What is Scrum?

January 9, 2019
5 minute read

Many businesses, needing to improve their processes and products to remain viable, are asking, “What is Scrum”?  Scrum is a way for small teams to build complex products.  It is designed to be a lightweight framework into which many other techniques and tools can be added.  Scrum emphasizes rapid delivery of incremental results in order to obtain feedback from the market on the quality of the work.

What is a Scrum Team?

A Scrum team is at most 11 people who are motivated to build the product.  The members of the team will have all the skills necessary to do so.  In other words, the team is cross-functional and multi-skilled.  Inside a Scrum team, there are two special roles that must be filled by individuals on the team: the Product Owner and the Scrum Master.

The Product Owner is responsible for trying to maximize the value of the work of the team.  He or she does this by creating and maintaining a Product Backlog.  This is a list of desirable features for and functionality of the Product.  The Product Backlog is ordered based on the best possible knowledge about what the market would consider “valuable”.  The team works on items based on their order in the Product Backlog.

The Scrum Master is responsible for helping the team, the Product Owner, and the organization around the team use Scrum effectively.  The person in the role of Scrum Master does this through training, facilitation and coaching the individuals who are involved.  The Scrum Master has no authority to tell individuals what to do or how to do their work other than using the framework itself.

The remaining members of the Scrum Team are referred to as the Development Team.  These people are responsible for turning items listed on the Product Backlog into increments of product.  Their primary working mode is collaborative and self-organizing.  This means that each individual member of the team decides (volunteers!) to work on tasks or activities based on the needs of the team, the work remaining, their own skills and knowledge, and even their own motivation.

The Scrum Process

The Scrum Team follows a simple process as it works.  The process consists of fixed amounts of time called Sprints within which all other activity occurs.  A Sprint starts with a short planning meeting for the whole team.  Then the team works and has regular check-points called “Daily Scrums.”  The team ends the Sprint with two more meetings: the Sprint Review and the Sprint Retrospective.

Every Sprint is the same length of time, at most one month, but usually one or two weeks.  The length of a Sprint is regular so that the work becomes a cadence or rhythm that the team is comfortable with.  Each Sprint follows immediately after the previous one.  No work is done between Sprints!

Scrum Meetings

The Sprint Planning meeting involves the team agreeing on the answer to three interrelated questions:
– What Product Backlog items will we work on this Sprint?
– How will we do that work?
– Why are we doing this work?… articulated as a goal for the Sprint
The whole team participants in the discussion.

The Daily Scrum meetings happen every day.  The Development Team (not the whole Scrum Team) meets and does a very quick update on what has been accomplished so far in the Sprint, and what work will be done next.  This meeting is time-boxed to 15 minutes.  The Product Owner and Scrum Master may observe, or, if they are also working on activities during the Sprint, they may participate.

The Sprint Review is an opportunity for the whole team to receive feedback from customers, users and other business stakeholders about the product increment the team has produced.  Usually, there is some sort of interactive demonstration with the participants.  The feedback should be integrated into the Product Backlog immediately!

The Sprint Retrospective is a private meeting for the team to reflect on their work and make decisions about how to work more effectively in future Sprints.  This can include discussions about learning new skills or tools, changing the team’s work environment, asking for help from outside the team, or even discussions about team conflicts.

The Spirit of Scrum

Scrum has five values: Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness and Respect.  As the team and organization use the framework, these values are exercised and individuals grow in their capacity to demonstrate these values.

Scrum is meant to be challenging and difficult.  It will expose problems that a team or an organization has in delivering high quality products.  These problems should be embraced and dealt with rather than ignored or accommodated.  The Scrum Master helps the organization see these problems and solve them.

Further Information and Support

The official definition of Scrum contains many details not shared here.  It is found in the Scrum Guide and can be freely found online at scrumguides.org.  Learning Scrum is easy: a two day class can give you a great experience of Scrum as well as all the theory.  However, applying the framework and getting good at it in real life is hard.  Often teams will need coaching to support them as they develop their Scrum muscles and endurance!

This downloadable diagram (click on it to get the full-size image) can help you to see the framework and includes some details not discussed in this article.

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All of Scrum Diagram

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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