Scrum: A Definition and Some Pointers
When you start a new job, chances are you’re going to have to either brush up on your terminology — or learn what can feel like an entirely new language. Nowhere is this more true than when you’re working with a software development team. Whether it’s your first day managing an Agile project or you work with developers on a daily basis, it’s important to understand common phrases and terms used among the team. One of the most popular terms you’ll need to get familiar with? “Scrum.”
Continue reading to find out what Scrum is, why it’s beneficial to teams of all sizes, how to overcome common challenges, and what a “Scrum Master” is.
What is Scrum?
At its foundation, Scrum is an Agile framework for addressing and solving complex problems in an efficient, adaptive, and iterative way. Unlcear roles, dubious responsibilities, and complicated business processes can make solving elaborate problems within an organization difficult. Scrum simplifies and streamlines this experience with a concrete way of approaching problems and making sure all team members are working towards the same goal in the most effective way possible.
Scrum has a standard set of rules, processes, roles, and events that help set expectations and minimize ambiguity, confusion, and unnecessary meetings.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the different roles and individuals involved.
The three main roles within the Scrum framework are:
- Product Owner: This individual represents customers and stakeholders and creates the product backlog.
- Developers: They carry out the work in a self-organized manner during each sprint, and their main goal is to deliver the most valuable product possible.
- Scrum Master: They make sure that the framework is understood and enacted and helps everyone understand good theory, practices, and rules.
In order to facilitate a clear and optimized approach, the Scrum workflow consists of five key events:
- Sprint planning: Where the team analyzes the product backlog and determines the purpose and goals of their next sprint.
- Sprint: Used within most Agile methodologies, the sprint is a short burst of intense and focused development work taking place within a set time period (usually between one to four weeks).
- Daily Scrum: A daily meeting where developers come together for about 15 minutes to discuss progress made towards the sprint goal. Three questions are asked during this meeting:
– What did you do yesterday?
– What will you do today?
– Are there any blockers or impediments in your way?
- Sprint review: A meeting where the Scrum team and other stakeholders collectively review the sprint results. This is seen as a working session, and the result of this review is a revised version of the product backlog with the next sprint in mind.
- Sprint retrospective: The team comes together to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and how they can improve.
Scrum documents and artifacts
In addition to defined roles and events, there are specific Scrum documents, as mentioned above, to support different phases of the process. These documents are:
- The product backlog: Created by the product owner, the product backlog is a prioritized list of things needed to improve the product. These could include new features, bug fixes, updates, or anything else needed to create a product.
- The sprint backlog: Created during sprint planning and managed by developers, this gives an overview of the work needed to achieve the sprint’s goal. The sprint backlog must include the “Definition of Done,” which clearly indicates what needs to be completed in order for the Sprint to be considered complete.
- The Scrum board: A place where team members can visualize and keep track of information and tasks, usually a project within a work management tool. Team members can provide status updates directly within the tool by closing tasks and leaving comments.
Benefits and challenges of Scrum methodology
Now that you know what Scrum is, you’ll probably want to know the pros and cons of the framework. Every organization and team is different, so it’s a good idea to consider these points.
- Quicker cadence: Scrum is able to deliver value to the customer in a shorter amount of time. This is thanks to increased clarity surrounding, work and the responsibilities of each team member. Shorter meetings and the presence of the product owner — who can provide real-time feedback — also contribute to this velocity.
- Better products: With daily testing, continuous product owner feedback, and regular retrospectives, your teams can deliver the best product they can.
- Better employee morale: Under Scrum, your team members are more self-directed, giving them more freedom and creative power than other methods. Plus, instead of a classic removed stakeholder and developer relationship, the presence of the product owner facilitates a productive and trusting working experience for all members.
- Improved customer satisfaction: The involvement of the product owner — an expert on customer needs and pain points — ensures the customer is kept top of mind during each sprint.
- Possibility of scope creep: With an emphasis on flexibility and open communication with stakeholders, scope creep is always something to watch out for.
- All members must cooperate: You need buy-in from all team members. While the Scrum Master works to make sure everyone understands and follows the methodology, it can be difficult when one team member refuses to follow these requirements or has a hard time understanding certain processes.
- Daily Scrum: Although this meeting is an important part of the process, some team members may find it disruptive or unnecessary.
- The onboarding process: This is a widely used framework, but for entry-level employees or those from companies that haven’t used it, there can be a learning process involved.
While Scrum might not be for all organizations, it’s a time-tested and reliable way for companies and teams to work together efficiently while creating the best product they can.
Who is the Scrum Master?
The Scrum Master might be the most misunderstood contributor to this methodology. While not technically a project manager or a team lead, the Scrum Master’s main job is to make sure everyone follows established rules, principles, and processes.
The Scrum Master works to help the rest of the team overcome any obstacles that may stand in the way of delivering a valuable product. However, while a project manager will have people management skills and responsibilities, the Scrum Master expects the team to be more self-directed.
Scrum Masters work at three levels:
- With the product owner to facilitate stakeholder collaboration and to find techniques for product backlog management.
- With the developers to coach the team in self-facilitation and removal of any blockers slowing down or stopping their progress.
- With the organization at large, by planning and advising on implementation throughout the company.
So, how can someone become a dedicated Scrum Master? The simplest answer is through official certification. Organizations such as The Scrum Alliance offer a program where you can learn the fundamentals of the role. When combined with real-life work experience, you’ll be set to guide any team.
Ready, set, Scrum!
If your organization’s goals include delivering higher value products at a faster rate, Scrum might be what you’ve been looking for. With a focus on collaboration, iterative development, and simplicity, this framework ensures your team works not only more efficiently, but more effectively.