What is a scrum, and why should your teams use it?

Scrum is an incredibly important tool for agile businesses. Jack Wallen explains what it is and why you should employ it.

project management concept

Image: iStock/Wanlee Prachyapanapra

Modern businesses, admins, developers and marketing people toss around buzzwords and acronyms as though everyone on the planet speaks the same language. Sometimes the words stick the landing and everyone immediately knows what you're talking about. 

For example, say "scrum" in a developer meeting and everyone will nod their heads in approval. Do the same thing in a marketing or staff meeting and you might see several confused stares (unless one or more of those staff members enjoys a rousing rugby match).

The scrum to which I refer is not to be found in a match on a pitch but a business where developers need to be agile and projects need to be managed like well-oiled machines.

Scrum. 

What is it and why do you need it?

Let's find out.

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What is a scrum?

Scrum is one of the most popular agile methodologies. It's adaptable and flexible, incremental and iterative. Scrum was designed to deliver value in a project quickly and makes it possible to maintain a high level of transparency throughout.

With scrum, each project is divided into small chunks to deliver features to testing teams during the development cycle (not just at the end). This methodology makes the coming together of the whole much more reliable and can dramatically shorten the software lifecycle.

Artifacts of scrum

Scrum consists of a few important elements, which are:

  • The Product Backlog—All the ideas, items, and development proposals that are combined into a list.
  • The Sprint Backlog—A list of tasks the development team must complete.
  • The Increment—The current version of the project that is under development.
  • The Sprint Goal—An abstract of the common goal for a current sprint.
  • Definition of Done—A set of criteria that must be met by the items in the Product Backlog before they can be considered as part of The Increment.
  • The product vision—The overall description of the product.
  • The Burn-Down Chart—A graph displaying the finished work and the remaining time in the sprint.

Scum events

Next, we need to know what the important events are in a scrum. These are:

  • Sprint— A repeatable, fixed-length event where ideas are turned into value.
  • Sprint Planning—Define what can be delivered in a Sprint.
  • Daily Scrum (also called a Stand-Up Meeting)—A 15-minute event where the dev team synchronizes activities and creates a plan for the next 24 hours.
  • Sprint Review—When a team gathers to review completed work and determine if additional changes are required.
  • Sprint Retrospective—The last step of a Sprint cycle where teams review a completed Sprint to generate ideas for the next.

It is important that all of the artifacts and events are included with your scrum. These elements all come together, thanks to a visualized board that is shares a bit of similarity to kanban. Like kanban, scrum uses a board to visualize the status of sprints. Most scrum boards are broken into columns (just like kanban) that might consist of elements such as:

  • Backlog
  • To do
  • Doing
  • Review
  • Done

Why should your teams be using scrum?

First, if you want your business to be as agile as possible, kanban is a great first step. Eventually, however, you'll find your teams needing a bit more to reach that next level of agility. That's where scrum comes into play. 

Responsive teams

With scrum, your teams will be more responsive in their productivity, especially as changes and pivots are required. The scrum discipline requires frequent reviewing of progress, which often demands changes to prevent a project from failing.

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One thing to keep in mind is that change is inevitable. Few development projects go from start to finish without undergoing change. When change happens, your developers need to not only be prepared for it but be able to effortlessly roll with the changes. Scrum can help make that possible.

More accurate planning

By using Scrum, your plans will be less apt to fail. Why? Because your teams are constantly putting in the effort to keep them on track by shifting and changing as needed. And because of the way scrum is designed, your teams will constantly be reflecting how things are going and can make small or large adjustments to the plans, according to the winds of change. By adhering to scrum artifacts and events, your plans are far less likely to fail.

Everyone in sync

When using scrum, a project's stakeholders are always in sync. And because the scrum methodology prioritizes individuals and interactions over all else, keeping everyone involved in sync is actually built into the process.

One particular scrum event that makes this possible is the Daily Scrum (aka Stand-Up Meeting).

Flexible priorities

With scrum, it's very easy to prioritize and re-prioritize as the project moves through the process. With this ability, your developers become more flexible and your business becomes more agile. This also makes it possible to easily (and quickly) adjust short-term goals while still adhering to the overall strategy of the project.

More control

Finally, you'll have more control over the entire project. That's not to say you'll be able to better control your staff. No. Instead, you'll have more control over the direction and flow of the development process. And when you have consistent input from developers and other stakeholders, it lends a level of cohesion to the process you wouldn't otherwise have.

Conclusion

If you're serious about becoming agile, you need scrum. It might not be possible to integrate it into your processes overnight, but given the right amount of time and effort, your teams will be enjoying this new methodology, which will greatly enhance your software development lifecycle.

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