Scrum Project Management
Managing Projects the Agile Way

Scrum Project Management

Scrum project management might sound like a strange term, as there is no formal definition of the role of a project manager in Agile approaches. However, Scrum is often thought of as a way to deliver projects in an agile environment. Being able to effectively manage product development work using Scrum is a growing skill area for people in a variety of roles.

As organizations grow, they sometimes adopt a ‘Scrum of Scrums’ model which needs some oversight and coordination, however that is achieved in the business. There are lots of different ways to succeed in a Scrum environment, whether you have a formal project management role or not. For example, lean scrum project management is one of the possible ‘flavors’ of this agile approach that you may come across in your career.

In this Scrum project management guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about the Scrum project management framework. The selection of curated podcast episodes below provides an introduction to the world of Agile Scrum project management and the skills you need to successfully lead Agile teams regardless of your job title.

Featured Podcast: The Project Manager's Role in a Scrum, Lean, and Agile World

Listen now to this featured podcast about Scrum project management and other agile methods.

The project manager is a highly skilled knowledge worker who has received rigorous training and knowledge in the process of achieving a globally recognized certification. At the same time, in the agile world, the project manager does not have an official role. The project manager’s role is distributed between the agile team members. You might be wondering how the project management vs Scrum Master dynamic works. In this podcast episode, Dave Cornelius evaluates the project manager role in SAFe Agile and centers on PM participation in the lean and agile transformation.
Cornelius Fichtner and Dave Cornelius
Cornelius Fichtner and Dave Cornelius
Please scroll down to see the full list of our related podcasts.

What is Scrum Methodology?

Scrum is a framework and set of processes used to manage and control projects like product development. Scrum provides the tools to address complex problems while delivering incremental business value and a high quality product.

The Agile Alliance goes on to explain that Scrum is highly empirical. In other words, it enables teams to try new things, learn from that experience and adapt what they do to constantly evolve the product for the best result.

People sometimes ask: "What does Scrum stand for?" The answer is: nothing! Scrum is not an acronym. The name comes from the game of rugby where the team works as one to win, with multiple hand-offs between players.

Evolution of Scrum

So how did Scrum come about?

In terms of the history of project management, Scrum is only a baby, although it has roots in productivity and continuous learning -- concepts that have been around for a long time. Here's a brief timeline of how this agile way of working has evolved into what we recognize today.

1986

The New New Product Development Game

The roots of what we now know as Scrum can be found in an HBR article called The New New Product Development Game back in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. They used the term 'scrum' to talk about new ways of approaching product development. The new way they were talking about was to have a single team responsible for the whole process. There are handoffs between team members, just like in a rugby game.

1990's

The Framework Evolves

In the early 1990s, teams across the USA were developing ways to work with the concept of iterative, empirical development. Ken Schwaber led the effort as his company, and another team made up of Jeff Sutherland, John Scumniotales and Jeff McKenna came together to design their own framework for use in their business.

1995

The OOPSLA Workshop

Ken and Jeff became the founders of what we recognize today as the Scrum framework. They merged their ideas based on what was working in their own teams and continued to evolve the practice. In 1995, they presented a paper at the Business Object Design and Implementation Workshop at the 10th Annual Conference on Object-Oriented Programming Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA). The workshop attendees concluded that, "advances in the software development process are required to dramatically improve productivity in a component based development environment."

2001

The Agile Manifesto

Ken and Jeff were also participants in the now-famous meeting that led to the creation of the Agile Manifesto. Ken also co-wrote a book that year, Agile Software Development with Scrum, that helped bring these ideas to a wider audience.

2002

Scrum Alliance Founded

Ken Schwaber was one of the founders of the Scrum Alliance, a non-profit member organization that offers certifications in the framework.

2009

Scrum.org Founded

Ken Schwaber went on to set up Scrum.org as an organization offering professional certifications in order to be able to offer training.

2017

The Latest Scrum Guide

Ken and Jeff are the authors of The Scrum Guide. The latest version was released in 2017 and forms the basis of the method used by development teams around the world today.

How Scrum is Used To Manage Projects

A common question is: ‘Is Scrum a project management methodology’ and the answer is: No. You can deliver projects using Scrum but it’s a framework, not a methodology.

Technically, there is no role for the project manager in a Scrum team. The work of the project manager is split between the members of the Scrum team. The responsibilities you would normally expect to be done by a project manager are, in the main, shared between the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. (By the end of this article you will understand what those roles mean and the part the individuals play on the project.)

However, as Scrum is a way to get work done using Agile principles, it is used for project management. Every sprint is a step on the journey to completing the end product. If you have a clear goal in mind, you can use sprints to get there. You’ve delivered your project by using an agile framework and iterative development instead of a predictive approach.

