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GuidesProduct developmentHow to get started with scrum

How to get started with scrum

Last updated

20 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Scrum, a project management framework, helps product teams prioritize tasks and shorten the time to market for their most critical products. It also makes it easier to more accurately meet customers’ and stakeholders’ changing needs.

Many find scrum far more effective at overcoming critical path delays than longer, more linear project management frameworks like waterfall. Rather than changing requirements and bringing the project to a halt, scrum helps the team redirect the project’s path. As a result, they can leverage their creativity and stay dedicated to what they do best.

Your product management is only as good as your methods, so it’s best to choose one that self-corrects and incrementally improves itself over time.

Are you wondering which of the numerous product strategy frameworks is best for you? This article will answer your questions about scrum and help you decide whether it’s well-suited to your team and project.

What is scrum in project management?

Scrum, an agile project management methodology, is a cyclical development strategy emphasizing short timelines (or sprints) with clearly defined goals. Each sprint’s goal is to deliver code that will move the product closer to its objective, whether that be a new feature or a larger product launch.

Scrum also helps product teams zero in on the highest-value projects or features based on their past successes and continuous user feedback.

The methodology was largely born out of many programmers’ growing frustration with traditional methods. Most product development strategies involved trying to handle huge backlogs all at once, with larger releases and a slower time to market. These strategies would often burden developers with what some saw as cumbersome decision-making processes, which could easily become obsolete in a more dynamic market.

The scrum framework

Like agile, scrum uses a continuous improvement model, prioritizing fast deliverables with frequent updates.

Many developers find scrum similarly effective as agile at managing large backlogs, unifying teams, and ensuring the shortest route possible is taken to the next important finished product.

Scrum involves several defined activities to achieve this:

  • A product backlog session, resulting in a worklist (or sprint backlog) of the highest-priority work

  • An initial planning session based on the sprint backlog

  • Sprints—where the development work takes place

  • Short daily meetings (scrums)

Scrum vs. agile methodologies

Both scrum and agile seek continuous product development based on the voice of the customer. They are free of non-value-adding distractions. However, scrum is a specific strategy, while agile is an overall philosophy or set of principles.

Scrum’s practices borrow heavily from the Agile Manifesto, the founding document of the agile methodology created in 2001.

Scrum’s defining trait is breaking continuous development tasks into much shorter and more frequent evaluations. It’s a bit like checking a compass and plotting your course every few hundred feet instead of checking at the end of your trip.

While both scrum and agile encourage teams to adapt product development efforts to customer expectations, only scrum provides a step-by-step process for doing so. That said, scrum takes inspiration from agile and wouldn’t exist without it.

In simple terms, remember that scrum is a specific process, while agile is a set of principles.

Roles and responsibilities

Effective scrum project management depends on three individual or group roles:

  1. The product owner, responsible for deciding which worklist items are a priority and determining whether the finished work is ready for market or requires another sprint cycle

  2. A scrum master who is tasked with hosting daily meetings and managing other day-to-day operations

  3. The scrum development team, which should include a wide cross-section of roles (such as developers, testers, and UX designers)

A scrum team is usually made up of 6–10 people—enough for a wide breadth of skills without much overlap.

Step-by-step application of scrum

It all starts with the product or feature backlog. The product owner takes the product backlog and creates a worklist, placing each item in order of priority.

Next, the team takes items from the top of the worklist and develops a 2–4-week project timeline. This is known as a “sprint.”

The sprint’s objective is to move the product toward its end destination—the product’s launch. This might involve tackling a backlog of defects that have been challenging end users.

During a sprint planning meeting, the development team creates a sprint backlog with the highest-priority entries from the product backlog/worklist.

Team members meet for a daily scrum led by the scrum master, which facilitates problem-solving and brainstorming sessions. Scrum meetings are generally free-form, but they often begin with each member spending a minute or two answering the following three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?

  2. What will you do today?

  3. Are there any obstructions?

A scrum trend is for the team to stand up. This makes it more obvious if the meeting becomes uncomfortably long.

