You’ve surely heard of scrum methodology by now. It started leaking out of the tech world in the late 2000s, and has now spread all over the world. But what is scrum exactly? Every blowhard at an industry event can spew out a few words like “sprint”, “agile”, and “daily standup”, but that’s hardly an in-depth guide.
So if you want to get agile but don’t know where to start, this is the place for you.
Before going into the benefits of scrum, we need to answer a rather broad question: what is scrum?
In short, scrum is an agile framework for managing complex projects. It uses an iterative approach, which means attempting to reach the same objective multiple times, receiving analytical feedback, and making adjustments for next time.
To answer the question “what is scrum?”, you can’t ignore the five core values of transparency, inspection, adaptation, commitment, and focus. Everybody in the team must refer to these values when working through the scrum processes.
Scrum was originally a play thing for software development teams. However, it has gradually spread out across industries, as more and more managers discover its benefits. For example, the iterative approach allows marketing teams to quickly adjust their campaigns based on feedback from clients and users, undoing and redoing sections of the project without starting again from zero.
Similarly, as we’ll see in the section on scrum format, constant communication improves transparency and encourages collaboration. Scrum lays a strict framework, held in place by the Scrum Master, that acts as a springboard for the team to unleash their creative side.
Rather than setting project tasks and immediately splitting off into silos until the end of the project, scrum methodology prioritizes close contact between everybody in the team to reduce wasted time to a minimum.
One of the hallmarks of this agile methodology is the planning of an entire project into smaller “sprints”. These sprints are time-bound cycles of one to four weeks and represent a series of interrelated tasks. At the end of every sprint, the team analyzes progress and plans the next sprint. Here, we’ll look a little closer at the question of “what is scrum format?”.
The driving force behind all your work, sprint planning is a team meeting that is ideally in person, but remote teams can go for a video call. The team takes an analytical, collaborative look at how the sprint will fit into the overall success of the project. The first aim of sprint planning is to decide on a sprint goal — a clear, easily understood statement that defines success for the coming couple of weeks.
Agile project management is known for using visualizations such as Kanban boards. These allow your team to pin a product backlog of milestones you want to achieve during your project, and are a great source of inspiration for your sprint goal. Once you’ve prioritized the tasks that will take you to your objective, you’re ready for the next stage.
After the planning phase, scrum methodology shifts you to the real work: The sprint. Often two weeks long, but sometimes as long as four weeks, the team works on tasks that produce a potentially market-ready product. Each team member can expect to complete the same task multiple times, getting feedback, and improving on their work — that’s the iterative approach.
You can’t always stick to your sprint plan to the letter, so don’t be afraid to shake up the priorities if it will help you achieve your goals. By being flexible over these short timeframes, managers get a lot more predictability over what they can achieve. In contrast, traditional project managers focusing mainly on the big picture can often lose control of the project when the plan is interrupted.
Often called a daily standup, this meeting is an essential element for maintaining transparency and ironing out issues before they get out of control. It’s a short meeting, taking no more than 15 minutes, where each team member shares their progress, identifies obstacles, and coordinates their work for the next 24 hours.
With everybody present in the daily scrum, you often find quick solutions to time-consuming issues. For example, a compliance expert may point out a breach of data security in a design, and offer an alternative. If the solution requires dedicated work, create a new task in your project management tool — don’t allow the standup meeting to eat into your day.
The sprint review is a meeting held at the end of each sprint. It is longer than a daily standup, and sees each member of the team present their progress before getting feedback from stakeholders. Aside from promoting transparency, the sprint review is a great way for the project owner to take performance metrics and ensure tasks are meeting quality standards.
Often implemented as an extension to the review, the sprint retrospective sees the whole team reflect on their progress during the past sprint. As you may expect from this agile project management system, the retrospective is mainly aimed at finding ways to improve.
Therefore, during the meeting, everybody works together to create a frank and honest list of things that worked well, things that could be improved, and what changes can be made in the upcoming sprint. The sprint retrospective represents one of the greatest benefits of scrum — a more horizontal hierarchy that listens to all viewpoints. This way, each team member has the confidence to be open about their situation and the team as a whole can resolve problems quickly and efficiently.
As an extension to the strategic side, each team needs to identify specific roles for a complete scrum experience.
