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