Charlotte Davis

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Everything You Need to Know About Scrum Methodology in Project Management

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Are you considering Scrum methodology as a way of getting things done, wondering whether this is the right approach for complex projects? If you think about constant experiments, receiving immediate feedback, and ongoing collaboration with everyone involved in software development to learn every day and improve as you go, you may be on the right track.

Let’s dig into the Scrum framework, find out what core values are, learn more about the crucial roles, and explain the Scrum and agile project management framework relationship once and for all.

The Origins of Scrum Methodology

Scrum as a project management methodology was not invented by any one person but rather evolved over time through the work of many individuals and organizations from the tech industry.

It all started when researchers at Easel Corporation were trying to improve the software development process, unsatisfied with the traditional waterfall approach, which often resulted in delayed and over-budget projects. Scrum as an agile software development methodology was originally defined and written down in the early 1990s by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. The concept of a Scrum project was first introduced in a paper presented during the Business Object Design and Implementation Workshop, held as part of the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications (OOPSLA ’95) conference in Austin, Texas.

The gentlemen were particularly inspired by the earlier work of Prof. Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, who published a piece in the Harvard Business Review in 1986 called “The New New Product Development Game.” The word “new” was intentionally repeated in the title to highlight the pioneering idea which was soon to revolutionize the way complex projects were managed. Their article till now is considered the cornerstone of the Scrum framework, one of the most widely used agile software development techniques.

What Does Rugby and Software Development Have in Common?

As absurd as this question might sound, more than you think. Takeuchi H., Nonaka I., fascinated by the sport, described a “rugby” approach to the product development process that emphasized teamwork, adaptability, and a mindset open to constant feedback, pointing out the significant role of cross-functional and self-organized team members that cooperate together to deliver output in short, iterative cycles. Sutherland J. and Schwaber K. have adopted this idea. Both were inspired to write about the Scrum methodology based on their own experiences and conclusions after working for years in the software development industry.

The Principles of Agile Manifesto

Sutherland J., Schwaber K., and a group of fifteen other innovators who met in Snowbird, Utah, in 2001 created the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. They came together to discuss their shared experiences and disappointments with traditional software development methods and their limitations. The Manifesto highlights the importance of customer satisfaction, delivering working software frequently, and maintaining a focus on quality.

Soon after that event, the Agile Alliance was founded with Schwaber K. as its first chairman. The goal of this non-profit organization was to promote the values of Agile software development. Its purpose is to support individuals and organizations in adopting and refining their practices, as well as to facilitate communication and teamwork between the global Agile community.

One of its main projects is the Agile Alliance Conference, an annual gathering that brings together members, leaders, practitioners, and speakers from around the world to share their experiences and insights into Agile project management. The symposium includes keynotes, workshops, and breakout sessions that cover various Agile topics, ranging from methodologies and processes to leadership and team dynamics.

Who Adapted the Scrum Process for Software Development?

Takeuchi H., Nonaka I. have definitely blazed trails for all project managers and Scrum Masters. However, it’s worth mentioning that Sutherland J. & Schwaber K. were also influenced by the work of other thought leaders, including W. Edwards Deming, who developed the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle for constant improvement, and Eliyahu Goldratt, who introduced the “Theory of Constraints” as a way to identify and manage bottlenecks in manufacturing processes.

Other key contributors to the further development of the Scrum framework include Tom Gilb, who invented a method called “Evolutionary Project Management,” not forgetting about Mary and Tom Poppendieck, who popularized core principles of Lean manufacturing, adapted to software development in 2003.

agile software developer

What Is the Scrum Methodology?

If you are a newbie to project management methodologies, you need to know that the Scrum process supports project managers and team members in delivering results progressively in a collaborative manner. As an agile project management framework, Scrum offers enough structure for the entire team to focus on well-defined goals that can be achieved within time-boxed iterations while adding relevant practices with an eye toward optimizing work to meet specific business needs. To dispel any doubts and to understand this project management methodology thoroughly, let’s have a look at the basic rules in the Scrum process.

The Key Principles of Scrum Methodology

There are nine key Scrum principles to learn before one can fully understand how this methodology has reshaped the traditional project management processes.