Once the current sprint backlog is complete, the product undergoes a sprint review. This is much like a product demo. During the sprint review, each team member shares the work they completed during the sprint. This helps share knowledge and a sense of accomplishment across the team.

The last stage is a retrospective evaluation of what went well, what didn’t go well, and how the team can improve the next sprint cycle.

The team then repeats the process by selecting the next worklist item(s), planning a sprint, and following the same general process while incorporating any tweaks from the previous retrospective.

To summarize, the sprint cycle occurs in four phases:

  • Sprint planning meeting to establish priorities and devise a plan based on the product backlog

  • Sprint backlog, with daily scrums to evaluate progress and coordinate efforts

  • Sprint review, a product demo to share and celebrate the work completed

  • Sprint retrospective, where everyone gathers to discuss the latest sprint cycle, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and make changes for the next iteration

By the end of the scrum process, the team will have moved the product toward its highest-priority goal. The key takeaway is that each cycle provides incremental value, with subsequent cycles building on the successes of the previous one.

Key scrum tools to get you through your next sprint

Certain scrum project management tools are generic to product management, while others are designed specifically for scrum:

Product backlog

Product development almost always leads to backlogs of product ideas and features. Without a proactive approach, many ideas become tractionless items on a wishlist.

Several products support capturing and maintaining ideas, issues, and planned feature work so that the product backlog can all be managed in one spot.

Sprint backlog

The product owner presents the product backlog to the development team. Together, they create a working list from the backlog’s highest priorities. This is often done in the same tool used to manage the product backlog, or a system that can be easily integrated.

Scrum

A scrum is a short daily meeting that helps the team quickly obtain a bird’s-eye view of the overall efforts. They may use various props, such as cards with numbers or symbols that serve as a quick and easy voting tool.

By emphasizing gut reactions and updated market data over labored reporting (characteristic of the waterfall methodology), daily scrums help teams plot their course more easily and effectively.

Burndown charts

A burndown chart is a graph representing the amount of work remaining. It’s updated daily.

The chart also visualizes completed tasks and the ideal “burndown” rate to complete the current sprint backlog in time.

Sprint retrospective activities

Retrospectives are open to variation, but generally, a physical or digital whiteboard will support this step.

Most teams also use sticky notes (or digital card systems) so that team members can easily post and organize their ideas.

There are several tried-and-true retrospective ideas you can use to identify key lessons from the previous sprint.

Example of scrum in product development

Radware, a leading cybersecurity company, used traditional, linear development processes with waterfall characteristics. They dealt with delayed handoffs and slow release cycles as a result.

This was particularly difficult considering the nature of their work, where fast releases and updates are essential. Radware began looking for an alternate solution and explored a scrum/agile project management system.

The team started using workshops to study the organizational challenges affecting each of their individual product lines. This involved taking the “central source of truth” into account for all team members and giving them the most updated information relevant to their project.

Radware also took the time to train managers in scrum roles. By adopting a process called program increment (PI) planning, they aligned their efforts and clarified priorities (as you would in the sprint backlog phase). This led to teams becoming more aligned and free from time dependencies and strict orders of operations.

Throughout the process, Radware’s developers and senior staff held regular scrum ceremonies, helping them maintain more consistent planning, timeframes, and review processes. Ultimately this change in practice led to them becoming one of the top denial-of-service (DDoS) mitigation solutions on the market.

Radware’s success highlights how scrum can help product development teams achieve cross-functional collaboration—the ability to work on all or most aspects of a project in tandem.

Pros and cons of scrum

Whether each aspect of scrum is a benefit depends on the scope and nature of your work. It’s better to find a project management system that matches your needs rather than cramming them into a given framework.

Consider how well the key features of scrum listed below support your team’s particular style and needs.

Is scrum right for you?

So, how would your project fare under the scrum framework? If your development cycles are short and your team naturally gels, it will probably be a good fit. On the other hand, scrum might create more pressure than motivation if you have an established track record under a different model.