Benefits of Scrum in Agile Project Management

There are lots of Scrum project management benefits. Here are some of the most common that we see across the majority of teams adopting a Scrum project management process.

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved product quality
  • Faster delivery times
  • Improved team morale and stakeholder satisfaction
  • Improved collaboration and communication between the team.
Working in a more productive way, hitting deadlines faster with a motivated team and a quality product at the end of the project? Yes please! We promise these are not empty claims. Let's look at why Scrum has the power to deliver these benefits for your organization.
  • Increased productivity
    Part of the role of the Scrum Master is to ensure that the team is operating productively, following the framework and continuously improving. The Scrum Master is a team coach who facilitates the process, asking questions and helping the team evolve their own set of best practices for the project. A commitment to productivity, evidenced by working software, is one of the values documented in the Agile Manifesto. It's something you will see in many agile project management environments which are known for being efficient teams.
  • Improved product quality
    Quality is inherent in Scrum. Each sprint delivers a working feature, so the team has to focus each time on making sure they deliver something of value. That doesn't always mean a sprint results in something the customer can see or touch. For example, it could be a backend security feature or part of the product that provides the foundation for the section the customer does see. Because development is incremental, there is a strong focus on getting things right. Quality testing is an important part of software development frameworks, and Scrum is no different.
  • Faster delivery times

    You've probably realized by now that one of the things that makes Scrum different from predictive approaches to delivering projects is that there is no 'big bang' launch. Scrum teams deliver incremental improvements, sprint after sprint. The end result is that customers see more deliveries sooner. They can start getting benefit from the parts of the product that have been delivered.

    Fast delivery times are helpful for the client, but also for the team doing the work. If you work in an agency environment, for example, you can show progress through a working product, which helps the customer build confidence in your ability and your processes.

  • Improved team satisfaction

    Project teams don't always have a way to formally measure team morale and customer satisfaction, but you can be sure that project managers and Scrum Masters know how the team and client is feeling at any moment. Another benefit of using Scrum is that teams have high morale. In our experience, this is usually because they have high autonomy, are trusted by the customer, work closely with the end users and know that they are delivering something that clearly meets the requirements. In other words, they are doing useful work for people who want it. That's a huge morale boost for any team!

    We also see customers reporting a high level of satisfaction in both the process (because it is so customer-focused, inclusive and flexible) and the result. They see the incremental deliveries regularly during sprint reviews so have the opportunity to provide detailed feedback. The Product Owner shapes the direction of the project and ensures the end result is exactly what the business needs.

  • Improved collaboration
    This is a huge benefit, and often the reason why teams shift to using agile methods. Because Scrum is founded on having a self-contained, multi-functional team, collaboration is easier: it simply becomes part of the job. Scrum ceremonies like the daily standup also help with communication and collaboration, because they provide moments for the team to come together, build relationships and check in with each other.

Roles and responsibilities of each member of the Scrum team

Scrum teams are self-organizing which means they choose their own approach to managing the work. A true Scrum team is multi-disciplinary and cross-functional, which means all the work can be done by people in the team. The main roles in the Scrum team are as follows.
  • Product Owner
  • Development Team
  • Scrum Master.
Now it's time to review what each of those roles do.

Product Owner

The Product Owner is the person who represents the needs of the business for this particular product. They are responsible for understanding the whole product lifecycle and prioritizing improvements that will deliver what customers want. The main responsibilities of a Product Owner are:
  • Defines the roadmap for the solution
  • Determines what the end result will look like
  • Uses stakeholder feedback to ensure that the product features match the user requirements
  • Responsible for maintaining the product backlog

Development Team

The Development Team is normally between 3 and 9 people, excluding the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. The main roles and responsibilities of the development team are:
  • Decides how to deliver the work specified by the Product Owner
  • Ensures transparency through communicating at the daily scrum meeting
  • Makes decisions to resolve issues and solve problems

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master ‘owns’ the Scrum process and supports the team and organization in getting the best out of the framework. They know how to use Scrum to deliver the product and meet the organization’s goals. They are the expert in using scrum project management software to track progress. The responsibilities of the Scrum Master are:
  • Ensures everything works effectively
  • Removes roadblocks for the team
  • Facilitates the process including the daily standup
  • Helps the Product Owner order the work, manage the backlog and plan
  • Coaches the team on Scrum values and supports transparency and empiricism in the team

