13 minutes

What is Scrum Project Management

Scrum is one of the most popular agile frameworks in use today and rightly so- it is used to develop complex products and systems. The name scrum is originally a rugby term. In rugby, a scrum is a cluster of players trying to get the ball. In the field of project management, “scrum” refers to the brief meetings where team members come together to talk about their successes relating to a project, how far they’ve come, what the next steps are and any future challenges they anticipate. The meetings are brief and concentrated, they result in an expedited product delivery that boasts of higher quality.

To fully appreciate its importance, you first need to understand how the Agile development process works. Agile is not a specific way of developing software, nor is it a framework, instead it is a set of principles that give support to the continuous evolution of software development methods. Agile development houses a number of methodologies for software development built on iterative development.

In other words, it’s all about following various methods and using certain tools to develop software. Scrum is one of these methods. Scrum’s main application is the development of complex products and systems. It is grounded in the “do, check and adapt” principle which is more of an empirical process. This process ensures optimum productivity and results in greater control over any risks that may arise and this is only possible when using two approaches – iteration and incrementation.

The whole idea behind Agile Project Management with Scrum is to give  the end users exactly what they want. This can be achieved through “Sprints” or continuous feedback and iterations. Sprints are meant to be short, but regular, cycles of no more than four weeks for which a significant product increment is expected to be presented.

scrum agile cycle

More on Agile Scrum Project Management

To work on a Scrum project, you first need to understand that there are three roles. These roles are:

  • The Product Owner
  • The Scrum Master
  • The Scrum Team

Let’s delve a little deeper into each of the roles, their responsibilities and their tasks:

1. The Product Owner Role

The product owner is the one in charge of the business side of the project  – s/he is the person to be held accountable when processes do not follow the right order. Being a primary stakeholder in the project, it is the Product Owner’s responsibility to have a vision for what he or she hopes to see. The ability to communicate that vision to the entire team also falls squarely on his shoulders. This is an important step in the commencement of Agile software development projects and it is usually done through the product backlog. The product backlog is a list, usually arranged in order of priority, of things needed to be done during the lifespan of the project.  

The product owner role is an important one and should only be taken up by someone who fully understands what the end users expect to see. It could be someone from the marketing or product testing department, but no matter who it is, they should be able to clearly communicate what the users expect to see from the project team. It’s also important the product owner has an idea of future trends in the niche and what measures or features competitors are implementing as a means of gaining more ground in the industry. However, that is also contingent on what type of product is being developed (e.g. hardware or software).

Although the product owner is primarily responsible for driving iteration goals delivering the maximum business value, he is not a dictator- he must work with the team to delegate responsibilities and work among team members. His main role is simply one of clarification, communication, and motivation.

Another task that the product owner is expected to undertake is the approval of story acceptance criteria. The PO role is to confirm that a story has been done using the criteria for accepting stories. The PO is the de facto quality control and assurance.

To effectively function in this role, it is paramount the PO come equipped with great business skills as this is pertinent for decision making and profitability actions.  

Agile Product Owner

2. The Scrum Master Role

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring each member of the team understands Scrum and their roles in it. He or she acts as a teacher and coach, verifying certain team members adhere to the theory and practices of Scrum. He/She leads by example, wearing the cloak of patience while paying attention to every aspect of the project. Working with the Product Owner, the Scrum Master helps with management of the Product Backlog and developing techniques to streamline it.  

As a facilitator, he helps the team arrive at a consensus on what they are expected to achieve during a specified time frame. The Scrum Framework views the Scrum Master as a servant leader because he/she is expected to take any action that will help the team achieve greatness. To help the team achieve greatness, the SM is responsible for removing any obstacles that impedes the progress of the team.  

Another way in which he helps the team shine is by ensuring they do not over-commit to sprints – the main objective behind having regular sprints is to be able to present improved iterations, bearing in mind that sprints are not expected to exceed a 4-week cycle. The purpose of the sprint is to deliver quality results in a short time. However, if for any reason, members of the team are over-committed during a particular cycle, it can cause stress and anxiety, hindering project growth instead of speeding up quality results.

As a teacher/ coach, the SM constantly challenges the team to develop new insights and stimulates out-of-the-box thinking to help team members come up with solutions to nagging problems. That being said, the role of the Scrum Master is not to solve issues for the team, but rather to provide guidance for the team allowing them to discover the answers/solutions themselves. This is achieved by asking the right questions in order to steer them towards the right answers.

In summary, as a Scrum Master, when people look at you, they should see in you what working in Agile environment looks like. You are a facilitator and mentor to the team. While not in charge of project execution, your role is vital- you take center stage in the background, consciously putting yourself in service as needed for the good of the team.

scrummaster role

3. The Scrum Development Team

The main work within the Scrum Framework is carried out by a dedicated Scrum team; this group of individuals work together to develop and deliver the product. Ideally, it is a small cross-functional team, consisting of about 6 people (+,- 3 people) including business analysts, product testers and developers, just to name a few.