Above all, scrum project management balances fluid, dynamic pacing with the need for transparency and cohesion. For these reasons, many consider scrum a reliable engine for growth that still accommodates creativity and stakeholder expectations.

Adapting scrum to your company

Scrum is a specific framework for cutting through complexity and getting work done. Whether scrum or a different project management method is right for you depends on your team and company culture.

Scrum is most useful for sharpening the team’s focus on the highest priorities and bridging the gap between idea and implementation. The framework has withstood the test of time largely because it helps teams leverage fast, adaptable decision-making and clearer customer feedback.

If your most important projects require longer timelines, scrum may not suit you. However, its core concepts can help any team achieve more, largely thanks to the following qualities it shares with agile:

  • Cyclical development

  • Continuous improvement

  • Transparent communication

  • Clear priorities with specific deadlines

  • A collaborative approach to simplifying complex tasks

FAQs

Is scrum an acronym?

Many people wonder where the term “scrum” comes from and whether it’s shorthand for something else. However, scrum is not an acronym.

Why is it called a scrum?

Scrum is short for “scrummage,” a rugby play where players crouch close together, interlock arms, and vie for possession of the ball. It’s an appropriate metaphor for tight-knit teamwork that relies on frequently checking in and strategizing together.

How long do scrum projects take?

Scrum doesn’t define what a project is or where it ends. You could even say the scrum process is never-ending, as one sprint cycle blurs into the next. More than almost any other continuous product development method, scrum is inherently cyclical. The faster time to market depends on frequent delivery.

However, most project development teams rightly label scrum a project management framework, which suggests there’s a finish line. Generally, it’s up to the product owner to define the scope or meaning of a given project, remembering that scrum hinges on iteration cycles.

For simplicity’s sake, most teams consider a single scrum project to be a single sprint cycle, starting with sprint planning and ending with a retrospective. It could also mean the deliverable product demoed at the sprint review.

Generally, you can assume that a discussion about a single project managed through scrum relates to each sprint’s 2–4 week timeline.

Why do sprints last 2–4 weeks?

There are several reasons why 2–4 weeks is an ideal length for each sprint cycle:

  • Developers stay more engaged but without unreasonable pressure.

  • It’s a proven realistic speed for achieving a functioning product quickly.

  • It’s easier to remember past iterations and draw on recent lessons.

  • Having more iterations means more opportunities to evaluate and enhance each sprint cycle.

  • Teams achieve an optimal balance between focus and creativity.

Who decides a scrum sprint duration?

A sprint cycle’s exact duration is a decision best suited for the product owner. The product owner will rely heavily on input from an experienced scrum master who has a wealth of hard-won insights from the development team. However, all team members should have a sense of how soon the customers are expecting something.

Whether the final decision is taken collectively or from the top down, a good duration depends on several factors:

  • The team’s size

  • How diverse the team’s skills are

  • Scope of the product or release

  • Whether developers need to fulfill dual roles

  • If scrums will involve participation from stakeholders or just the product team

  • The number of sprint cycle iterations the product owner can devote to a given backlog item

  • The developers’ experience, both individually and combined, including how well the team gels with the scrum master

What skills does a scrum master need?

Product quality depends on the development team’s collaborative efforts. It’s the scrum master’s responsibility to organize team efforts in a meaningful way.

Scrum masters should have sufficient competency with the development tools required for the project if they are to work effectively with the team. It’s helpful for them to study industry trends and user feedback since they need to report to the product owner directly.

It’s no exaggeration to say the scrum master has the most dynamic role in the scrum playbook, so they should have balanced technical and managerial skills. This requires wearing many hats.

Here are some of the skills an effective scrum master needs:

  • A solid understanding of the particular development languages or technologies involved

  • Good rapport-building, communication, and any other interpersonal soft skills

  • A strong background in agile and scrum

  • Excellent time management skills

  • Mentoring and coaching experience

  • A genuinely positive and motivating presence

  • The ability to delegate and troubleshoot complex problems

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