More and more businesses are using Agile methodologies to try and reduce their time-to-market, while increasing efficiency, transparency and predictability by improving teamwork and communication. To put it this way: they want to make it more and more Agile.
There are many ways to go about Agile; Scrum happens to be one of the more popular ones!
What you'll find in this article:
- What is Scrum; the basics like framework, processes, values, teams, backstory and so on.
- Everything about the Sprint and what it entails, from Sprint planning, to Daily scrum, Sprint review and Sprint retrospective!
- Useful links to Scrum glossaries, a Sprint planning blueprint and Scrum vs. Kanban content.
What is Scrum?
Scrum is a set of meetings, tools and roles combined in a flexible framework to help teams plan and manage their work. The approach is based on lean thinking; it is iterative and incremental by design, and based on the idea that knowledge comes from experience. I’d say the same goes for Agile in general, and real life for that matter. 😇
In the case of products for example, we learn by developing them over and over again while changing (or iterating) the way we go about it every time. It’s all based on actual observation and data.
Where does the name for Scrum come from?
Scrum gets its name from rugby! 😁 Rugby as an evolution of an existing game (football) parallels Scrum, which is about adapting and learning; in this context, the rules of football were prescriptive and Webb Ellis (who broke the rules of the game and invented something new, rugby) was adaptive.
The story is really interesting; here’s if you want to know more about Scrum’s connection to rugby.
Japanese business model as a backdrop to Scrum
In a 1986 Harvard Business Review article, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka looked at how Japanese companies like Fuji-Xerox and Honda were already implementing new product development practices that would move us from the linear, phased approach to the iterative and incremental. They described how teams that work gradually, step by step are faster and more flexible; also, they benefit from shared involvement, responsibility and communication.
At first glance, it seems that Scrum is made for software development teams, but its ways and principles can actually be applied to countless types of teamwork; one of the reasons Scrum is so popular.
What are the Scrum pillars?
Scrum is based on 3 pillars called the three pillars of empiricism: transparency, inspection and adaptation. In philosophy, empiricism states that all concepts originate from experience, while in science, we highly emphasize experiment (evidence) - a fundamental part of the scientific method.
Scrum is about looking at progress by observing reality, not some fictitious plan; it’s also about shifting mind-sets towards achieving Agility.
Work and process should be visible to those involved in doing the work, as well as those who shall benefit from it.
Without transparency, inspection is misleading.
Scrum artifacts (product backlog, sprint backlog, increments) and progress must be inspected often and well, so we can detect problems and adapt.
Inspection without adaptation is useless.
Adjustments should be made quickly to minimize losses; adaptation is harder when people aren’t encouraged to self-manage.
A Scrum team is expected to adapt the moment they learn anything new through inspection.
What is the Scrum process?
The Scrum environment is a play where things move along nicely, with everyone getting what they need; but to ensure things go smoothly, the Scrum play is headed by a host: the Scrum Master a.k.a. big boss.
- The product backlog gets organized by the product owner.
- The product owner then goes on to prioritize product backlog items with the product team.
- Once backlog items are prioritized, the product owner then collaborates with the Scrum team to create the Sprint plan.
- This is where the work for the coming sprint is planned:
- developers select the items from the product backlog they want to include in the current sprint
- the product owner (or product manager), alongside the team, prioritizes product backlog items according to customer needs.
- The Scrum team is then able to get something real out of the data by turning backlog items into what they call as Increments of value, i.e. valuable work produced by developers during a Sprint. All increments of value form the product.
- Once the work is done, the Scrum team and stakeholders inspect the results, while adjusting if need be, then proceed to immediately adapt for the next Sprint.
- These steps are repeated again, and again, and again.
What are Scrum values?
When it comes to work and behavior, a set of five values gives direction to the Scrum team, which in turn reinforces those values: commitment, focus, openness, respect and courage.
Once these values are truly understood by the Scrum team and stakeholders, then the empirical Scrum pillars mentioned above: transparency, inspection and adaptation can fully come to life.
What is the Scrum framework?
Instead of putting the focus on instructions, Scrum guides relationships and interactions while shedding light on the efficiency of existing structures. The Scrum framework is therefore incomplete (by design) and built upon by those who use it; it works around current practices to make them better, or simply bypasses them. Countless processes and methods can be used/created within the Scrum space.
What is the Scrum Guide?
If you want to find out more about anything related to Scrum, you can check out The Scrum Guide. For more on terms that are specific to software development teams that use Scrum and agile software development techniques, go to the Professional Scrum Developer glossary.
What is the Scrum glossary?
As the name suggests, the Scrum glossary is an overview of Scrum-related terms. This is what you can fall back to when things get confusing.
What is a Scrum team?
The Scrum team is responsible for everything related to the product, from working with stakeholders, to doing R&D, experimenting, developing and verifying, as well as operation and maintenance. In short, they’re accountable for creating a valuable Increment every Sprint.
