Scrum - What is it? and how to use it?

Over the past year, I've found myself dealing with a lot of people who work in software development. Lacking a background in programming myself, I admit that a lot of the jargon they use tends to fly over my head. But there's one that managed to stick:  "scrum." Was that a new programming language? A platform? A tool for software development? I didn't have a clue, so I took note that it was something worth finding out if given the chance.

By sheer coincidence, Jeff Sutherland, one of scrum's creators has come up with a book on just the topic:  Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. This presented a unique opportunity:  what better way to learn about scrum than from one of the people that came up with it? 

Scrum, it turns out, is essentially a project management methodology that seems to have taken root amongst programmers and software developers. The name, of course, is derived from the sport of rugby's scrummage, where players form interlocking rows at the start of play to get control of the ball. In that sense, scrum, as a framework for software development, is a way for development teams to move meaningfully together, given that different members within such a team are usually soloed despite the fact that the individual pieces of code they work on must interface with that of others. Without going into the intricacies–and there are several–the reason scrum works is that embedded within it is a rapid review and feedback system that allows everyone involved to make informed adjustments on the fly at regular intervals. 

This works better than completing a software project only to learn at the very end that there were unanticipated complications that require significant rework. Hence, scrum helps ensure that bugs are caught earlier rather than later, for this reason it has gained traction among IT professionals.


At least, that's the gist as I understood it. And I have been known to oversimplify sometimes.

Anyway, going back to the book, apart from articulating what scrum is and how it came about, Sutherland makes the case that it is a methodology that has broader application than just software programming. In fact, one could say that he goes so far as to argue that it's an approach that should reform management theory and practice, and can even be applied to how we live life. Objectively, I appreciate where Sutherland is coming from, and I agree that the core principle within scrum–the need for rapid feedback–can do a lot to improve how businesses and companies are run. Indeed, it sounds very similar to the concept of "validated learning" that's seemingly en vogue these days amongst entrepreneurs and business schools.

Yet I think Sutherland's enthusiasm gets the better of him when he advocates the broader applicability of scrum outside of project management. I'm not much of a believer in one-size-fits-all approaches; at best, I would agree that one-size-fits-most. So it is with scrum. Also, outside of software development (where scrum has been proven effective), I would argue that it's more important that one manages a project in a manner suited to their strengths as a manager and the milieu in which they operate. Maybe Sutherland didn't mean to advocate an "everything is scrum!" philosophy; but by and large, that's what rubbed off on me from his book.

In any case, if there's any book to learn scrum from, especially for those not too steeped in software programming, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time would probably be it. You can't go wrong learning about scrum from one of its creators, and, yes, you might even learn a thing or two that might be helpful in other contexts as well.



Get the book here!



Posted 29th September 2014 by  on


Edited by Bryan Troutt