What is Scrum? - Definition & Terminology

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson we'll look at the origins of the term scrum, the members and roles of the scrum team, the scrum process, and some benefits for using scrum for project management.

Origins of Scrum

If you think scrum seems like an odd word to apply to project management, you would be right, considering its origins. Scrum comes from the word scrummage, which is a term used in the sport of rugby. Rugby teams will use a scrummage or scrum when something has happened to stop the game, for example, if the ball leaves the playing field (think jump-start in basketball). To restart the game, the players stand close together with their heads interlocked. In this formation, they move as one - when one person makes a step, all the others must take a step as well.

Scrummage Formation in Rugby
Scrummage Formation in Rugby

So, how can a term used in rugby be applied to project management? In the scrum formation, team members have to work as one unit. Doesn't it make sense that teams in business should also work as one unit? Where one team member takes a step, it affects how all the other team members will step. Originally, the term scrum was used as a framework for software development. Scrum became known as a process that improved teamwork, by ensuring communication between team members which resulted in faster completion of the goal. Eventually, this teamwork process was applied to project management, in particular, to solve complex problems or projects that had multiple elements that needed to be completed. Let's take a look at the scrum process.

Scrum Process

Scrum breaks down large, complex products into smaller, more manageable increments completed every sprint. Each sprint is then completed in turn, resulting in a completed project. But there are very specific steps when using scrum. Let's take a look at them:

  1. Product backlog: The product owner and team create a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.
  2. Sprint backlog: At sprint planning, the team takes the most important backlog items, decomposes them into actionable tasks, and works to complete all these items by the end of the sprint. This list of items the team commits to complete in the sprint is the sprint backlog.
  3. Implementation: The team begins completing items usually in priority order. They meet daily to talk about what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to accomplish today, and what obstacles face them.
  4. Sprint Review: At the sprint review, the sprint is concluded. The team (to include the product owner and scrum master) meet with stakeholders and/or customers to discuss the product increment created during the completed sprint.
  5. Retrospective: Finally, the team meets to reflect on the sprint. They evaluate the process, discuss pain points and obstacles, and decide on areas of their process that they'd like to improve for next sprint.

Scrum Process
Scrum process

Scrum Team

Now that we know how the process works, let's take a look at the people who make up a scrum team. Scrum teams are generally cross-functional, meaning there are people on the team from different areas of expertise. They each have something valuable to contribute to the ultimate goal of completing the project. There are three positions or jobs found in scrum teams:

Product Owner

The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the team. The product owner helps prioritize the team's work and determines if work meets the stakeholders' requirements.

Team Members

The team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable increment of product at the end of each sprint. 

Scrum Master

The scrum master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.

Benefits of Using Scrum

So, why would organizations want to go through what seems like a tedious process to accomplish their goals? There are a number of advantages to using the scrum process:

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