Scrum Principles: The Ultimate (& Practical) Guide

scrum principles

The ultimate aim in any workplace is to work effectively and efficiently. Thousands of businesses across the globe accomplish this by following rigid project management methodologies and scrum principles to lead a productive workforce.

This guide will look at the Scrum movement, its principles, how it differs from more traditional project management methodologies, and why adopting Scrum principles is vital in an organization.

What are Scrum Principles?

Scrum is a very lightweight framework you can use to address complex adaptive problems to be more productive and creatively deliver products of the highest quality. It was designed to be easy to understand but is a little more challenging to master.

Essentially, Scrum works by breaking processes down into smaller pieces so they can be completed efficiently. It does this by taking complex problems, prioritizing them into smaller, individual tasks, and then delegating these tasks to members of the team who are best suited to solve the problem.

scrum principles

To help you better understand, let’s look at the people and parts of this framework. To make Scrum principles come to life, the following is required:

Product owner: This person represents the user’s best interests and will have the required authority to make any final decisions.
Backlog: This is a list of tasks and requirements that’s compiled by the product owner. They must prioritize this list.
Sprint: This is the timeframe within which tasks from the Backlog have to be completed.
Daily scrum: Daily scrums are essential because they allow the Scrum Team to deliver progress updates. Daily scrums are also called Daily Stand-Ups.
Review: There should be a review at the end of every Sprint. It is also known as Retrospective and is the time when the team reviews any completed work and discusses ways in which it can improve the next Sprint.

Scrum principles were project management methodology initially designed for high-tech companies, particularly software development, but a wide range of industries now use it.

Why are Scrum Principles important?

The six Scrum principles discussed below are the foundation on which the Scrum framework function. They can be used in almost any type of organization, and you can apply them to any kind of project. To ensure Scrum is applied correctly, however, you have to adhere to these principles. But why are they so important? Let’s try to explain.

If you ever find yourself with a complex project, there are benefits to using Scrum. Its foundations may have been in the software and technology industries, but its effectiveness has no limits. It’s not an unproven concept either, as it has been used countless times since its inception in the early 1990s.

There are numerous examples of how Scrum can be put to good use.

Adopt the principles of Scrum, and your business will:

  1. Innovate quicker
  2. Be able to move from idea to delivery swiftly
  3. Enjoy improved customer retention
  4. Increase team morale

Now you appreciate the importance of scrum principles, it’s time to introduce each one in more detail.

scrum principles

Empirical Process Control

Scrum’s foundation is in the theory of empirical process control. This means that you base your decision on observation and experimentation instead of detailed planning upfront. Empirical means that you make your decisions based on hard evidence. This theory, in turn, relies on the three main ideas of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Transparency

People are better able to make decisions if there is transparency. It’s crucial for a process and the current state of a product to be visible. When this happens, everyone involved in the process or project is on the same page. However, for this to happen, participants must share one language. Scrum improves transparency by including frequent reviews in the framework.

Inspection

Inspection plays a vital role in Empirical Process Control because it allows people to inspect the product at regular intervals as it is being created, thereby preventing deviation. Product inspections are necessary to ensure that it is functioning well, even if the inspection is carried remotely, thus limiting the bad surprises as much as possible. A Scrum framework includes inspection opportunities in the form of Scrum Reviews and Retrospectives.

Adaptation

The third idea is adaption which means that if a deviation occurs, the product or process should be adjusted as soon as possible. A Scrum framework allows a team to adapt a product at the end of every Sprint.

Self-organization

More traditional methods of project management feel like you’re back at school. A manager assigns tasks, and when they’re finished, they assign more.

The Scrum framework is slightly different because it recognizes that the people following it are adults and don’t require constant supervision. As a result, members of the Scrum Team can manage themselves more than adequately and tend to produce better work when allowed to organize themselves. Unlike other project management tools, you won’t find words such as “assign” in the Agile Manifesto. You won’t find it in any Scrum documents either.

During Daily Scrum meetings, members have the opportunity to communicate among themselves. Product backlog items are discussed, and they’re allowed to figure out the best way forward.

Having a Scrum Master is a common thing. However, they’re not a drill sergeant shouting out orders. Instead, they’re more of a head coach. Rather than dishing out orders, the Scrum Master aims to remove any obstacles standing in the way of the team’s success.

The most noteworthy benefits of self-organization are shared ownership and team buy-in, increased motivation, enhanced performance, improved motivation, and a more creative environment that encourages team members to grow.

