Agile vs. Scrum for efficient project management

agile team uses scrum board

If you’re a project manager, you’ve probably heard of the benefits Agile has to offer. Understanding what clients truly want and breaking work into smaller, quicker pieces empowers you to consistently deliver what users need.

That said, Agile methodologies come with a new set of vocabulary that can get confusing. A common question is about the difference between “Agile” and “Scrum.” In this post, we’ll discuss:

What’s the difference between Agile and Scrum?

The difference between Agile and Scrum is that Agile is a broad project management methodology, while Scrum is a type of Agile framework that makes the Agile ideal actionable.

Agile is an overarching philosophy of project management. It emphasizes continuous improvement, flexibility, efficiency, and allowing teams to adapt to end-user feedback.

Scrum is a set of processes that allows teams to be Agile. It’s one thing to adopt and communicate flexibility and efficiency as project management values and goals, but it’s another thing to put into practice. Scrum helps teams put Agile into practice.

What is Agile?

Agile is a project management philosophy that focuses on iterative development and testing. Agile presents the idea of breaking large projects into manageable pieces that can be tested as soon as they are delivered. Team members are expected to provide observable ROI early and often, so one of the big tenets of Agile is interacting with cross-functional teams.

Agile teams work closely with clients to gather requirements and ensure tasks are completed to everyone’s expectations. The benefit of hitting smaller milestones faster and confirming them with clients and stakeholders is that teams can pivot quickly if needed.

Clients also have a say in what new features get delivered by offering their input on backlog prioritization. This is helpful because it guarantees that Agile teams concentrate on work items that represent the highest priorities for end users.

Another key element of Agile methodology is the emphasis on working software over extensive documentation. Although a lack of documentation can hinder new employees during onboarding, Agile teams can use the time that would have been spent creating those resources on development instead — enabling Agile teams to respond to change faster. Ultimately, this leads to quicker deployments.

While Agile is typically used in software development, Agile concepts can be applied to teams in many industries. In an Agile-first company, leadership encourages incremental improvement, face-to-face meetings, and cross-collaboration. Universities, the military, and marketing teams have all embraced the power of Agile.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a specific set of Agile methodology practices devoted to releasing products in the shortest amount of time. It is the actionable framework that helps teams fulfill the Agile philosophy.

Scrum defines rules and team roles that make Agile ideals possible. In Scrum, developers work in “sprints” of one to four weeks. During that time, the team works on small chunks of work that contribute to a broader project or goal. Each task comes from a backlog of requests from internal and external teams that’s reviewed and revised at the beginning of every sprint to match end-user priorities. Scrum sprints are such a helpful management tool that sprints are widely known as “Agile sprints” in general.

Scrum team roles include a “Scrum master,” a product owner (PO), and a development team.

Another piece of Scrum framework that has become almost synonymous with the Agile methodology is daily stand-up meetings. In daily stand-ups, the development team reviews what they accomplished the previous day, what they hope to accomplish that day, and what blockers they might encounter along the way.

Scrum leaders will also conduct a sprint retrospective meeting in which the entire team gives their perspective on what was done well and what could improve in the following sprint. As the new sprint starts, the team will share a sprint planning meeting to establish which tasks to work on next.

The value of Scrum’s systematic processes is that everyone is on the same page and clients get the outcomes they want on a defined timeline — while leaving room for changes that may pop up along the way.

Other methodologies

There are many other project methodologies that are frequently confused with Agile or Scrum. Let’s review two of the most common.

Scrum vs. kanban

Just like Scrum, kanban is a variation of Agile methodology. The difference is that kanban uses a visual workflow to showcase a team’s progress. On a kanban board, each piece of work is represented by a card. The board has columns to denote task status. As the team works on each task, the corresponding card moves into the next column until it is completed.

kanban board

Rather than pulling a certain number of tasks into a sprint, kanban establishes a maximum number of cards that can be in each column. If the team has already met that quota, they cannot pull in any more work from the project backlog until the work in progress is finished.

In contrast to Scrum, kanban doesn’t have predefined project team roles, sprints, or team meetings — although many kanban teams also have daily stand-up meetings. Kanban team members work together to deliver tasks on an as-needed basis. That way, kanban team members can also lean on each other for help when they are struggling.

Agile vs. waterfall

Waterfall is a more traditional form of project management with a fixed scope, schedule, and budget. Unlike Scrum and kanban, waterfall is not an Agile project management strategy. It takes a top-down approach, collecting client requirements upfront and creating a detailed project plan. Waterfall stakeholders usually aren’t involved in the development process.

Rather than finishing small chunks of work quickly, waterfall focuses on whole projects that can take months or years to complete. Waterfall project management strategies prioritize project planning before work starts, so there are no changes or updates while development is in progress. Adhering to a fixed scope means that waterfall projects are delivered in a sequential, predictable manner.

Whereas Agile emphasizes continuous testing, waterfall leaves QA until the end of the project, when each stage is finished. Testing at the end ensures that developers aren’t sidelined by new or tangential requirements, although it can take longer to fix mistakes or errors if they are discovered at the end of the project.

Waterfall methodology is good for short projects or those with well-defined requirements. Agile methodologies are better for granting teams more flexibility.

Getting started with Agile Scrum

While the terms “Agile” and “Scrum” are often confused, knowing the relationship between them can help you create the most effective project management strategy. With a more methodical approach, Scrum ensures that everyone knows what they are supposed to work on. The right work gets delivered at the right time, and there’s enough wiggle room to fix issues or make necessary adjustments in a subsequent sprint.

When you’re ready to try the Scrum methodology, Adobe Workfront can help. Workfront houses all of your work in one place, giving everyone a platform to voice their ideas, measure and share their progress, and break complex processes into manageable pieces. Within the Workfront solution, you’ll find it easier to prioritize your work, collaborate with stakeholders, and maintain alignment across teams and departments.

Want to try it out yourself? Sign up for a free product tour today to see how Adobe Workfront can revolutionize your project management.