Scrum for Agile project management — what it is and how it works

A project manager and a scrum team member use a laptop to develop agile work goals during a sprint.

Scrum and Agile are important terms in the world of project and product management. These frameworks have changed the way teams work, especially in software development. Scrum comes with its own unique terminology and workflow though, which will be unfamiliar to those not used to working in this style.

Scrum is the modern way that teams manage software development projects. Part of the Agile methodology, scrum is a framework that provides core values, team structure, and a flexible workflow to meet the demands of businesses and customers while shifting with the market.

Whether you’re managing an Agile team, considering adopting the scrum framework, or just looking to learn more about it, you need to understand what scrum is, how it impacts your workflow, and what tools are available to support your project management goals. Even managers who don’t work within the scrum framework still need to understand adjacent team workflows.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about scrum and how it relates to Agile. You’ll learn how to structure your team and manage workflows in a way that benefits your business, your customers, and your team.

What is scrum?

Scrum is a process or framework for project management and is part of the Agile methodology, which differs from the previous waterfall methodology. Scrum is an approach to doing work in a team a little at a time with an emphasis on experimentation and evaluation throughout.

The aim for constant evaluation is to monitor outcomes and catch issues early, as well as to identify course corrections that need to be made or learnings to be implemented for improvement. Scrum supports people and teams in delivering value in a stepwise way that emphasizes collaboration and transformation toward defined outcomes.

As an approach within the larger Agile framework, scrum helps people and teams with iterative ways to adjust their work toward optimization, as well as to customize approaches to the needs and changing dynamics of a specific scenario or project.

While used primarily for software development, scrum can be modified and adopted by companies and teams in other contexts too — including hardware development, product marketing, product development, human resources, sales, and more.

Scrum smooths teamwork out and streamlines collaboration, helping teams iterate and ideate early in their processes to get to final products more quickly. This accelerated product and process development is supported by a minimized need for rework due to the validation of hypotheses and designs early on, as well as a removal of waste from workflows.

Scrum vs. Agile vs. kanban

Agile is a larger framework for project management which includes scrum. Agile is different from scrum in that it’s a framework shared by many different management approaches or methodologies. Scrum is a methodology under the Agile umbrella, and it’s one of the most popular. Scrum is an approach used for product development, while Agile lives above it on an organizational level, impacting everything from leadership to culture.

Many companies use several Agile approaches together to run projects and help their teams move initiatives forward. Though scrum is simple and straightforward, it doesn’t encompass everything an organization may need to consider — this is where Agile approaches like kanban come into play.

Kanban is another project management framework that uses some of the same elements as scrum. Kanban differs, however, in that it doesn’t include sprints or daily standups. Both scrum and kanban use visual aids and devices — scrum boards and kanban boards are two examples — to keep track of work progress.

Scrum enables efficient use of time and resources and creates bite-sized sprints that are more manageable than large and unwieldy projects.

Both approaches emphasize iterative adjustments for process efficiency, but the two differ in their approach to those iterations. Scrum focuses on smaller, fixed-length iterations. Once the time period for a sprint is finalized, the team determines the stories or product backlog entries that can be implemented during that cycle. Kanban takes a different approach to the number of tasks that will be implemented in the current cycle. They’re fixed at the beginning of the cycle, and the time it will take to do the work is then calculated from that fixed scope.

Kanban is generally more open than scrum, which has greater enforcement of categorical concepts as part of its process. This can make kanban a more flexible approach to work with and easier to adapt to project-specific considerations.

The scrum framework

The scrum framework is based around sprints, short blocks of time in which a set amount of work is attempted to be completed. These sprints accomplish the work outlined in the project backlog. Teams meet in brief, daily standups to update the progress of the project. By dividing large projects into sprints, teams can incorporate feedback from clients and internal stakeholders along the way for a better final product.

The 1995 publication The Scrum Guide first defined the scrum framework and process, outlining the definitions, roles, rules of engagement, and outcomes. It was introduced as a more efficient way for teams to collaborate and find solutions to multifaceted or complex problems. Scrum is not an acronym or an abbreviation — rather, it’s a term borrowed from rugby where it’s a method of restarting play. When applied to project management, it’s used to describe the process of moving a project forward toward defined outcomes in an Agile way.

The basic parameters of the scrum approach are straightforward. There’s a scrum team that is made up of a product owner, scrum master, and developers, each with different roles and responsibilities. The process has five events through which the team produces three artifacts.

Scrum relies heavily on empirical inputs of observation, recording the outcomes of actual experience rather than conjecture, and utilizes experimentation and testing. The foundational pillars of scrum are transparency, inspection, and adaptation, all of which lend themselves to iterative, short cycles of development, assessment, and adaptation.

Here are some of the advantages of scrum:

The scrum team

The scrum team is a smaller group of people, usually between five and nine people, who work together to complete projects and develop products and services. There are three roles that form a fundamental scrum team — one scrum master, one product owner, and a group of developers. There is no hierarchical structure within a scrum team. It’s a cohesive and collaborative group of people all working toward the same goal.

Scrum master

The scrum master oversees the scrum team. They hold daily standup meetings and make sure everything is running smoothly. A non-Agile counterpart to this role on a traditional project would be the project manager — the person whose primary responsibility is the logistical “how” of getting work done and unblocking team members.

A project manager normally creates schedules and timeframes for everyone involved in the project and controls outcomes by ensuring milestones are met, team communication is facilitated, and progress reports are shared with leadership. In contrast, a scrum master works not as a project controller but as a collaborative team member. Their role is to facilitate team success by streamlining processes and removing blocks to progress.

Highly successful scrum teams work together to move projects forward and aren’t as effective with top-down management or over-involvement.

