What is Scrum?

Scrum is the most popular agile framework in the market, yet people are still confused and companies mix up some aspects when implementing it. Let's discuss some common questions and shed some light in the debate over the adoption of Scrum.

1.Scrum is Agile

Scrum has Agile roots as a value-based iterative, incremental delivery approach. Agility is related to frequent and sudden changes in direction. People with the right mindset for this context suffer in more traditional organizations, those that follow 5 year plans.

Scrum requires people to be thinking and be critical of themselves and their environment. As you demand more from yourself, you show commitment to the common, shared goals and you come to respect others that are also doing their best.

2.Scrum is iterative, learning happens as you go

Scrum favors the outcomes, more than the process to control the production and all its byproducts. Plans are important to let the team aware of the goals and challenges but it's not used as a baseline as in waterfall projects that focus on keeping things aligned with the plans. In Scrum the path is designed a few moments before it is passed.

The focus is on the value-delivery target so that the team can do whatever adaptation is necessary to keep pointing towards the end goal. Value is elicited as we go deeper and understand what is actually important, even when our priorities change during the production process.

3.Scrum is not a methodology, it's a framework

It's important to distinguish a framework from a toolbox or a methodology. The framework is a placeholder for tools and practices, it is a minimalist approach to impose as little constraints as possible on the group.

What is the advantage of a framework over a methodology? Flexibility. While a methodology specifies how things are done, Scrum says what must happen giving users great freedom to adapt it to their reality.

For example, short daily meetings are required but let the team find the best way to communicate as long as they quickly meet every day to synchronize expectations and share information. Usually this daily meeting happens as a quick stand-up, not longer than 15 minutes, every day.

Freedom may also be a challenge. Some adaptations are acceptable, while others are not. We can decide whether we stand or seat, if we use a talking stick (whoever holds the stick can talk) or not, but we have to bound time to 15 minutes to enforce focus: with more time the discussion will go beyond the essential and participants lose focus and wonder to discuss matters irrelevant to most participants.

Scrum in Rugby

The term Scrum comes from Rugby, a sport played with an oval ball. During the game when the ball is under dispute by the two teams, a Scrum is a spontaneous and apparently chaotic formation in which everybody is looking to grab or protect the odd-shaped ball.

Rugby a good metaphor for teamwork because it is not possible to do it alone. In football (or soccer) some gifted players may grab the ball and score a goal with little help from others. In Rugby this is impossible. Players must be constantly looking for support behind them because the ball can only be thrown backwards.

In soccer, the goalkeeper can kick the ball on the feet of the front man just in front of the opposite goal. Not in Rugby. We move together up or down the field, and we never forget the role we play, as a forward or a line man.

4.Scrum has deep roots

Scrum has deep roots in 3 pillars and 5 strong values. Scrum pillars are: transparency, inspection and adaptation. Transparency is essential so others can see the work, inspect it and provide feedback to adapt and improve it. When you hide work, you can't Scrum.

Scrum has deep values: respect, openness, focus, commitment and courage. You can't understand why a daily scrum meeting must take 15 minutes if you don't respect other's time as precious. You can't appreciate a positive criticism if you are not open to new perspectives. You will not understand the obsession with time-boxed meetings if you don't put focus among your highest priorities in your daily professional life. You don't agree to share responsibility for a missed deadline if you can't commit and be brave enough to share the workload.

On top of these 8 solid roots, Scrum is structured around rituals (events), artifacts (tools) and rules, all described and freely available in The Scrum Guide.

5.Scrum is lightweight

Although Scrum is presented in a simple document, it is often hard to grasp. This is usually the case in contexts where people don't practice active questioning. As a Scrum Master I used to inquire the client/sponsor for the reasons behind a feature or a requirement.

Some customers have to be prepared to face why-questions as much as the what-questions. As we create this habit to go deeper into the reasons behind requirements and features, understanding Scrum becomes natural and Scrum gets easier to grasp. Asking the right questions is halfway to the solution of any problem.

6.With Scrum everybody commits, even clients

In describing Scrum components, I appreciate the approach to link cause and effect. You do a long meeting with the customers upfront and extract as much as you can from them. As people participate they understand the unwritten rules of the game: the customer must also prepare for a Scrum Planning meeting to know what is needed, why it is needed and how it should be made available.

If you prepare, you will get a better use of everybody's time and the product will likely be of higher quality: cause and effect. In contrast, some methodologies are pretty dogmatic about how things should go: the "don't ask, just do it" mentality is detrimental to the engagement phase when the leader tries to bring everyone onboard. Ask, question, argue and commit. This is more how Scrum meetings work. Everybody can ask, any (silly) question to gain a solid understanding of the issues behind the requirements.

7.Scrum is not for everybody

Agility requires some cultural changes (notably, be more transparent and a "redistribution" of power) that some companies are not ready to embrace. Scrum requires a mindset turned towards transparency and self-managed (highly productive and accountable) teams. Is your company ready to be transparent? Can you allow each member of your team to manage herself/himself ? If you don't or you can't, you are not ready to Scrum.

Of course, many teams do "poor Scrum" and don't even realize it. There is no Scrum certification for teams. Scrum is not a process that follows a template and can be mechanically compared to a benchmark implementation so it is not so evident that Scrum is not happening there.

Some audits may be conducted to suggest changes but since sustainable change must emerge from within, it makes no sense to have an external party pointing to the shortcomings without first changing the corporate culture context.


Scrum is an opportunity to reflect on ourselves. Do we have the right mindset to consistently deliver valuable products to our clients or are we too obsessed with our own power to let the team self-organize around a new, sustainable equilibrium ?

PS. We offers an introductory course for Scrum and Agility. You may want to have a look and Learn To Scrum.