This post will walk you through the basics of the Scrum project management methodology to see if it's a fit for your team and provide you with some resources to help you get started.
What is Scrum methodology?
Scrum project management methodology is a structure used for organizing and managing the moving parts of a project. Originally designed for use in software development, Scrum is now used by organizations and project managers across all disciplines. The methodology works well for smaller teams tackling projects with changing deliverables, unknown solutions, and frequent interaction with clients or end-users.
Scrum favors incremental and iterative phases of production to deliver functional products faster and with more frequency. In the words of Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, the world’s champion in project management:
“Scrum is the perfect way to remove the tight controls of traditional project management and to liberate a team’s creativity to address rapid client changing needs.”
In addition to empowering teams to think creatively as they iterate, Scrum drives feature prioritization by organizing features and goals into deliverables that the team works on in two-week sprints. This way, the most important work gets done first.
The term Scrum is borrowed from rugby, where a Scrum is the huddle the team forms on the field during the game to call plays and make strategic decisions. Scrum can be used by anyone who needs to produce an end product, such as a webpage, a software program, or even a construction project.
Let’s take a closer look at the Scrum process, including the various Scrum roles, to see if this project management methodology is a fit for you.
Benefits of Scrum
Implementing a new project management method for your team will come with challenges, but Agile Scrum offers plenty of unique advantages that you can articulate to your team and other stakeholders as you make the switch.
- Adaptability: Agile Scrum projects involve frequent check-ins and updates, so if a project needs to change, it won’t languish for weeks before someone notices. You’ll be able to identify a problem or necessary change and pivot quickly without losing weeks of work. Plus, your project sees continuous improvement over its lifespan, rather than a few periods of big change.
- Visibility: Stakeholders have the option to see a project’s progress throughout its lifespan—not just at certain intervals around the beginning, middle, and end. They feel more involved, as does the entire team, giving everyone the opportunity to collaborate and watch the project move from start to finish.
- Efficiency: Any Agile process aims to do more work, more efficiently, and if you and your team execute Agile Scrum well, you’ll see those results.
To start using the Scrum methodology, there are a few key roles that need to be assigned: the product owner, the Scrum master, and the development team.
The product owner is a stand-in for the customer and should keep the best interest of the stakeholders in mind while working through sprints and prioritizing the backlog.
The role of the product owner is to guide the team and encourage open communication across all positions. A successful product owner is organized and available to answer questions and provide clarity throughout the life cycle of the project.
The Scrum master removes roadblocks and facilitates handoffs where needed to keep the sprint running smoothly.
A key difference between a Scrum master and a traditional project manager is that a Scrum master does not give step-by-step direction to the team. At the beginning of a project, the Scrum master and product owner meet to prioritize features and organize the sprint.
The rest of the participants in a Scrum are members of the development team who are tasked with executing the product deliverables. Anyone who has a hand in creating the product is on the development team, including programmers, designers, writers, and platform-testers (also known as Quality Assurance (QA) experts).
In Scrum, the development team is self-led, and every member works together to complete each sprint. The development team must decide amongst themselves how to best accomplish the deliverables.
Once roles have been identified and staffed, the product owner and the Scrum master will host a series of planning meetings to identify the features of the project.
Find out how to find the right people for each role and build an effective Scrum team structure.
3 steps of the Scrum process
During each two-week sprint, the Scrum process includes these three activities so the team has checkpoints to communicate.
1. Sprint planning
Before any work can begin, the Scrum team must meet to prioritize features for the product and create a product backlog of features. The product backlog is a list of tasks the team agrees to complete in an assigned sprint. Sprint planning should aim to answer two questions:
- What features can we deliver in this sprint?
- How will we work to achieve these deliverables?
You can plan for the sprint using a Scrum software or the old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach, but you may want your plan to exist as a living document to be updated as needed. Using Lucidchart, you can easily map out and visualize the tasks you plan on completing, and your whole team can edit and collaborate in real time as you create this plan.
