The longer answer is that you may already have someone on your team who can act as a Scrum Master. As long as they can meet the few qualifications that are needed to be certified, a project manager should be able to transition to Scrum Master relatively easily. 

Why learn scrum? 

All of these events and roles can be a bit overwhelming for anyone just beginning with Scrum, but know that learning Scrum is a worthwhile investment into your career. 

Individuals who learn the Scrum framework are more marketable, have better job security, and have higher earning potential than non-certified peers in similar positions. Scrum also promotes a growth mindset, with its focus on improving processes for Sprint after Sprint, and enhanced team collaboration skills, which is one of the top skills employers look for. The best part is that anyone can learn it, even from a non-technical background, and the framework is flexible enough to be applied to many industries. 

What’s the difference between scrum and kanban? 

If you are familiar with Kanban, you may notice some similarities between Scrum and Kanban. They both allow projects to adapt and change, both encourage team engagement, both have short development cycles, and both focus on increased transparency. However, while they share the same core concepts, each one has a different approach. Kanban is a project management method designed to help visualise tasks while Scrum is a method all its own that provides a schedule and structure for the team. Kanban focuses on project-based deliveries, whereas Scrum focuses on time-based segments. Whilst both Scrum and Kanban have their own strengths, there is no reason to pit them against each other when collaboration between them maximises the benefits of each; this is known as a Scrumban. 

Scrumban combines both Kanban and Scrum by using the processes of Scrum and the visualisation tools of Kanban. Scrumban can be a good way for teams familiar with either Scrum or Kanban to incorporate the other into their process. 

Learn how to become a certified scrum master 

Scrum summary

    • Scrum is a lightweight framework designed to work in short, iterative time blocks called Sprints.
    • It is designed for the analysis of processes which allows teams to evaluate the collaborative value they are delivering.
    • Scrum as a series of Sprints that break down big, complex projects into bite-sized pieces.
    • There are three main roles: the Scrum team, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master; and four main events: Sprint Planning, the Daily Scrum, the Sprint Review, and the Sprint Retrospective.
    • Learning the Scrum framework makes you more marketable, have better job security, and have higher earning potential.

About the Author: Leah Hanson work as a Content Editor and Publishing Specialist for QA, successfully developing educational content across a variety of subjects, including Agile. 



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