The Scrum team is made of 3 key components: the Scrum master, Product owner, and developers (typically 10 or less people). With no hierarchies and no sub-teams to keep things organized, how can a Scrum team be more efficient? Well, for starters, everyone on the Scrum team has one objective at a time, and that is the product goal.
In general, smaller teams tend to communicate better (be more productive) but once they grow beyond a certain point, they can reorganize into many Scrum teams that share the same product goal, product backlog and product owner.
Developers are the ones to create the plan for the Sprint and Sprint backlog; they bring quality, adaptation and accountability to the mix. The skills needed by developers in Scrum will vary based on context; but in any case, they’re responsible for:
- Creating a plan for the Sprint
- Adhering to a Definition of Done
- Adapting the plan every day
- Holding one another accountable
2. Product owner
The Product owner is responsible for managing and prioritizing the product backlog, effectively; they develop and communicate the product goal and ensure that the process is transparent and understood.
The Product Owner may do so themselves or delegate the responsibility to others; nonetheless they’re accountable. And for a product owner to succeed, their decisions must be respected; after all, the Product owner is the one with the authority to cancel the Sprint.
For more on how to go about prioritizing the backlog, here’s an amazing guide on product prioritization.
3. Scrum master
The Scrum master establishes Scrum within the organization, which means they help everyone understand Scrum theory and practice. They’re responsible for how effective a Scrum team is, by coaching on self-management, removing impediments, ensuring events are productive, helping with the product backlog and so on.
The Scrum master serves the Product owner by helping:
- find better ways to define the product goal and manage the backlog
- the Scrum team understand the reason behind Product backlog items
- facilitate stakeholder collaboration
The Scrum master serves the organization by helping:
- Scrum adoption through training and coaching
- plan and advise on Scrum implementation
- employees and stakeholders understand
- connect stakeholders and Scrum teams
What are the Scrum events?
The Sprint is like a container for many events; each of which bring a sense of regularity while keeping things efficient.
What is a Sprint
A Sprint is the heartbeat of Scrum. It’s a fixed-length event of one month or less that starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint. This is where ideas are turned into reality; where all the work needed to achieve the Product goal gets done. Working in Sprints at a pace that is sustainable brings focus and consistency to the team.
During the Sprint:
- the Sprint goal is unchanged
- the Product backlog gets refined as per the need
- quality must be maintained or improved
- the scope may be re-tackled with the Product owner
Sprints are great because they allow you to predict the work, while adapting and progressing. And though many practices can help forecast progress, like burndown charts and cumulative flows, nothing truly can replace empiricism; what has already happened is after all, most useful for deciding about the future.
What is Sprint planning
Sprint Planning happens at the beginning of a Sprint. The work to be done gets laid out into a plan collaborated upon by the entire Scrum team; others may also be invited for advice.
It is the Product owner who makes sure everyone is ready to discuss the most important product backlog items and Product goal, while answering 3 key questions:
- Why is this Sprint valuable?
- What can be achieved during?
- How will the work get done?
Click here for a blueprint on how to do Sprint planning!
What is Daily scrum
The Daily scrum is a 15-min event for developers of a Scrum team, where they inspect progress towards the Sprint goal and adapt their Sprint backlog accordingly. When I say developers, I’m including Product owner and Scrum master in case they actively work on backlog items.
As long as the Daily scrum includes daily actionable plans that move toward the Sprint goal, developers are allowed to work with whatever structure and methods they want; this is where they self-manage.
Daily scrums have a lot of benefits like:
- Better communication
- Quick identification of problems
- Quick decision-making
- Less need for random meetings
- Adjustable plans
It’s easier and more efficient if the Daily scrum is held at the same time and place every day. Also, it’s not the only time developers are able to adjust their plan; they can also meet throughout the day for more detailed discussions.
What is Sprint review
The Sprint review, as the name suggests, exists for inspection and adaptation; it is not a presentation but a working session. During the Sprint review, the Scrum team will present the results of their work to key stakeholders, then discuss the progress towards the Product goal.
Based on what was accomplished during the Sprint, and what may have changed, collaboration will happen on what to do next; the Product backlog may be adjusted as a result. A 1-month Sprint will have a 4-hour (max) Sprint review; but if the Sprint is shorter, then the Sprint review also is.
What is Sprint retrospective
Scrum is all about finding ways to increase quality and effectiveness; and that is the purpose of the Sprint retrospective. Here, the Scrum team inspects how the last Sprint went with respect to the people, processes, tools, interactions, and the Definition of Done.
The Scrum team discusses what went well, what the problems were, and how they got solved (or not). Then we identify the most helpful changes that can bring the most improvements, which can then be added to the Sprint backlog for the next Sprint.
The Sprint retrospective is the last phase in a Sprint, going for about 3 hours (for a 1-month Sprint); or shorter for shorter Sprints.
This concludes our quick guide on agile Scrum, I hope it was straight to the point and useful! If you’re interested in a comparison, Scrum vs. Kanban, here’s a really good article!