Artifacts in Scrum

Let’s address some more scrum project management basics. There are four artifacts in Scrum:
  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Product increment
  • Burndown chart
They all share the same purpose: to help the team understand the work through maximizing transparency. The table below shows what they all mean.
  • Product Backlog
    The product backlog contains all the features to be built or items to work on. These are called user stories, because the focus on what the user wants to get out of the product and how they will use it. The backlog is a work in progress and is constantly evolving. It helps the team identify what is the next most important item to work on. The backlog is owned by the Product Owner who selects, orders and prioritizes the work of the team based on what is in the backlog.
  • Sprint Backlog
    The sprint backlog describes what work will be done during this sprint. It also contains details of how the work will be done – it’s the plan for delivery. The sprint backlog should be highly visible during the sprint and constantly updated in real-time as work progresses.
  • Product Increment
    The product increment is a way of describing the outcome or benefit of the work; how the team will know if they’ve got to ‘Done’. In a software development environment, it would be defined as the increase or addition of new features.
  • Burndown chart
    A burndown chart shows the amount of work still to be completed on a sprint. It's a visual representation of what the team has achieved and what is outstanding. It promotes transparency across the team and gives you an at-a-glance view about whether the team is on track to complete the specified work for the sprint.

Activities in Scrum

In a Scrum project management environment, there are several events (also known as meetings or ceremonies) that help keep the team focused and making progress. These include:

  • Sprint
  • Sprint planning
  • Daily Scrum meeting
  • Sprint reviews
  • Sprint retrospectives
As a project leader you will need to be familiar with these activities. Those terms might be new to you, so let's review what they mean.
  • Sprint
    A sprint is a defined period of time during which the team works on completing specific tasks. A sprint can be any length of time that suits the cadence of your organization, but it is most common to have sprints that last between 2-4 weeks. The work completed during the sprint is determined by the sprint planning meeting.
  • Sprint planning
    The Sprint planning meeting is where the team decides what to deliver during the Sprint and how to do the work. The Product Owner sets the direction and helps the team identify the priorities.
  • Daily Scrum meeting (standup)
    The daily Scrum meeting is a short, focused meeting to improve communication. You might have heard it called a standup. People really do stand up in the meeting because it helps the team remember to keep the discussion short. It also physically makes the meeting different from other project meetings. And yes, you can have standups with a virtual team. The purpose of the daily standup is to help the team identify any roadblocks and how to get around them. The team shares information and makes quick decisions so the project can continue.
  • Sprint reviews
    The Sprint review takes place once the work of the Sprint is complete. During the meeting, the team reviews what was delivered. The outcome of the Sprint review may also be changes to the Product Backlog if required.
  • Sprint retrospectives
    The Sprint retrospective takes place at the end of the Sprint. During the meeting, the team reviews what was done during the Sprint with a view to making continuous improvements to future work based on the learning.

The Scrum approach to project management gives the team complete flexibility to adapt the processes to what works best for them. You might find that working as a Scrum project manager looks and feels different in different teams. With a focus on quality, it’s important that the method is adjusted to get the best results for that team, at that time, on that project.

Scrum Checklist

A Scrum checklist can be useful to help you get started with making sure you are following the basic principles of the framework. Here is a simple checklist that covers the high-level goals of Scrum so you can review whether you are meeting the needs of the organization and following the process.

  • Do you have a Product Owner?
  • Are you prioritizing what the business feels is most important?
  • Does everyone know the goal of the sprint and what 'done' looks like?
  • Does the whole team participate in regular sprint planning meetings?
  • Do you have a visible sprint backlog, updated regularly?
  • Do you have a daily Scrum meeting?
  • Is every sprint timeboxed to 4 weeks or less?
  • Does every sprint end with a working feature delivered and demonstrated to the customer?
  • Do you have retrospectives after every sprint?

If you need a more detailed Scrum checklist, we recommend Henrik Kniberg’s checklist. It is comprehensive and commonly used, but there are others you can find online as well, so look around for something that suits your team.

You can use a Scrum Checklist during the retrospective to review the work of the team and ensure you are hitting the main important aspects of the framework and focusing on the things that matter.

However, checklists should only be used as a guide. They are a way of learning from other teams and sharing good practice, but always remember to apply your own situation to any checklist and take from it what might be useful to your own environment.

How to Successfully Apply Scrum in Projects

There are three main steps to applying Scrum in a project environment. These are:
  • Step 1: Compile the backlog
  • Step 2: Hold a planning meeting
  • Step 3: Compile the sprint backlog
Think of these three Scrum process steps as a kind of ‘scrum project management life cycle’ for you to adapt and reuse time and time again for each project.

Step 1: Compile the Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is a To Do list in the form of user stories. These describe what the user wants to be able to do – not the technical solution to doing it. Collect all the user stories (requirements) and create the backlog. You don't need any special project management software to get started: sticky notes on a white board will do.

