Agile vs Scrum: what you need to know

Agile vs Scrum: what you need to know
Ivan Pavlov
November 19, 2019
Last updated: January 20, 2021

What is Agile?

In a constantly changing world, there is an urgent call for creating more adaptive ways of doing things. This applies to the sphere of project management as well. Agile Methodology emerged as an alternative to the conservative Waterfall approach.

  • While Waterfall operates in a hierarchical fashion best illustrated as a ladder, Agile's tactic is to organize a network between all the participants, including team members and customers, where they can equally take part in the activities, bounce ideas and exchange opinions.

  • The Waterfall development process is pretty straight-forward: it is tailored to move directly from the initial concept to the final product in compliance with your schedule. The Agile method resembles a dashed line, since the workload is normally split into short intervals with pauses to discuss the achievements and gather the feedback from potential users.

In its role of modus operandi, Agile Methodology has its roots in 12 principles. This Manifesto for Agile Software Development serves as a guide, providing a profound comprehension of the essence of the approach. Research and analysis indicates that this project management model proclaims the predominance of these core values:

  • Adaptiveness. Changes, adjustments, and feedback are acceptable and even welcome at any stage. This allows you to boost the quality of the product and enhance its competitiveness.

  • Continuity. All the participants, including team members, sponsors, and customers, should communicate with each other on a regular basis, discussing the results they achieved during short periods of time.

  • Cooperation. All the parties involved in the development process contribute to the project. Users collaborate together to produce the perfect software.

  • Openness and trust. Communication is the key instrument in this model. Contributors should be allowed to speak freely. Disputes should be settled through open and productive conversations. This means that the project manager, company directors and shareholders have faith in their developers. In addition, it results in the company, customers, and sponsors displaying mutual trust.

  • Simplicity. The Agile strategy suggests implementing small tasks within short working sessions, which enables the project manager to make assignments for the team achievable, coherent, and fully comprehensible.

  • Personal responsibility. Project managers rely on motivated and vibrant individuals, who have enough energy and discipline to be accountable and perform steadily.

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Agile Methodology corresponds more with a notion of philosophy than a strict action plan. Thus, there are several frameworks that provide project managers with the requisite to apply the strategy efficiently. For instance, Scrum is an approach, where each team has its own assignment, which they work on during sprint sessions, followed by meetings to discuss the results and perspectives. You can find plenty of options to explore, including Kanban, Crystal Clear, Lean Software Development (LSD), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Extreme Programming (XP). Therefore, it is incorrect to state that Agile and Scrum are separate project management methods, as well as claim that they are identical. Scrum is simply an instrument to assimilate Agile principles into your project administration strategy.

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Obviously, Agile Methodology is extremely popular among developers because of its flexible, coherent, and interactive nature. It represents such modern values as prioritizing people over procedures, working product over papers, change over strict rules, and open communication over negotiations. As a result, this concept seems really appealing. Its adaptive and iterative essence perfectly aligns with projects of a relatively vague work field, where the final results are open for interpretation, because it provides the room for experimentation and change. However, if alterations are not required and the amount of work is pretty much clear, the Agile strategy might result in unnecessary spending of time and resources, excessive functions, etc. Moreover, applying an agile approach requires a certain expertise. Demonstrating empathy and soft skills, such as effective communication, willingness to cooperate and reaching agreements with people are vital if you strive to exercise a people-centered strategy.

What is Scrum?

As we now know, Scrum is a combination of several practices to embody the Agile concept for project management. Its basic characteristic is product development through short and strictly defined time intervals, called sprints. They usually take from 1 to 4 weeks, and once the length of the sprint is decided, it may be prolonged. This goal is reached through particular roles and processes.

  • The Product Owner acts on behalf of the client's interests and makes business decisions.

  • The Scrum Master administers the organizational aspect of the procedures. He supervises the meetings, communicates with the Product Owner, monitors and motivates the staff.

  • The Scrum Team involves all the specialists accommodating the project, such as developers, QA, programmers, etc.

  • Sprint planning is a meeting, where the Product Owner proposes the possible tasks for the upcoming sprint.

  • Sprint backlog – a list of prioritized tasks that the team should perform over this sprint. They appear on a Sprint Board in three columns, "To do", "In progress" and "Done". As the task status changes, the team should move it to the corresponding column.

  • Daily Scrum – a short daily meet-up to analyze what has been done that day and plan their future activities.

  • Over a Sprint Review Meeting, the team, owner and master express their point of view on the sprint results and create an updated backlog.

  • A Sprint Retrospective Meeting allows the participants to reflect on the previous sprint and modify the next one.

Stemming from the Agile Methodology, Scrum framework inherits its major strengths and weaknesses. Alongside adjustability, open communication, and coherence, the Scrum approach allows a project manager to stimulate transparency, rely on its staff and control costs. Nonetheless, a lack of expertise in Scrum or soft skills among employees, an unspecified work scope, insufficient management, and the pressure of inflexible time limits can cause many obstacles and interfere with the desired outcome.

The Differences Between Agile and Scrum

Anyone who dedicated a career to project management knows the whole plethora of methodologies to develop a product. Habitually, they often intertwine, overlap and get confused. Therefore, it is essential to clarify this issue. As research shows, Agile is a philosophy, strategy and form of guidance that one can use during the project realization. Meanwhile, Scrum describes the exact algorithm of how these guidelines can be incorporated into the development process. Thus, "Agile vs Waterfall" and "Scrum vs Kanban" are the adequate substitutes for the "Agile vs Scrum" pair. Still, it is inaccurate to state that there are no differences between Agile and Scrum. They represent different things. It can be compared to paint and a brush. You can draw objects with Extreme Programming instead of Scrum, but you will still use one paint – Agile. It means that Scrum will always work hand-in-hand with Agile, while Agile does not necessarily imply Scrum.

To Recap

An experienced project manager knows that adopting the appropriate action plan is crucial to ensure a favorable outcome. If your project thrives in an adaptive environment, needs nonstop feedback and can survive lack of discipline, the Agile approach is certainly the way to go. It would be a good choice to opt for the Scrum framework for administering Agile strategy if performing small tasks in short, limited time periods suits your project. If something is not appropriate for your needs, you can try another method or framework and even combine them at different development stages

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