1. Decisions are based on observations, experience, and continuous experimentation rather than on upfront planning and detailed documentation – Scrum project management draws upon an empirical process control model, which means that the Scrum team regularly inspects and adapts their process to stimulate progress and improve outcomes.

2. Scrum divides the development process into short iterations called Sprints, which typically last between two and four weeks. Each Sprint results in a Potentially Shippable Product Increment (PSPI), allowing for feedback and adjustments along the way. The Scrum team relies on feedback loops to continually upgrade the product.

3. As mentioned when discussing the legacy of Takeuchi H., Nonaka I., Scrum teams are cross-functional and self-managing, meaning that they determine freely how to complete their work without external interference. The Scrum Master is mainly a facilitator, while the Product Owner provides direction and prioritizes tasks to ensure that the product is being developed according to the customer needs and under the set timeline & budget.

4. The composition of a Scrum team is determined by multiple factors, but it typically includes individuals with different skill sets, such as frontend and backend developers, graphic designers, UX & UI specialist, testers, technical writers, and other experts who can contribute to the development of the final product, depending on the nature of the Scrum project.

5. The Product Backlog is a prioritized list of features, enhancements, bug fixes, and other work items that the Product Owner and stakeholders would like to see in the final solution and that the Scrum team works on during the Sprint. The Product Backlog is dynamic, which means it can change over time as more information becomes available. It is one of the key Scrum tools used to manage the work that needs to be done to achieve all business goals. The Product Backlog is maintained by the Product Owner, who is responsible for ensuring that all activities are visible, transparent, and prioritized. The Product Owner works closely with the Scrum development team to ensure they have a shared understanding of the Product Backlog items.

6. The Daily Scrum, also known as the daily stand-up, is a 15-minute time-boxed meeting where the entire team plans their work for the day. The Daily Scrum is not a status update or a problem-solving meet-up. It is a key part of Scrum’s empirical process of inspection and adaptation, aiming at providing an opportunity for the project team to synchronize their operations and identify any obstacles that may be impeding their progress.

7. At the end of each Sprint Planning Meeting, the team holds a Sprint Review to demonstrate the product increment to stakeholders, gather feedback, identify areas for improvement, and make modifications to their approach as necessary.

8. The Sprint Retrospective takes place at the end of each Sprint to review the previous operations and identify ways to improve the Scrum team’s processes, practices, and collaboration. It is an opportunity for the entire team to reflect on what worked well, what could have been better, and what changes they want to make for the next Sprint.

9. The Scrum team delivers an Increment of the product at the end of each Sprint as a tangible representation of the progress made during the development process. It is a visible and working version of the product that is completed, tested, and usable. Each Increment should add real value to the solution, even if it is not yet ready to market. 

What are the Differences Between Scrum Methodology and Waterfall Approach?

Scrum framework and waterfall model are often compared as they are two of the most popular project management methodologies in software development, research, sales, marketing, and other fields. While they share some similarities, such as the goal of delivering a quality product or service on time, the main differences between them lie in the approach to project planning and its execution.

For example, Scrum methodology can be successfully applied to manage marketing campaigns, where iterative and incremental processes support marketing data analysts in adapting ongoing activities to dynamically evolving market conditions and customer needs. Scrum project involves flexible and adaptable practices that enable teams to respond to changes quickly.

In contrast, the waterfall model is a sequential method that follows a fixed plan from start to finish. The development process is broken down into several phases, such as planning, requirements gathering, design, development, testing, and deployment, and each phase must be completed before moving on to the next. Once a phase is completed, there is little room for changes to be made, and any modifications require the entire process to start again.

Is choosing the right project management methodology really that simple, and is it possible to combine both of them? Concluding the above, you will not be surprised that the Scrum process is generally considered to be the opposite of the Waterfall method in many ways. Scrum is all about breaking down the development process into smaller, manageable iterations called Sprints, where each Sprint focuses on delivering a working product Increment. Scrum methodology leaves room for improvement, meaning that each Sprint involves feedback and review from stakeholders & team members to ensure the project is on track.