As an approach within the larger Agile framework, scrum helps people and teams with iterative ways to adjust their work toward optimization, as well as to customize approaches to the needs and changing dynamics of a specific scenario or project.

Scrum development team

A scrum team or scrum development team is composed of the team members completing the work of the sprint. In the standard context of a scrum, these would be software developers. A scrum team:

Product owner

Product owners or product managers are responsible for guiding the engineering team to deliver a product that meets the needs of the business, the customer, and the market. The responsibilities of this role include motivating team members and working to develop sprint goals. This person is typically the key stakeholder of a project and has deep knowledge of the service, product, or system being developed, as well as end users, market context, and business trends.

The product owner is primarily responsible for ensuring that the scrum team delivers value to the business and meets stakeholder needs. To that end, the product owner helps outline expectations for the product and maintains an up-to-date task list for the team.

To ensure the scrum team is always delivering value to stakeholders and the business, the product owner determines product expectations and records changes to the product. They also administer a scrum backlog, a detailed and constantly updated to-do list for the scrum project, which ensures that the most high-priority requirements are met during each iteration of development.

Scrum values

Scrum values center around meeting business aims and objectives and fulfilling the needs of stakeholders and customers efficiently. The scrum method favors agility and adaptability informed by iterative development and assessment, seeking to make necessary changes to the final product in a way that saves time, effort, and money.

Given the need for quality, flexibility, competency, and collaboration, the scrum process emphasizes certain values.

Courage

Courage is required for the members of a scrum team to work through difficult problems together and stay engaged throughout the process, regardless of challenges.

Focus

Focusing on the aims at hand is an important part of the scrum approach. Team members need to single-mindedly concentrate and stay on track to meet the goals of the sprint.

Commitment

Commitment is vital to successful scrum methodology, both to the aims of the project and its iterations and to healthy collaboration with team members.

Respect

Respect in a scrum team is critical. Team members will need to demonstrate value for one another’s working styles and opinions in order to arrive at a unified approach for each sprint.

Openness

In high-pressure situations, it can be tempting to hide issues from team members and stakeholders. But for the work to progress functionally and trust to remain strong in the team, it’s important that every team member be open about the challenges that arise.

Scrum events

There are five standard events in a scrum. It’s important not only to perform each of these five events but also to have a solid understanding of why they’re done.

The five standard events in a scrum are the sprint, sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review, and sprint retrospective.

  1. The sprint. The sprint is the essence and engine of scrum. Every sprint works to bring the project closer to its stated goals and aims, and each should last a month or less. The scrum team works in a sprint to hit project targets, and each sprint consists of several activities or events — opportunities to inspect the product or process and see what changes need to be made.
  1. Sprint planning. During planning, sprint goals are established by the entire scrum team. The amount of work that can be done is projected, and the method of work is scoped. Planning needs to be time-boxed — having a specific time parameter imposed — to a maximum of eight hours. Shorter sprints can be planned in less time.
  1. Daily scrum. The development should take 15 minutes per day to inspect progress toward the sprint goal. Sprint backlogs are adapted per the outcome of the inspection, and adjustments to planned work are made.
  1. Sprint review. Both the stakeholders and the scrum team need to take a look at the outcome of the sprint and determine future project direction, as well as any course corrections or adaptations that should be made.
  1. Sprint retrospective. Finally, the scrum team assesses the previous sprint and examines all elements and inputs to see how they impacted the success of the sprint. The team applies lessons learned to the planning of the next sprint to make it more effective.

Scrum artifacts

Artifacts that result from scrum are information used by the scrum team and any relevant stakeholders and sponsors to get better clarity on the product or service being developed, as well as any inputs. Artifacts are created during the main scrum activities and include product backlog, sprint backlog, and increments.

A product backlog is the set or list of items that need to be done to optimize a product. It includes features, updates and upgrades, tasks, or requirements that are needed to finish product development. This backlog is compiled from a variety of sources, such as customer feedback, market and competitor analysis, and industry analysis. It’s a living artifact meant to be consistently updated as new information and inputs are available — and formally maintained and curated by the product owner at the end of a sprint cycle. It’s called a backlog because it contains items that need to be addressed but have been moved to a lower priority.

A sprint backlog is a collection or group of product backlog items that have been reprioritized in order to be addressed during the upcoming product increment. These backlog groupings are curated by the development team in order to plan for upcoming increments. Sprint backlogs are compiled by taking a newly prioritized backlog task and breaking it down into more detailed actionable tasks. This delineating work is done during sprint planning.

A product increment is a discrete item or customer deliverable that was the outcome of the product backlog task completion during the sprint, including the increments from every prior sprint. It is essentially whatever was previously built or developed by the team, in addition to anything new that was finished in the previous sprint — all fully tested and ready for delivery.

Tools for scrum

There are many benefits to using the scrum framework for managing projects, including helping teams design and deliver products more quickly than traditional methods. Scrum enables efficient use of time and resources and creates bite-sized sprints that are more manageable than large and unwieldy projects.

Scrum works well when projects are fast-moving and likely to change. The flexible and nimble nature of scrum means that feedback can be easily adopted and changes more quickly made.

If you’re ready to get started with scrum, take a look at your current team structure and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How would your current structure map to the roles within the scrum framework?
  2. Which team projects would be particularly well-suited for scrum?
  3. What software tools might help you achieve your project management goals?

Adobe can help

Adobe Workfront is enterprise work management software that connects work to strategy and drives better collaboration to deliver measurable business outcomes. It integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization, so you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish. By optimizing and centralizing digital projects, cross-functional teams can connect, collaborate, and execute from anywhere to help them do their best work.

Workfront for enterprise campaign management helps you create plans, evolve as your strategy evolves, and gather real-time data for better insights.

To learn more about Adobe Workfront, take a product tour or watch the overview video.