Step 2: Hold a Planning Meeting

Get the team together to review the work and estimate the duration required to deliver each user story. This allows you to look at all the work and put the To Do list in priority order. The Product Owner will also input to the meeting, so the sprint focuses on the features that the business would find most valuable.

Step 3: Compile the Sprint Backlog

Now you know the priority work, select the user stories for the first sprint. A sprint is a timeboxed development effort so only select what can be delivered in that time period. Again, the Product Owner will guide the team so that the effort is spent on delivering something that can be fully completed within the time, based on the estimates, and delivers a working end result that can be shown to the customer.
Once you have all the user stories in the Product Backlog and have prioritized the important tasks, your team can begin their first sprint! The backlog is kept under constant review, so you will have regular sessions to amend the priority order and add in new requirements as necessary.

As we've seen, Scrum is a framework. Instead of having to follow a process or series of steps because that is what the project schedule mandates, you can flex to meet the most pressing priorities. This might mean bringing forward requirements that are urgent, building quality into the delivery and making sure progress is being taken in the direction the stakeholders expect. All these things can be achieved with low levels of friction and conflict because the approach allows for flexibility.

As a team, you can quickly inspect the output to ensure it meets quality criteria, and make changes if you feel the product is falling short. You get fast feedback on product features, and customers are closely involved in the work so you know you are delivering something that they will benefit from.

Ready to Get Started with Scrum?

Get started with Scrum project management by bringing the team together and adopting Scrum approaches to doing the work. You don't need any special tools to get going because much of the change in working in an agile way is a shift in culture and mindset.

With the support of a Scrum Master, and a focus on project delivery, you can adopt this tried-and-tested way of working. Check out the podcasts and resources on this page as a starting point, or to delve into advanced agile topics.

I believe that most people who become Agile certified and study the methodologies understand that Agile is the best approach for knowledge-based work –- work that’s complex, fast-moving, and volatile. This is the kind of work that really dominates our age now: the information age. I think Agile offers superior project management approaches to do that type of work.
Jonathan Herbert

PM Podcast Episodes about Scrum Project Management

On this page you'll find a selection of our favorite podcasts that talk about Scrum, Agile methods and how to succeed as a project manager in an Agile environment. Check the archives for more resources!

The Agile Manifesto for Project Managers

In this solo episode of The PM Podcast, Cornelius Fichtner explores the Agile Manifesto for project managers and in particular: what do the 12 principles mean for our work as project managers in an Agile environment. Whether you are working in a Scrum project management environment, or looking to do further training in this area, it's important to get the foundations right, which is exactly what this episode will help with.
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner

The Keys to Building a High-Performing Scrum Team

High performing teams don’t happen "auto-magically". In this interview, which is a mini Scrum project management training, Alicia McLain says that it takes a nuanced leadership style, consistency, persistence, patience, a structured approach and support to create the team culture necessary to bring the best of people in a Scrum team -- or in any other Agile environment. You'll learn the steps to building high performing teams and the important elements that contribute to building and sustaining high performing teams.
Alicia McLain
Alicia McLain

Agile Project Portfolio Management

One of the larger challenges for corporations that use both Scrum or other Agile methods and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is integration of what seem to be two very different philosophies. In this interview, you'll more about scrum vs project management and the fallacies that hold teams back from embracing agile methods. You'll see how you can benefit from agile project portfolio management.
David Blumhorst
David Blumhorst

The Warning Signs That Tell You Agile Isn't Working

Are you concerned about why Agile is not working for your team? Teams need the training, skills, and empowerment to absorb and implement agile principles. With these factors in place, organizations and teams should be able to build the foundation for agile success -- and you'll be able to avoid the 5 warning signs that tell you Scrum (or whatever Agile approach you are using) isn't working in your team.
NK Shrivastava and Cornelius Fichtner
NK Shrivastava and Cornelius Fichtner

Summary

Scrum project management is a reliable and exciting way to work. You’ll see constant deliveries and benefit from the visual approach to managing projects that Scrum teams use: whiteboards and sticky notes (physical or digital) will soon become the way you share status and manage progress!

The great thing about a Scrum project team is that all the information required to do the work is easily available. There’s transparency across the team, and because delivery is a collaborative effort, everyone knows what is going on. That makes it easy for the team to adapt to the current situation, whatever that might be.

Scrum is one of several Agile methodologies that help you work closely with the customer to make rapid improvements. You’ll know your Scrum projects are having a real business impact because you’ll see the proof in the results and in stakeholder satisfaction.

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