Scrum Project Management for Beginners: A Comprehensive Introduction

Scrum project management is the most popular version of the Agile project management system. Agile was developed to improve the process of developing software. The nature of the program was such that it allowed developers to move quickly and get deliverables out faster. 

There is a great emphasis on responsiveness and collaboration. For instance, if stakeholders or the product owner see a potential problem, it can be addressed early helping to keep the project on track and customer satisfaction high. 

Understanding Scrum and Agile

People unfamiliar with the terms may find it easy to confuse Scrum and Agile for the same thing, but that’s not accurate. Agile is more of a mindset and Scrum is one manifestation of that mindset.

The Agile Manifesto was created in 2001. Agile was born years before, but a group of software developer practitioners came together in 2001 to create a more cohesive vision for the ideas that had been swirling around for years. It is a brief document that outlines 4 values and 12 principles for Agile software development.

The manifesto was deliberately non-specific when it came to process, procedures, or best practices for Agile. The creators were not looking to develop a particular method, but rather, a mindset for approaching the development of software. Agile is an iterative approach that puts an emphasis on flexibility, collaboration, and the customer. 

To that end, Scrum is one version of a framework for managing projects, but there are others such as Kanban and Lean. 

It might be helpful to think of it this way. If Agile were a Toyota Camry, then Scrum represents one trim level in the Camry line-up, while Kanban represents another. No matter the trim level, the vehicles are all roughly the same. It’s the slight variations that differentiate each one. 

 The Scrum Framework

Scrum divides a project into short, fixed-length timeframes called a sprint, typically lasting two to four weeks. The goal of each sprint is to create a functional piece of the final product. Scrum uses frequent releases and feedback to ensure that the team is delivering usable products for the stakeholders.

Some key elements of the Scrum framework include:

  • Product Backlog. A list of all of the tasks that need to be finished in order to complete the overall project. The list is prioritized by the product owner. Team members will pull items from this list to define a sprint. 
  • Sprint Backlog. This includes the items from the main backlog to be completed for a particular sprint. 
  • Daily Scrum. Also referred to as a “stand up,” this is a brief meeting held each day. The team shares their progress, plans for the day, and anything they see as potentially blocking their progress.  
  • Sprint Review. Held at the end of each sprint, the team shows what they achieved during that time frame. They assess whether or not they met their goals and how they might improve.  
  • Sprint Retrospective. A meeting held after the sprint review and before the next sprint planning meeting with the goal of increasing quality and effectiveness. The entire team reviews what went well, what could be improved and what they will do differently next time. 

Scrum Roles and Responsibilities

There are three primary roles within Scrum.

  • Product Owner. This is a mandatory role in Scrum and an important one. The Product Owner is responsible for defining the product vision, creating, and prioritizing the Product Backlog, and ensuring products are delivered on time and within budget. 
  • Scrum Master. The Scrum Master facilitates operation of the team and serves as a liaison between the team and outside entities. The master makes sure the team is following Scrum best practices, and they remove distractions and obstacles that might impede the goals of the sprint.  
  • Development Team. A group of people (3-9) with all the skills necessary to develop a product. They are self-organized in the sense there is no team leader. The work is done in a collaborative way without one person being “in charge.” The group shares knowledge and works closely together to ensure a high-quality output.

Scrum Artifacts

To provide transparency and track progress, Scrum uses three main artifacts.

  • Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is a prioritized list of all the work items that must be completed in order to finish a project. However, it is considered a “live artifact” and may have items added, removed, or updated based on feedback and priority changes.
  • Sprint Backlog. The development team chooses items from the backlog for each of its sprints. It represents the features and work the team is committing to completing for a specified time frame. 
  • Increment. The concept behind Scrum is to come out of the gate with a deliverable for the customer (an increment) and build on it through each iteration. So, in the beginning it is a “bare bones” product, but as the team progresses through subsequent sprints, the product becomes more feature- ich. 

Scrum Events

To improve communication, collaboration and the iterative process, Scrum features five events (also known as ceremonies). 

  1. Sprint Planning. This is the meeting that will define the upcoming sprint. Team developers will discuss priorities, time estimates for items on the Product Backlog and desired outcome. Based on this, they will select items from the Product Backlog to be complete during their sprint. 
  2. Daily Scrum. Also known as the “stand-up meeting,” the Daily Scrum is a brief, 15-minute gathering. Each team member shares their progress, what they’re planning to accomplish that day, and identify any obstacles that could impede their progress. A quick “touch base,” if you will. It improves communication and helps get issues resolved quickly.  
  3. Sprint Review. At the end of a sprint, the team holds a Sprint Review to demonstrate the most recent product increment to stakeholders. They use the feedback to update the Product Backlog as needed to ensure that the product remains in keeping with customer’s needs.
  4. Sprint Retrospective. The Sprint Retrospective is in keeping with the concept of continuous improvement and optimization of performance within the Scrum framework. It takes place at the completion of a sprint and before the next sprint planning meeting. The entire team will look at what worked and what didn’t and develop a plan for improvement to be implemented into the next sprint. 
  5. Backlog Refinement. Backlog Refinement, also known as Backlog Grooming, is the responsibility of the product owner and is ongoing. It updated as new information is available such as items completed, changes based on customer feedback, and market demands. Keeping up with this process ensures the backlog is accurate and ready for future planning.

Implementing Scrum: Tips for Success

The following suggestions provide a few tips if you’re new to Scrum project management.

  • Embrace the Agile mindset. Take a little time to study and understand and the principles of Agile management because they form the foundation of Scrum. In fact, it influences every aspect of the framework.
  • Invest in training. While Scrum management saves time in the long run, there can be a bit of a learning curve at first. Make sure all of your team members, from the Product Owner to the development team receive training. They will attain a level of competency much quicker when they have a thorough understanding of the Scrum framework and its roles and responsibilities.
  • Start small. It’s a good idea to start small. Use a small project to gain experience. As you learn how to work comfortably and effectively with Scrum, you can begin to scale up to larger projects or multiple teams.
  • Inspect and adapt. Take time to regularly review your team’s performance. Look at how they are using their tools and processes. Make any changes needed to improve efficiency and collaboration with an eye always focused on product quality.
  • Encourage open communication. The best way to foster collaboration and constantly improve is to create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing. Open communication is the key to inspiration and overcoming challenges.
  • Stay committed to the process. As mentioned earlier, there can be challenges when transitioning to Scrum. However, if you can stay the course, the Scrum framework will pay off for your team with greater efficiency, adaptability, and product quality.

The Benefits of Scrum

There’s a reason Scrum project management has become the most popular framework in the world of Agile management. It helps organizations deliver high-quality products quickly and efficiently. 

Understanding the basics of Scrum will help you tackle your projects with confidence and increase customer satisfaction.