What is scrum in agile project management? (Plus roles, tools, values and benefits)
Scrum is an agile project management framework that helps teams and organisations develop and deliver products quickly and efficiently. You can use scrum for large and small projects in many industries, including marketing, construction and software development. Scrum allows teams to continually adapt to changing conditions and requirements and maximise their chance of success. In this article, we define scrum, explore its key roles, events and values and outline the pros and cons of adopting this framework for product development.
What is scrum?
To answer the question, 'What is scrum?', it's helpful to consider the game of rugby. In rugby, a scrum describes a huddle of players who come together at various points in the game and work closely together as a team. A scrum in product development also involves regular team huddles and close cooperation. Organisations around the world use this popular process framework to manage and deliver projects, increase productivity, minimise waste and generate value. With scrum, teams continually aim to learn and improve. They evaluate their progress on an ongoing basis and adjust workflows as necessary.
The cornerstone of every scrum is the sprint. Scrum teams use sprints to break complex projects down into short, time-boxed phases. A typical sprint lasts for two weeks, but it may be as short as one week or as long as four weeks. There are no breaks between sprints and every sprint is the same length. This allows team members to seamlessly transfer any learnings or process improvements from one sprint into the next. In a sprint, the team works to complete a specific set of tasks or deliverables. The output of every sprint is a potentially shippable product.
Scrum artefacts are the tools or reference points organisations and teams use to implement scrum. There are three scrum artefacts:
In the scrum framework, a product backlog is a type of master to-do list for the scrum team. It's a dynamic list of deliverables, features and requirements, listed in order of priority, that relate to the overall product or project. Product owners review the product backlog regularly and update it throughout the project.
The sprint backlog is a subset of items from the product backlog. It's a to-do list for a specific sprint that provides a snapshot of the work the team plans to accomplish during that phase of the development process. It breaks every item down into the tasks necessary to complete it. The team updates the sprint backlog throughout the sprint.
An increment is the final output of a sprint. It's also known as a sprint goal. The sprint goal differs from project to project. For some teams, particularly in software development, a sprint goal is a piece of software they release or ship to customers at the end of the sprint. It's important to deliver a usable increment at the end of every sprint because it allows teams to evaluate their work, gather feedback and make adjustments if necessary.
Scrum teams tend to be small and typically consist of between five and seven people. An effective scrum team is a close, cohesive unit that focuses on its goals with a laser-like focus and works together to find solutions and overcome obstacles. A scrum team consists of three core components:
The product owner represents the company's stakeholders and customers. Their main role is to outline the project's overall vision to the scrum team and to maximise the project's return on investment. Product owners provide clear guidance on what features to deliver next and create and maintain the product backlog.
The scrum master leads the entire scrum team. They help people throughout the organisation understand scrum principles and practices and offer coaching and guidance in this area. The scrum master works closely with the product owner to measure progress and adjust plans and priorities. They ensure the development team adheres to the scrum framework and continually look for opportunities to improve processes and workflows.
A development team is a group of professionals with relevant skills and experience who work together to complete each step of a scrum project. It's a cross-functional, self-organising environment. Team members work outside of their narrow areas of specialisation, collaborate closely and do whatever it takes to meet project goals and deliver a successful product. The development team is responsible for building product increments and achieving sprint goals.
For every sprint, a scrum team takes part in a number of key events or meetings. These include the following:
The scrum master leads the sprint planning event, which takes place before each sprint. In this meeting, the development team plans the scope of the sprint and determines its high-priority tasks. The team decides on a sprint goal and creates a sprint backlog that fully aligns with it. At the end of this meeting, each team member knows exactly what's required of them in the forthcoming sprint and how they can help achieve the sprint goal.
The daily scrum or stand-up is a short meeting that takes place at the same time every day throughout a sprint, usually in the morning. It lasts for about 15 minutes. At this meeting, the development team evaluates their progress towards the sprint goal and makes sure everyone is on track with their tasks. Each team member quickly states what they achieved the previous day and what they plan to work on that day. The team makes a plan for the next 24 hours and removes any obstacles that may impede progress.
At the end of a sprint, a sprint review meeting takes place. This meeting involves the development team and other stakeholders. At this event, the development team showcases a demo of what they achieved in the sprint. They also discuss how the sprint impacted the project's product backlog. The stakeholders usually provide feedback, which the team can incorporate into the next sprint. After the meeting, the product owner may release the work or increment completed in the sprint to customers.
The final meeting in a sprint lifecycle is the sprint retrospective meeting. This is where the team discusses the positive and negative aspects of the completed sprint and evaluates how they worked together. The team looks for areas of improvement and resolves to repeat good practices and avoid repeating mistakes in the next sprint.
To get the most from the scrum framework, it's important that team members understand and uphold the five core scrum values. These values include:
Commitment: each team member commits to completing their tasks to the best of their ability and effectively collaborating with fellow team members.
Focus: each team member focuses on their outstanding task and how its successful completion can impact the sprint goal.
Openness: each team member is honest and open regarding their own task completion process and shares their challenges with the rest of the team with the purpose of working together to find solutions.
Respect: each team member recognises the contributions of their teammates and trusts everyone to complete their tasks successfully, be open to new ideas and recognise all team members' accomplishments.
Courage: each team member is transparent with their teammates and with the project's stakeholders regarding the project's overall progress and the specific challenges they face and have the courage to propose change when necessary.
Advantages of scrum
The main advantages of using the scrum framework to complete a project are:
Quicker release of products: scrum teams can usually release usable product increments to customers at the end of each sprint.
Better outcomes for customers: scrum teams deliver frequently, so the software they dispatch is current and customers are happier.
Easier to make changes: short sprints make it easier to make changes and adjustments based on stakeholder feedback as the project progresses.
Greater efficiency: with scrum, you can divide large projects into smaller units that are easier to manage and you can complete complex projects more efficiently.
Lower costs: a more efficient production process often leads to lower production costs and a higher return on investment.
Disadvantages of scrum
Scrum also has some disadvantages. These include:
Team collaboration is crucial: scrum projects can fail if one or two members of the team are uncooperative with one another, keep key information to themselves or are equivocal about the project.
Experience is necessary: scrum requires experienced team members who can work on a cross-functional basis, so a scrum team that lacks experience may be ineffective.
Is less effective in large teams: scrum works best in small, close-knit teams with less than nine members and it can be difficult to adopt in larger teams.
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