Agile and Scrum are more than just buzzwords thrown around in boardrooms and online discussions to make companies sound modern. They’re two terms that help your business maximize its profitability–if you can tell the difference between the two of them.
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Some quick online research makes one truth very clear: Business professionals, in the IT domain and beyond, have questions about the agile methodology and how it relates to a scalable framework like Scrum.
Is agile really Scrum? Is Scrum agile? Can you execute Scrum and ignore the principles of agile completely? Do the two share any benefits or processes? Do they taste better when paired with red or white wine?
The list of questions just goes on and on and on, so I thought I’d clear up at least some of that confusion.
In this blog post, I’ve going to break down the key differences between agile and Scrum, but not before providing clear definitions of both terms and their benefits. After reading this post, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to clearly separate the two concepts.
What is Agile? Here’s What You Need to Know
Agile is a well-known set of values that software developers and business professionals alike have developed a love-hate relationship with.
Those values are:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Perhaps more importantly, agile is also “the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.” In other words, agile is the philosophy behind innovative development practices.
That sentiment is echoed in this Harvard Business Review blog post, where innovation is touted as the main reason for not just agile’s existence, but its importance for modern businesses:
“Innovation is what agile is all about. Although the method is less useful in routine operations and processes, these days most companies operate in highly dynamic environments. They need not just new products and services but also innovation in functional processes, particularly given the rapid spread of new software tools. Companies that create an environment in which agile flourishes find that teams can churn out innovations faster in both those categories.”
In short, any agile process is as much about enhancing how you work as it is what you work on.
Another benefit of using the agile methodology or agile project management is that it’s not confined to IT or tech businesses. Plenty of non-IT organizations, like construction crews and even the FBI, have successfully implemented versions of agile to great effect.
When considering the latter example, author Jason Bloomberg observed that, despite its imperfections, agile is still better than most alternatives:
“The primary lesson? Agile actually works. It's not perfect, and many people in government and in the contractor community still struggle with it, but it's succeeding where it counts—enabling the rollout of large-scale IT projects that are on time, on budget and actually do what stakeholders want them to do.”
Despite some common executive objections, agile succeeds where other archaic modes of project management and product development fail. Case-by-case adjustments notwithstanding, the core values of the agile method enable businesses of all kinds to thrive.
The best way to translate agile’s ideals to a living, breathing work environment? By using an agile framework such as Scrum.
What is Scrum? Here’s What You Need to Know
In the simplest of terms, Scrum is a practical framework that’s used to implement agile development. Think of it as a technical manifestation of the agile principles I listed above, morphing from the “why” to the “how.
However, if you delve into some other answers to that question, like agile, you’ll get different responses.
For example, Atlassian defines Scrum as “a framework that helps teams work together [...] Scrum encourages teams to learn through experiences, self-organize while working on a problem, and reflect on their wins and losses to continuously improve.”
The definition at Scrum.org goes in a slightly different direction, stating that it’s “[...] a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.”
Notice how both outlets refer to Scrum as a framework and not as a methodology. That’s because Scrum only deploys the agile methodology in very specific ways.
How agile translates into a Scrum implementation can vary greatly from one organization to the next. You can even create a hybrid system that borrows from Scrum and other existing frameworks. Bottom line: Your implementation must work for your company’s needs.
That said, there are many core practices that stay the same regardless of the chosen adoption techniques.
Some of those include:
- Sprints, which are timeboxed projects or sub-projects, usually confined to a month or less. Different sprints are meant to be completed one after another for better efficiency.
- Daily stand-ups, also called “Daily Scrum.” These are 15-to-20-minute events where developers and the Scrum Master shape the day’s activities based on progress and/or roadblocks.
- Sprint planning, a timeboxed event where product backlog items are prioritized and added to the next sprint’s backlog.
- Sprint reviews, the culmination of a given sprint where the quality of work, as well as distinct successes and/or failures, are gauged by the development team.
- Sprint retrospectives, a meeting where improvements on how the team can work more efficiently are discussed.
For an exhaustive list of Scrum terms and other intricacies, please refer to this glossary.
There are numerous benefits of using Scrum as your agile framework of choice over other implementations. Here are just a few of them:
- You’ll move from idea to deliverable(s) much quicker
- You’ll innovative your product or service faster and more often
- You’ll provide a better customer experience
- You’ll increase operational efficiency, team productivity, and staff morale
By implementing the agile methodology as a Scrum or hybrid framework, you get the best of both worlds–enhanced efficiency and productivity, all in the name of innovation.
Agile vs. Scrum: All the Important Differences
Now that we have clear definitions of both agile and Scrum, let’s delve deeper into the differences.
I’ll begin with the most obvious one, which is distinguishing the value set versus the framework. As Andrew Littlefield points out in his blog post for Trello, it’s not unlike contrasting a diet and a recipe:
“A vegetarian diet is a set of methods and practices based on principles and values. A recipe for chickpea tacos would be a framework you can use to implement your vegetarian diet. This is similar to the relationship between Agile (the diet) and Scrum (the recipe you follow).”
Because of that relationship, Scrum highlights values embedded in agile, such as collaboration, continuous learning, and using problem-solving to respond to change.
I’ve illustrated seven key differences between agile and Scrum below:
1. Agile relies on leadership to set the tone within an organization, especially when it comes to larger projects or digital transformation efforts. Scrum teams are self-organizing that are also cross-functional.
2. Agile success requires interacting and collaborating with all departments of a given organization. Besides any external input during a daily stand-up, Scrum teams operate autonomously.
3. Implementing agile means big changes in how your organization operates across all departments. However, once those standards are set, Scrum doesn’t deviate from agile norms.
4. Agile encourages continuous feedback from end users to inform improvements to the customer experience. Scrum teams receive feedback on specific deliverables once a given sprint ends.
5. Similarly, all agile frameworks emphasize regular update deliveries for a product or service. Only once a current sprint is completed do Scrum teams move on to the next task(s).
6. Agile’s chief goal is continuous, iterative improvement of a product or service. Scrum teams focus on delivering maximum value for their business with each new deliverable.
7. Agile software development projects are informed by long-term business goals that remain more or less intact. Scrum team projects are more short-term focused and, because of this, more volatile and subject to change rapidly
Despite all the differences between the two terms, they have a lot in common and should inform how you execute your implementation.
Both agile and Scrum are best used as rough sets of guiding principles rather than carved-in-stone edicts from the IT gods.
Which brings us to:
Agile vs. Scrum: The Big Takeaway
When all else fails, keep this in mind: Scrum is a version of agile, using its framework to put the latter’s values into practice.
Conversely agile is not Scrum because it is a philosophy, not a framework. Diet, not recipe.
According to PMI’s 2019 “Pulse of the Profession” study, global spending on digital transformation is set to top $1.9T by 2022.
In spite of this, while 80% of organizations say they’ve made major changes using disruptive technology, only 25% said the result benefits were in line with their original goals. This means there’s a major gap between a business’ goals and their ability to accomplish them.
The agile methodology and the Scrum framework can be solutions to this problem, but only if they’re used effectively. To scale your operations and grow your revenue through enhanced productivity, you must first understand the differences between agile and Scrum, as well as what makes each one tick.
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Originally published Jan 28, 2020 3:00:00 AM
Late 2019, we did a brand split. Mindville is the company behind the Insight products. Riada provides expert consultancy services on all things Atlassian. Riada can be found at riada.se. Mindville is an Atlassian Platinum Top Vendor and Riada is an Atlassian Platinum Solution Partner.