When an organization follows the Scrum principle of self-organization, it ensures all team members are responsible for their actions. In addition, because it provides them with more freedom, they’re more likely to choose an efficient path and prove how capable they are of being self-sufficient and independent.

You can encourage self-organization with the following:

  • Daily progress reports to stakeholders
  • Completing work planned in the Sprint Backlog
  • Pulling Product Backlog items for the Sprint
  • Tracking velocity
  • Reordering the Product Backlog
  • Setting the time for your Daily Scrum
  • Collaboration

Agile and Scrum principle number three goes hand in hand with number two because a team has to be able to work together if it’s to self-organize effectively. Have you ever heard the saying “There’s no I in team”? There’s no room for egos or lone wolves in a Scrum Team.

Collaboration enables the Scrum Team to be greater than the sum of its parts. It allows the team to work together, completing Product Backlog items and then moving on to the delivery of the next.

There are three core dimensions relating to collaborative work:

  1. Awareness
  2. Articulation
  3. Appropriation

Awareness

What this means is that individuals working together have to be aware of other team members and the work they’re doing.

Articulation

Individuals who are collaborating on a project must divide the work into manageable units. These can then be distributed among team members according to their suitability. Finally, when all the work is completed, the units are re-integrated into a cohesive whole.

Appropriation

This term relates to adapting technology to an individual’s situation. You may find you use the technology in a way that was not intended, but that shouldn’t matter.

Importance of Colocation in Collaboration

High bandwidth communication is essential for many Scrum practices, but team members have to be collocated to enable this. In other words, they have to share the same workspace or physical location because it allows for face-to-face collaboration.

Colocation allows informal and formal interactions to take place between team members and means there’s always a team member available should there be a need for coordination, problem-solving, and learning.

scrum principles

Even for fully distributed teams, having a space where team members can meet up once a week or once a month to work together will have a big impact on productivity. While this may seem challenging to coordinate, it essentially just means creating a hybrid workplace. For example, if your team works remotely around the United States, finding a coworking space in Miami or a similar destination for monthly retreats and meetups could be a fun and effective option for colocation.

The benefits of colocation include:

  • Prompt answering of questions
  • Problems can be fixed instantly on the spot
  • Less friction between members of the team and interactions
  • Increased trust

In the case that a Scrum Team cannot be physically collocated, there are collaboration tools that can facilitate effective collaboration. For example, suppose a Scrum Team is distributed because of outsourcing, work-from-home options, offshoring, or different physical locations. In such cases, you could use video conferencing, chats, social media, instant messaging, shared screens, and similar types of software tools.

For a Scrum Team to be able to collaborate effectively, it should:

  • Have collaborative intention and the right mindset
  • Be truthful
  • Practice self-accountability
  • Be self-aware
  • Focus its attention on a common goal
  • Value-based Prioritization

Being able to set priorities is at the core of a Scrum framework and Agile planning. A Scrum Team needs to pick out the most important tasks and complete them first, rather than getting hung up on completing as much as possible before a product is complete.

Prioritization refers to the ability to determine the order things have to be done and separate what must be done immediately from what can be done later.

Three values have to be considered when prioritizing:

  1. Value: What’s the value of finishing?
  2. Uncertainty or risk: What are the risks involved?
  3. Dependencies: What other tasks are depending on this one?

When a team considers these, the result is deliverables that satisfy customer requirements and deliver maximum business value in a minimum amount of time.
Time-boxing
Time is one of the most critical constraints in managing a project if you use the Scrum framework. Time-boxing is a concept that allocates a specific amount of time for each process and activity in a Scrum project.

If you’ve heard of the Pomodoro Technique, you’ll already have a good understanding of this principle. The Pomodoro Technique is a process whereby you work all out for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. When you’ve worked for two hours, you take a 30-minute break. You repeat this throughout your day.

Scrum adopts this time-boxing principle by introducing timeframes for specific processes and activities. They include:

  • Sprint
  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Standup Meeting
  • Sprint Review Meeting
  • Retrospect Sprint Meeting

Sprint
The Sprint is a timebox of one month or less. It is the time within which the Scrum Team has to deliver the Sprint goals.
Sprint Planning
The timing of this depends on the timebox of the Sprint. The Scrum Team will determine its length when it launches. A good guide is to timebox a Sprint Planning meeting at eight hours or less for a one-month Sprint. If the Sprint is shorter, the Sprint Planning timebox should be adjusted accordingly.
Daily Standup Meeting
The Daily Standup Meeting or Daily Scrum usually lasts for 15 minutes and takes place once every 24 hours. It gives the Scrum Team an opportunity to synchronize activities and highlight any problems preventing the team from achieving the Sprint Goal.
Sprint Review Meeting
The timebox for a Sprint Review is four hours or less for a one-month Sprint. The purpose of a Sprint Review is to demonstrate and inspect Sprint Backlog items. Depending on the feedback, the backlog may need to be adapted.
Retrospective Sprint Meeting
For a one-month Sprint, the Sprint Retrospective timebox is three hours or less. During this meeting, the Sprint Team inspects itself and determines whether any process improvement is necessary for future sprints.

