Published February 28, 2023
The Fundamentals of Scrum
Scrum is a framework for managing and completing complex projects. It is based on the Agile methodology and emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and continuous improvement. In Scrum, a project is broken down into small, manageable pieces called sprints, each of which is typically one to four weeks long. The team works together to complete the sprint, delivering a potentially shippable product increment at the end of each iteration.
Scrum is one of the most commonly used frameworks in agile delivery. In this article, we will focus on the fundamentals of Scrum in the tech industry and beyond. If you’re new to using Scrum or have been using it for years but were never taught the basics, this post will give you an understanding of why and how to apply it successfully.
What is Scrum (and Why Does it Matter)?
As stated by the Scrum Guide, Scrum is “a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organisations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.”
Scrum has gained popularity in delivery approaches because it takes complexity and the unknown into consideration, unlike many other more traditional project management approaches. Traditional management systems, such as Taylorism, were valuable during the industrial age when scope, time and cost were often known or predictable. As we continue through the digital age of software and data, Scrum offers a way to navigate complex unknown endeavours and produce value through empiricism and lean thinking, led by the pillars of transparency, inspection and adaptation.
To deliver value, Scrum prescribes a set of values, roles, events and artefacts.
Each value helps build a high performing team that delivers high quality value to customers. Regularly, teams should inspect how they’re living these values and adapt if there are any areas they could improve.
Roles on the Scrum Team
The developers on the team are the doers; they create incremental value. The value they create will vary drastically between teams, companies and industries. While Scrum has been applied most commonly in software development, it could be applied to almost any team with deliverables, such as human resources, marketing or education. There are usually less than 10 developers on a single team to optimise communication and collaboration.
The Product Owner is the single point of contact accountable for what value is delivered by the team. They clearly communicate the Product Goal, prioritise the Product Backlog and work closely to ensure the development team understands the needs of the business. Creating visibility and transparency are paramount for the Product Owner.
The Scrum Master is a servant leader to the team, Product Owner and organisation by facilitating, teaching, coaching and/or mentoring within the Scrum framework. In order to accomplish this for various audiences, the Scrum Master needs to use creative solutions to enable the flow of value between developers, Product Owners and relevant business parties. The success of a Scrum Master is measured by the effectiveness of their team.
Examples of the daily tasks a Scrum Master might undertake include leading Scrum events as described below, training business partners on the Scrum framework and how it applies to their business context, or resolving an impediment that is slowing down the progress of their team. The specific duties of a scrum master will differ from company to company and team to team.
The sprint is described as the heartbeat of the Scrum team and the rest of the events (such as Epics) take place strategically throughout the sprint. It is a fixed, consistent time period that usually lasts 1-4 weeks.
Sprint planning is at the start to understand what needs to get done within the sprint, the estimated effort required and how it will get done. The Sprint Goal is determined and confirmed during Sprint Planning.
Daily scrum meetings, as they are titled, occur daily and are quick, efficient planning meetings to inspect how the team is progressing toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the work day accordingly. It is also commonly known as “Daily Stand Up” and typically should not last longer than 15 minutes.
The sprint review happens at the end of the sprint and should demonstrate progress toward the sprint goals and help determine what to prioritise next.
The sprint retrospective concludes the sprint and is a catalyst for the development team to reflect on their effectiveness with regards to individuals, interactions, processes and tools, and plan for ways to improve.
Product backlog & product goal
The Product Backlog is the single source of truth for work to be done on the product by the Scrum Team(s). It is a prioritised list of work that will improve the product. A work item such as a User Story from the Product Backlog is ready to be taken into a Sprint to be worked on by the team if and when it is broken down into a size that can be completed within a sprint. The Scrum Team determines the size and readiness of the backlog item; Product Owners can help the team understand the work item, but don’t dictate the estimation and breakdown of the backlog item.
The commitment tied to the Product Backlog is the Product Goal. The Product Goal is the objective future state of the project that all backlog items work towards. The goal should live in the backlog and Scrum Teams shouldn’t move on to a new goal until it is achieved. In an agile environment, it might be decided that the goal needs to change or be discarded altogether. Either way, an explicit agreement on the current goal should always occur between the Scrum Team and Product Owner.
Sprint Backlog & Sprint Goal
The Sprint Backlog needs 3 things: the “why”, the “what” and the “how”. The Sprint Backlog itself describes the what, which includes prioritised work items and the how, which is the action plan created by the team that’s needed in order to get that work done.
The why comes in the form of the Sprint Goal. Why is this set of work items valuable? The Sprint Goal is a single objective that defines a single increment of value that the team is committing to deliver.
Increment & Definition of Done
An Increment refers to a usable and measurable piece of value that contributes to the Product Goal.
The commitment that accompanies the Increment is the Definition of Done. An Increment isn’t considered complete until it satisfies the Definition of Done (DoD). The DoD is a commitment and agreement between the Scrum Team and Product Owner and will vary from team to team.
Tips for Implementing Scrum
Scrum can be applied in start-up or enterprise organisations alike. The difference between the two often lies in leadership buy-in and the need for transformation in enterprise-level companies. Start-ups typically (not always) have less barriers to implement Scrum, or any agile framework.
There is no magical formula to successfully implement Scrum in an enterprise-level company as no two companies are exactly the same, however, here are some tips to help guide you in the right direction.
- Get buy-in from leadership. No matter how well intentioned your plan to become Agile or implement the Scrum framework is, it will eventually fall flat if leadership doesn’t buy in.
- Invest in experienced people. While Scrum is simple, implementing it in the context of your business can be challenging. Agile leaders who have a depth of experience will be valuable to your implementation journey.
- Learn as you go. Continuous improvement and short feedback loops are in the very fibre of Scrum, so utilise them! It won’t be a perfect, linear journey, but the goal is to always be getting better.
Scrum is an Agile framework that can help you and your team deliver faster and better results while maintaining a sustainable, happy team. Through its values, teams, events and artefacts, Scrum can optimise your team and have your clients coming back for more. For more information on implementing Scrum or using it to deliver awesome data insights for your company, reach out to our experts today!