Feb 11 2022

What Is Scrum Methodology and How Can Businesses Use It?

This framework for managing software development and implementation is gaining favor. How does it work, and is it worth trying with your next project?

As IT teams continue to adjust to hybrid work models and changing social distancing guidelines in 2022, it will be more important than ever to determine how best to work together.

As a consequence, there has been a renewed interest in alternative work frameworks. One that has gained significant adoption in technology circles is scrum methodology, which promotes agility and communication in teams — qualities that are ideal for the new way of working apart. Here’s a rundown of what scrum is and how it works.

What Is Scrum Methodology?

A form of agile project management, scrum is a methodological framework used for building and deploying software. Neatly summarized by Northeastern University professor Joseph Griffin in a recent article, “it provides a process for how to identify the work, who will do the work, how it will be done, and when it will be completed by.”

That process involves enabling small, self-organized teams to share responsibility for a project and complete project tasks quickly. It’s especially notable for the way it breaks iterative work into small pieces, affording teams an important advantage: a nimbleness around iterative development that allows for quick adaptation to any changes that come along from users, clients or product owners.

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Agile vs. Scrum: What’s the Difference?

If you think of agile methodology as a work philosophy, scrum is then an application of that philosophy. “It borrows concepts from agile, such as respect for people, self-organization, ways to deal with the unpredictability of software development,” says Jim Mercer, a research director for DevOps and DevSecOps at IDC. Scrum then builds those concepts into an actionable means for teams to deliver software goals that can rapidly change.

How Can Scrum Methodology Be Applied?

Scrum is best applied to smaller software projects, such as bug fixes, user stories, mobile apps or new features in an application. “Instead of implementing the entire user interface that you see in Spotify, for example, you might have someone building the search button,” says Diego Lo Giudice, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

Lo Giudice offers a helpful guide for deciding where to apply scrum methodology. “I suggest organizations start in areas where you see quick wins, where you’re doing innovation, seeing the results, being able to get feedback and where there’s not too many hard dependencies between the teams,” he says. 

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How Does Scrum Methodology Work?

Within a team of up to 10 people, scrum offers three key roles. First is the product owner, who oversees the product backlog. “The backlog is a series of ordered small user requirements and features that get prioritized all the time,” says Lo Giudice.

Second, there’s the scrum master, who acts as a master of protocol rather than a team leader deciding who does what. “The scrum master makes sure that the ceremonies and the practices are applied,” says Lo Giudice. Last, there’s the scrum team itself. “The team should rally around particular features rather than everybody going off and taking their own feature or user story and working on that individually.”

Those features are broken down into small tasks that, together, will complete the project. Ensuring the steps are small is an important part of scrum, because it affords the means to make easy course corrections should anything come up along the way.

The actual work that happens in scrum occurs during what are called sprints, which last anywhere from two to four weeks. “Each sprint is an entity in itself that provides a complete result,” says Lo Giudice.

Sprints are the quick bursts of work that help whittle tasks away to achieve a larger goal, and it often takes several sprints to complete a feature or project.  “It’s a very iterative and incremental process,” Lo Giudice says.

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What Are the Phases of Scrum Methodology?

The process begins by creating a sprint backlog, which lays out what tasks must be accomplished during a sprint. Next comes a sprint planning meeting, which zeroes in on who will be responsible for what for the next two to four weeks.

Every day of a sprint, there are 15-minute morning meetings — “daily scrums” — designed for reporting and monitoring progress. When workers are together in an office, it’s common for team members to remain standing during daily scrums in order to keep things brief.

Whether in person or meeting remotely, however, team members typically address three questions during the daily scrum: What did I do yesterday? What am I going to do today? What help do I need?

How those questions are answered determines if and how tasks need to be adjusted for the next 24 hours. This can even mean overlapping with another sprint. Jim Mercer provides an example scenario: “Maybe we didn’t finish everything in the first sprint that we thought we were going to finish, and we’re going to throw some of that into our next sprint. Or, maybe we did way better than we thought we would, and we started pulling things from another sprint into the current sprint.”

When the sprint period is over, there’s a brief review that catalogues what was completed or not, what worked or didn’t, and what needs adjustment moving forward. (That’s why sometimes sprint reviews can become part of the next sprint planning session.) It’s an important step in the process because of scrum’s mission to promote continuous improvement.

The last phase, a sprint retrospective, shares a similar goal. It’s a more in-depth meeting that occurs after all the sprints are over and the project itself is complete. It affords an opportunity to review the parts of the overall project that were more or less successful, then apply those lessons to future projects.

It should be said that for the uninitiated looking to adopt scrum methodology in 2022, it may not come naturally right away. “For many, it’s not a natural way of working,” says Mercer. “If you haven’t done it before, you might find you move slower at the beginning because you haven’t figured out how things work together.” But once you do, it has significant benefits — not just speed or adaptability but also a powerful camaraderie and ownership of projects. “It can create a lot of nice opportunities, because everybody gets to touch everything.”


Getty Images/ mikedabell

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