Timeboxing is a common feature of many project management methodologies, not just Scrum. However, it does have its pros and cons.

The benefits of timeboxing include:

  1. Efficient development process
  2. Lower overheads
  3. High team velocity

The disadvantages include:

  1. Semi-finished products
  2. Not enough discussion
  3. Inaccuracies

Iterative Development

Iterate is a term that means to do something over and over again. It’s an essential principle in Scrum but is also critical if you want to improve your company’s RoI (Return on Investment).

The iterative model is a very flexible approach because it ensures any changes a customer requests can easily be included in a project. It does this by using User Stories, also known as Epic(s).

User stories are a few sentences written using simple language. They outline the desired outcome but don’t go into great detail. The detail is added later, once it’s been agreed by the Scrum Team.

When a project is iterated, it’s broken down into small chunks, the user stories. These small chunks can be repeated, refined, and researched repeatedly to refine a product or process.

The benefits of iterative development include:

  • Flexibility: Modification is possible throughout the development process.
  • Customer involvement: Scrum Teams can focus on customer feedback.
  • Early risk identification and response: Managing small tasks is much easier than managing a whole project, and issues can be tackled early without any need to backtrack.
  • Swift delivery: Less time is spent on documentation, which means teams can spend more time designing and implementing projects.
  • Easy testing: It’s easier to test during the development process rather than at the end. Risks can be analyzed and modifications made if necessary.
  • Enables experimentation and innovation: A Scrum Team can quickly test new ideas.

Scrum Principles vs. Traditional Project Management Principles – Which is Better?

scrum principles

There are many different project management methodologies, almost as many as there are problems to be solved. They do not, however, apply to each project. Also, as technologies continue to develop and diversify, new methods have to be designed to meet such changes.

There are two basic types of project management: Scrum and traditional. There are similarities, but there are also considerable differences.

One of the most significant differences is that Scrum focuses more on personal responsibility, whereas traditional project management is more about a project manager taking charge of a product’s development.

There are also considerable differences in the language used. Some of the differences in terminology are as follows:

  • Sprint = Schedule
  • Sprint Backlog = Scope
  • Task Breakdown or User Stories = Work Breakdown Structure
  • Velocity = Productivity
  • Burndown Chart = Estimate to Complete

Schedules tend to be much longer than sprints which means they don’t permit frequent opportunities for correction. Sprints allow for a much quicker delivery compared to traditional project management.

Sprints guarantee reliability because they are of a uniform length, with tasks and features completed in order of priority. Such an approach ensures the results meet customer needs. On the other hand, traditional methods focus on the creation of fixed scope, cost, and schedule. Scrum is more about encouraging iterative decision-making based on actual data.

Scrum is a methodology that works particularly well when a project is software-based. Such projects tend to evolve incrementally, and the smallest increments of functionality can make a massive difference to the consumer. But that doesn’t mean Scrum can’t work in other situations.

The choice between traditional project management and Scrum tends to come down to the task at hand. What’s most important is that you choose a method based on the project rather than anything else.

Examine the needs, expectations, and resources of any venture before you make your decision. It also helps to have an understanding of both because the wrong choice could kill your project before it gets off the ground.

At the end of the day, if you can’t decide which one to use, there is the option of using both. More important than your choice is that you choose a method that helps you integrate with your organization. Being able to complete a project seamlessly is key.

Final Thoughts

Scrum is a very apt name for this project management framework because it has many similarities with the popular game of rugby. In the game, a scrum is a way of resolving disputes over which side should have the ball. The framework can also perform a similar function in an organization.

The developers of the framework chose such a connection. They chose the sport because of the way the rugby teams work together. In the 1986 article “The New New Project Development Game,” which kickstarted the movement, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi urged readers to “stop running the relay race and take up rugby.”

One other way that Scrum is similar to the sport is that it’s easy to learn but much harder to master.

No two Scrum Teams are alike, but if you want to hit your sprint goals every time, you have to find the right tools and processes, be observant, work together, and get on with the work.