2. Daily Scrum meeting
A daily Scrum meeting is held to talk about the previous day’s work, discuss hang-ups, and define what work will be completed that day. Each member of the team updates the group on what they’ve been working on and brings up any issues or questions.
Ideally, a daily Scrum meeting should not exceed 15 minutes.
3. Sprint review and sprint retrospective
A sprint typically lasts about two weeks, at the end of which the team meets to review progress and processes. In order to optimize the next sprint, team members gather feedback on features and their functionality.
During a sprint review, the Scrum master, product owner, development team, and stakeholders review what they have accomplished during the sprint compared to what they intended to accomplish. This meeting may include demonstrating the product for the customer or stakeholders. Any necessary changes are implemented.
During a sprint retrospective meeting, the Scrum team takes a closer look at the sprint itself—what went well and what could be improved in the process—so the team can become more efficient and agile over time.
Communication must take center stage throughout the planning and review processes, as the Scrum method relies on transparency across the team to function properly. If and when barriers arise, team members should be ready to adjust their course and prioritize goals as needed. As each iteration of the product is completed and feedback is gathered, the project roadmap is subject to change.
Key Scrum tools to get you through your next sprint
Now that you have the players and process in place, let’s look at the important scrum elements that contribute to this iterative process.
Throughout the lifespan of a project, the product owner will manage the product backlog. The product backlog is where all the features of a product are listed and prioritized. The product owner is solely responsible for any changes to the organization and prioritization.
Within a specific sprint, the sprint backlog lists all the tasks to be completed. Tasks are pulled from the product backlog, prioritized in the sprint, and assigned to the development team for completion during the sprint. It is up to the development team to work together to decide how best to complete the tasks at hand.
A Scrum board is used throughout the sprint to track progress on tasks. It is typically divided into these columns:
- To do: Product features planned for the sprint but not yet started
- In progress: Tasks that team members are currently working on
- Done: Tasks that have been completed
You may want to include an additional column to show when a feature is in testing or vertical swimlanes to further divide tasks by team member or user story. Some teams might even incorporate the product backlog into this document and simply pull from that list each week.
With this visual, the entire team can see how the sprint is going and potentially reallocate resources or change course if tasks aren’t getting started on time.
Burndown charts are a visual representation of work still remaining in a sprint and should give team members an at-a-glance update on the progress of the sprint.
A burndown chart can be created with a few Post-it notes on a blank wall, an Excel document, a Google Sheet, or housed in Scrum project management software.
Sprint retrospective activities
As mentioned previously, at the end of a two-week sprint, Scrum teams meet to discuss what went well during the sprint and what could be improved for next time. Scrum teams can use several different formats or activities during this sprint retrospective meeting, such as:
- Glad, Sad, Mad: Team members pinpoint their feelings to work toward a pleasant experience for every sprint.
- Start, Stop, Continue: Improve the sprint process by asking team members what the team should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing.
- 4 Ls: This method details what each team member liked, learned, lacked, and longed for during the sprint.
Get started with one of the templates below—simply share the document with your team members, and they can contribute their thoughts about the sprint in real time.
Above all else, Scrum is about a handful of people working together efficiently to deliver iterative work. To most effectively utilize the Scrum methodology, team members must be available for communication and collaboration throughout the sprint. Team members should also be willing to take on different roles as needed to deliver a working product and meet sprint goals.
As a result, individuals who work remotely may find it challenging to participate fully in the process. But by using the tools above in a cloud-based visual workspace like Lucidchart, you can keep teams on the same page no matter where you work.
As teams work through these exercises, it’s important to remember that the Scrum method is just one approach to project management methodology. Antonio says it’s a commonly asked question:
“I am often asked whether I prefer scrum or traditional project management, and the answer is it depends. Like with Leadership, it is about knowing what to apply when, depending on the challenge at hand.”
So is Scrum the best methodology for you? To explore other project management methodologies, check out Agile project management or Waterfall methodology to find the best fit for your projects and your team.
If you do decide to switch to Scrum methodology, get started by learning tips for better sprint planning.