Whether you work together with development teams or you are interested by new management approaches, you must have heard about Scrum agile method for agile project management. Agile and Scrum are often considered to be interchangeable words. Project management comes with its technical jargon that might seem a bit complicated at first, with specific words such as « planning poker », « sprint », backlog », « burndown ». Let’s go through some details to gain a clearer insight: you will understand that agile and scrum are two closely-related but different concepts.
I’m Agile, I eat Scrum
Here follows an analogy as to better grasp their main similarities and differences. We could compare agile project management and Scrum respectively to a diet and a recipe. A vegan diet is a set of practices bases on specific principles and values. Instead, a mushroom risotto is one of the potential recipes to help you implement a vegan diet.
Bearing it in mind, in our case Agile (or Agility) corresponds to the diet, whereas Scrum to the recipe. For example, another way to implement the « Agile diet » is the Kanban recipe. Got it right?
Agile begins with shared values
Now that the main difference is clearer, let’s go through the basics of these concepts.
The agile approach represents the organization’s ability to deliver a product faster and more regularly, while creating customer value and rapidly adapt to potential changes in its business context. Scrum is part of this dynamic. Actually, it is one of the possible approaches: probably the most important one, but still not the only one.
A team can feel and be Agile, without necessarily using Scrum. However the opposite is not the case. In fact, using Scrum without being Agile won’t work, it won’t be effective.
- Agile project management (or Agility) is a set of methods and practices revolving around the principles and values of the Agile Manifesto: collaboration, empowerment and cross-functional teams, just to name a few.
- Scum is an agile project management method, or framework, based on planned and short iterations of 2-3 weeks, whose purpose is to deliver value faster as to collect feedback. Initially, Scrum was almost used by developers only, but nowadays this method is more and more popular and widely applied to different activities within organizations.
The Agile Manifesto
Back to the origins: the Agile Manifesto. The Agile Manifesto results from a meeting that took place in the USA in 2001, gathering 17 software development experts. Their goal was to find and define a new method as to better meet both the deadlines and the budget of a project. In order to achieve this, this Agile Manifesto encouraged to favor light processes over the existing heavy processes at that time (which is sometimes still the case today, in a more or less formal way).
The Agile Manifesto is based on 4 core values:
- individuals and their interactions over the processes and tools,
- operational software over exhaustive documentation,
- collaboration with customers over contract negotiation,
- adaptation to change more over following a plan.
Agile project management methods aimed to bring new solutions to traditional methods, being too predictive and rigid, by putting forward more flexible principles: collaboration, adaptation, self-organization and user feedback are at the very heart of this approach.
One of the fundamental values of Agility is to value human exchanges. In fact, individuals and interactions are more important than processes, which marks an essential break with process-based approaches.
The other key value, which is completely different from traditional project management approaches, is the acceptance of change throughout the process. « Accepting » has to be understood as “managing change”, so accepting that there is no 300-page specification before starting the project. That was actually something new (and it is still a challenge for many contractual relationships).
As you see, from the Agile Manifesto to Scrum, it only takes a step…
Scrum: an agile method for complex project management
Scrum is the most popular approach of the agile methods for project management. Moreover, it is the most widely used method today. Let’s better understand this framework.
Scrum is typical of a rugby match.
The Agile Manifesto does not give any indication on how to do it, nor on the frameworks to use. Each team is free to set up the way of collaboration that it considers the most efficient.
Scrum is an agile approach with a set of vocabulary and specific events that enable the management and development of complex applications. Scrum also conveys a nice image to illustrate group spirit, with team members moving together towards the same goal.
Flash back: In the mid-90s, Dr Jeff Sutherland, frustrated by project management inefficiency due to budget overruns and missed deadlines, decided to look out for a different solution elsewhere. Together with Ken Schwaber, they drew inspiration from two Japanese project management experts who took the rugby game to illustrate their point. More precisely, their analogy shows that a self-organized team, working together to achieve a common goal, is far more effective than several employees working individually on their tasks. What Mr Sutherland and Schwaber assume, is that this functioning can be replicated for software development teams too, all the more when managing complex projects.
According to his research and findings, Jeff Sutherland created the Scrum approach. Scrum met with great success within development teams around the world, quickly getting very popular.
The Scrum management method can be used for any complex project and works particularly well when applied to the development of an actual product. Scrum can also suit a marketing team that wants and needs to define a project’s set of specifications; it can definitely be beneficial for the whole team.
Do I need Agile or Scrum?
An agile project management is necessary whenever your development and deployment schedules might be challenged by the market or users’ sudden reactions or other unexpected events. As in every-day, actually 🙂
Becoming an agile enterprise necessarily involves a change in the culture of the teams. Depending on each organization’s culture, it will take more or less time, more or less effort, more or less renunciation. Those enterprises which are not that constrained into old hierarchies and rigid processes will find it easier to get agile. For instance, start-ups or SMBs are often based on very similar values to those of agility, which obviously makes things easier for them.
When your team or organization gets very familiar with these agile values, you can try to “leverage” them in your project management. The Scrum method has proven itself, allowing to bring concrete and beneficial results for everyone. Scrum events (i.e. daily stand-up, poker planning, retrospectives…) promote a change of the corporate culture towards better cohesion, more collaboration. Moreover, the short milestones to be respected provide a work frame and also act as a catalyst towards the achievement of a shared goal.
But bear in mind that there are many other agile project management methods (such as Kanban, XP – Extreme Programming, Adaptive software development…) that may suit your business specifies better; maybe you’ll find the your solution is elsewhere.
How an agile tool can help implement Scrum?
According to the Agile Manifesto, tools come after human relationships. But at some point, for instance with dispatched and remote teams, an agile software turns out to be a key element to ensure an efficient journey towards agile project management. Let’s take the example of the post-it notes : they end up falling down on the office floor, or even the endless email exchanges with customers to update their stories. In fact, all this is not that agile.
Not to forget: a Scrum tool will only be useful and efficient if the team has an agile mindset. An easy-to-organize online backlog, sharable with the client, as well as real-time charts to illustrate the sprint trend, are important tools that really help manage change in a better way.
In other words, an agile tool won’t change the values of your teams, but it will highly contribute to make their daily work easier.
An agile software will help share the Scrum product vision and give access to updated information to all team members and stakeholders, this way including customers.
The team will have the necessary ways not only to get a quick and overall insight into what happened throughout the sprint, but also to evaluate the sprint productivity during retrospective meetings.
An agile tool will therefore allow the concrete implementation of agile development best practices which also include code review and early test management.
When choosing a Scrum software tool, it is of paramount importance to make sure it can adapt to your way of working. Way too many teams’ and Scrum Master’s tools require them to change their work organization. Take your time to make a decision. The «when in doubt, let’s go for the most popular tool» option, is not a good criterion of choice. Test tools beforehand. Ask for a preview of what your Scrum tool would look like!