What Is Scrum?

Scrum is a product management framework that helps teams break large projects into small chunks in order to practice continuous delivery.

Written by Adam Thomas
Published on Dec. 19, 2022
What Is Scrum?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Brand Studio Logo

Scrum, a popular a product management framework, helps development teams deliver incremental value. In other words, Scrum helps product teams take large projects and break them up into small chunks to monitor progress and practice continuous delivery

Scrum is the responsibility of the scrum leader. These leaders have to foster an environment wherein a product owner, in collaboration with stakeholders, can order the work for complex problems into a backlog. The team, which consists of whomever is responsible for creating a product (engineers, architects, designers), turns the backlog into a collection of work within the time box of a s. The team and stakeholders then inspect the results and adjust for the next sprint. 

Rinse and repeat. 

Let’s define some of those terms above.

Scrum: 5 Key Terms to Know

  1. Scrum Leader: This is the person who’s responsible for the health of the scrum process.
  2. Product Owner: This is the person who’s responsible for stakeholder management.
  3. Backlog: This is where problems are broken down and listed in a digestible way for the development team (designers, engineers and an architect).
  4. Sprint: Sprints are the length of time a team works through the problem. This is a consistent increment of time, usually one or two weeks. 
  5. Stakeholder: A person connected to the organization who has a vested interest in the project’s success.

Related Reading From Adam ThomasTo Stay Agile, Don’t Let Your Product Team Get Trapped in a Loop


Why Is Scrum Important?

The scrum process creates a cadence for team members to understand, communicate and deliver the work in smaller increments, thereby reducing overall risk. Many software problems run into cost and time overruns because, without a way to frame the work and break it down into bite-sized chunks, problems can easily go unseen and unsolved until you’ve shipped your product. At that point, it’s too late to solve the problem inexpensively. 

Scrum theory attacks the potential for unseen and unsolved problems in three ways. 

  • Transparency — The work is visible throughout the process to those who do the work (the development team) and those that receive the work (the stakeholders). 
  • Inspection — The development team regularly examines the artifacts to catch vulnerabilities as they’re developing rather than waiting until they’ve already happened. 
  • Adaptation — The scrum process isn’t static; instead, it evolves with the project. 

Good scrum is constantly open, critiqued and shifting to match the projects and problems the team tackles.

What Is the Scrum Process?

  • Daily Scrum: A daily check-in on the health of the sprint.
  • Sprint: A consistent frame of time for the team to judge the work they produce.
  • Sprint Planning Meeting: A meeting to plan what work will take place during the sprint.
  • Sprint Review: A review of the work by the team and stakeholders to elicit feedback and insight.
  • Sprint Retrospective: A review of the work practices themselves so the team can work better together in the future. 
Introduction to Scrum in 7 Minutes. | Video: Uzility


How to Start a Scrum Framework

Your scrum process can take many forms based on the evolution of the team and the problems you face; however, certain aspects remain constant.

  • Scrum teams have a leader who is responsible for the process itself. Depending on the size of the team, this could be a job in itself. The team also has a product owner and a development team to size the problem and deliver solutions.
  • Scrum teams have rituals that leverage the theory of transparency, inspection and adaptation. These usually look like a planning session, a daily check-in (transparency), a review of the work itself (inspection) and a retrospective (adaptation). 
  • Scrum teams have artifacts, such as a burn down chart (an artifact that sees if your estimation is matching the completed work over time) to check in on the work. Teams will also have a global backlog to hold the big problems alongside a sprint backlog the team can pick up. The team will also have a DoD (definition of done), a list of conditions the team must meet in order to consider the product increment complete. 

Some good resources to get you started include: 

  • Scrum.org — This is the website that comes from the Scrum collective. You’ll find a ton of videos, training and other resources to get you started on understanding and implementing scrum in your organization. 
  • Scrum Guides — Here are the official Scrum guides. 

Related Reading From Product ExpertsProduct Managers Must Get Past Being ‘Data Driven’


What Are the Benefits of Scrum? 

Scrum is a great framework to drive transparency, inspection and adaptation. When looking at a large pile of work, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and fall behind in delivery. This always reminds me of writer Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Lamott’s brother, young at the time, struggled with a book report and waited until the last minute. Their father told him to just get started. Her brother was bewildered. There was so much work to do; how do you know where to start? Lamott’s father looked at her brother, put his arm around his shoulder and told him to take it “bird by bird” — one piece at a time. 


What Are the Risks of Scrum? 

The worry with this way of thinking, however, is that with large backlogs teams can find themselves working on problems that were relevant years ago but are no longer priorities. When practicing scrum methodology, it’s critical to be diligent about adaptation at all levels to avoid getting stuck in the process just because it’s the process. In other words: Don’t forget to audit your backlog. 

Hiring Now
Cloud • Fintech • Other • Payments • Software • Data Privacy