Crucial Roles in the Scrum Methodology

In the Scrum framework, there are three crucial roles with different responsibilities:

  • Product Owner is responsible for prioritizing the Product Backlog, which is a list of features, functionalities, and requirements that need to be developed. A Certified Product Owner is the voice of the customer and the key stakeholder who defines the product vision, goals, and conditions. The crucial role here is to ensure that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and understandable to anyone involved.
  • Scrum Master facilitates the whole Scrum process, ensuring that the entire team is following the framework correctly and that they are making progress towards their Sprint goals. This may require cooperating with stakeholders, Product Owners, or other team members to resolve issues and make sure that everyone has the resources they need to succeed. A Certified Scrum Master also helps to maintain a positive team dynamic and encourages team members to find areas for improvement in every activity. They may provide training and coaching to software developers, UX specialists, testers, and other tech experts to help them increase their skills and abilities.

Scrum Development Team is usually composed of three to nine members with a specific set of skills necessary to collectively deliver the ready-to-use product. The team members have the autonomy to manage themselves and decide how best to accomplish all the tasks. They also estimate the effort and costs required to complete each Product Backlog item. The Scrum Development Team work closely with the Product Owner and Scrum Master to understand the requirements and ensure that they are developing the right product.

Scrum master using sticky notes standing near planning board

Does Scrum Methodology Apply to All Types of Projects?

Scrum methodology is often recommended for complex software development projects, facilitating delivering high-quality products within the deadline. Overall, the Scrum framework is effortlessly adaptable to a wide range of projects, making it an efficient approach across different industries, from digital marketing, through event management and e-commerce, to consulting, finances, and healthcare, where it can be applied for developing new medical devices, managing clinical trials, or building an innovative patient-centric program.

Advantages of Scrum Project Management Methodology

Implementing Agile principles can bring many benefits that are not achievable if the project is carried out by using traditional methods. Let’s recap the main advantages of a Scrum framework:

  • Minimizing expenses related to formalities – there is no requirement to create extensive Scrum project documentation, as with the waterfall approach, since the Scrum methodology is less dependent on a strict, concretized plan;
  • Reducing project risks that might occur along the way;
  • A deeper awareness of goals through continuous feedback;
  • Faster response to added information, data, results, and observations;
  • The main objective of business stakeholders and developers is to work closely together to create software that better fits customers’ needs and goals in the short- and long term;
  • Improved information flow, better understanding & communication between team members, as well as autonomy, independence, and self-reliance of the software developers;
  • Instead of focusing on big milestones, the Scrum methodology offers to think about project management in terms of smaller tasks that can be completed incrementally in a specific, usually much shorter unit of time;
  • The possibility of getting positive results in a relatively short time, which will make it easier to maintain or even just gain the support of the organization’s board for this project management methodology;
  • If the Scrum Development Team at sprint meetings gets a defined roadmap for the upcoming cycle, they will be able to better adapt their code to potential changes;
  • Throughout the projects, teams can meet with the client, to whom, by asking questions, they can suggest the best way out in given situations, resulting in cleaner code and, therefore – more functional solutions;
  • Through self-organization & self-management, project team members are given more room for experimentation, and their relationships are based on mutual trust, resulting in better performance;
  • A Scrum project will work best with custom products or those built from scratch. It’s a great fit for industries where change is frequent, regular, unpredictable, and significant in terms of business, organization, or any other aspect;
  • The customer decides which Sprint completes the Scrum project, which also means that, for example, as a result of a reduced budget, stakeholders may abandon the idea of implementing some of the previously developed features. In other cases, the customer can send change requests to existing and future functionality as part of the increased financing.

Final Thoughts 

As excellent as Scrum can be in project management, there are a few potential risks involved since there is no universal method that will suit everyone. The Scrum methodology, like any agile project management framework, has certain limitations. 

Among its most frequent threats, most often mentioned, is the possibility of project sprawl related to ongoing changes and adding new features. This, in turn, can result in unplanned budget overruns, and the final product, although expanded, may also fail to meet the original goals. 

In addition, the Scrum process is also occasionally criticized for laying too much responsibility on the Scrum Master, who must stand out for specific personality-character traits to embody the values inherent in this method.

The rule here is to ensure whether Scrum is the right methodology for your organization’s specific needs and skills. There is a chance your team would operate more efficiently using a different project management methodology, such as, for example, Kanban. When incorporated correctly, though, Scrum can become a massive ally, allowing your organization to work more efficiently, boosting productivity and performance, and resulting in a better quality of work.

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