The Scrum Master is focused on the process, rather than the content of a project. They hold a somewhat advisory role, attending meetings to ensure the team is sticking to scrum project management methodology. The Scrum Master will also help by removing obstacles to progress, such as poor communication strategies or poor use of collaboration apps.
The Project Owner plays more of a traditional project management role, but in accordance with scrum methodology. They define project goals, objectives, and priorities, and track performance to ensure that the team meets the expected standards.
Similar to the Project Owner, the Product Manager helps to prioritize items in the product backlog, and oversees quality control. However, the manager goes further than the owner by defining and managing the overall product vision, rather than the project in itself.
This one isn’t rocket science — the team members are the ones who do the work, share their progress, and deliver iterations throughout the sprint.
Other stakeholders include anybody who is affected by the project in any way. Classic examples include investors, users, shareholders, partners, and upper management. Depending on the scope of the project, some of these other stakeholders will be invited to give feedback and suggestions to the Project Owner and the team, and are often involved in the sprint review.
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Now we’ve fully answered the question “what is scrum?”, we can contextualize it with 10 benefits of using this agile project management methodology.
Scrum allows teams to respond quickly to changes and unexpected challenges in the project. By checking in every morning with the daily scrum, you can quickly identify problems and change your approach accordingly. Similarly, the frequent feedback and iterative process allows the team to make minor adjustments frequently, rather than a massive overhaul at the end of a project.
Improved collaboration might be the first thing you think of when you hear the question “what is scrum?”. The methodology firstly promotes a structure that favors collaboration and communication by introducing regular standup meetings. But the horizontal hierarchy does a lot of the work too, creating a culture of transparency and trust that improves communication.
Now we’re digging down deeper into transparency. Daily standups where everybody contributes prevents individuals from shying away from being honest. Requiring everybody to speak removes the stigma from raising an issue — especially when one feels they are at fault. On a more practical level, project management visualizations such as Kanban boards or Gantt charts allow the whole team to see each and every bit of progress at a glance.
It’s no surprise scrum emerged from the fast-paced tech world. By working on small, highly relevant deliverables, the product owner can quickly assess whether the work is going in the right direction before moving onto the next task. This regular inspection allows each team member to continuously improve their approach and maximize their efficiency.
Although your working pace is faster, scrum doesn’t promote speed at the expense of quality. By running sprint retrospective with a structured analysis of performance, a scrum team will continuously improve the quality of their work.
Scrum methodology often includes their users or customers in the development process. Clearly, customers love being involved in the production of the items they love. However, the team benefits too by drawing on reliable feedback from those who will define the success of the product.
The improved transparency and collaboration that sum up scrum methodology give the Product Manager and Project Owner a much closer insight into the final result of their work. But far from micromanagement, scrum is a more structured, productive way of assessing progress that makes predicting outcomes more reliable.
Scrum encourages team members to take ownership of their work. Small wins are celebrated and each individual can see how their work contributes to the overall success of the project on a Kanban board. With standups every day and retrospectives at the end of every sprint, scrum teams are often united groups — even when working remotely.
Scrum methodology takes a "just-in-time" approach to planning, which helps teams avoid wasting time on unimportant tasks. With the Scrum Master overseeing the allocation of resources, the team sticks to their priorities and produces results rapidly throughout the project.
With a well-established culture of communication that goes far beyond the inner circle, teams get regular feedback and updates from clients, users, and decision makers. This helps to define the best pathway to take during every sprint and reduces the risk of the project going off track.
We hope this article hasn’t been too overwhelming. At least next time someone asks you “what is scrum?”, you’ll be able to give them a well-informed answer with none of the fluff.
But in the spirit of scrum methodology, let’s prioritize our tasks. If you’re reading this article (congrats for reaching the end, by the way), you probably want to implement agile project management in your business.
This article has covered the strategic part, but your work doesn’t end there. To fully embrace scrum, you need the tools that make it all possible. Lucky for you, Bitrix24 has everything you need on one user-friendly platform:
Project management software with Kanban boards and Gantt charts
Cloud-based document storage
The five core values of scrum methodology are:
The main benefits of scrum methodology include:
Scrum software covers a range of apps that facilitate agile work processes. Highly customizable, it allows users to break complex projects down into smaller tasks, coordinate workflows, manage sprints, track deadlines, and ultimately launch products.