To effectively work together, the team members must have a common goal. Additionally, they must adhere to Scrum rules and principles in order to achieve the goals expected of a specific sprint. Earlier on, it was noted that the Scrum Master was not responsible for the failure of the project team, instead, it is the collective responsibility of the Scrum development team. As a team they must accept the blame for project failures, they also all share in the glory of a successful project.

Members of the Scrum team are expected to report their daily progress, along with any successes and challenges to the Scrum team during daily stand-up meetings. No new Scrum team delivers a 100 percent on product increment in the first sprint, it generally takes from 2-3 weeks to get the best performance out of any new Scrum team. It takes time as members become accustomed to working together and move through stages as they go from the position of strangers to that of a united force.

According to Dr. Bruce Tuckman, the development of small groups goes through 4 recognizable stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  

In the first stage, forming, members of the team are highly dependent on the leader for direction and guidance – during this time, the leader is expected to answer many questions as individual roles are yet unclear.

During the storming phase, team members strive to establish themselves within the group; this is where the competencies of a Scrum Master are tested.

The next stage is the norming stage. In the norming phase, roles have been established and procedures developed for getting things done. This stage opens the door for the Scrum Master to have more room to act as a facilitator as opposed to the leader of a group.

Finally, we have the performing phase, where members of the team pledge a 100% commitment to the execution of the project. During this phase any disagreements that pop up are resolved fairly quickly and decisions are made based on an agreed upon criteria.

In this final stage, you now have an autonomous Scrum Team. The team is self-organized and empowered to produce great results. They now understand the tasks expected, how to break down tasks, who is responsible for performing which task and in what order the tasks are to be performed. In this well run machine you can even begin to see team members appreciating or even picking up a thing or two from each other’s fields of specialization.


Understanding the Project Manager Role in Scrum – The Scrum Master vs the Project Manager

There are quite a few differences between the Project Manager and the Scrum Master roles in an Agile environment. With the presence of the Scrum Master role and the product development team being collectively responsible for any failures or success, people often wonder if the project manager role is a redundant one. In the Agile community, there has been a long-standing debate as to what role exactly, the project manager plays. The reality of it all is that the Scrum Master role and The Project Manager role are two entirely different positions; remember that the ideology behind Scrum is supposed to be a shift from the traditional way of doing things.

In traditional project management, we see the project manager as the one in charge, he is the ultimate decision maker and the one who takes the fall for any failures. He is the one to be held accountable when things go sour, he/she makes certain that project objectives are accomplished. In this regard, we might say that the Product Owner role shares some similarities with the Project Manager role (as opposed to the Scrum Master role). The Project Manager may also make decisions and/or provide solutions whereas a Scrum best practice dictates that the Scrum Master play a facilitation/coaching role; he is not to take decision actions or provide answers to problems.

Project Managers tend to see themselves as advocates of the traditional ways of doing things; however, that does not take away the fact that project managers who support their organization’s transition to Scrum are a great asset to the organization. Scrum works by redistributing the traditional project manager role amongst the product development team, the Scrum Master, and the product owner which can leave the project manager feeling out of place. It is as a result of this feeling of displacement that we see a significant number of project managers opposed to the Agile movement. Does that mean the project manager role is extinct in a Scrum environment? The answer is – not necessarily.

The project manager role is one that exudes influence – influence over the people, influence over the project and influence over the processes. As such, the responsibilities of a project manager working in an Agile environment starts with the development of a training program. The training program is necessary for faster acceptance and adoption of the Scrum Methodology. The project manager may choose to deliver the training themselves or invite external trainers to handle the training.

Proceeding the adoption of Scrum by an organization, it is the responsibility of the project manager to watch for members of Scrum teams who deviate from the practice due to the temptation of old habits. It is their duty to point out to errant team members that Scrum requires continuous improvement- learning is an active process and it is only in doing that we learn.

Although the product owner, and to some extent the product team, are responsible for tasks pertaining to the project itself, the project manager in a Scrum environment is still expected to help out with reporting as well as compliance issues. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to make certain that the team is compliant with industry standards, especially those that relate to data security. He does this by carrying out a compliance audit on the team in question. He should pay particular attention to risk identification and analysis. For further information on compliance in project management, please refer to the PMBOK® Guide as it provides tools and processes for ensuring compliance in project management.

Becoming a Certified Scrum Master

Before we get down to the issue of certification, we need to address the question “is Scrum master a management position”? To put it blunty, yes. The Scrum Master manages the Scrum process. If the Scrum Master is not a management position, he or she may not have the influence to remove impediments. The Scrum Master does not manage the team, but rather is expected to facilitate the adoption of the Scrum framework in a specific team.

Scrum Certification

The labor market as we know it today is a quickly evolving one – and knowing which qualifications and competencies are the most sought after is the first step to getting your foot in the door of the project management industry. If you’re looking to pursue a career in software development or any related discipline, it is pertinent that you equip yourself with knowledge on both Agile and Scrum as the demand for Scrum Masters has witnessed a tremendous increase in the last few years.

Origin of Scrum and Associated Organizations

Scrum was developed in the 1990s by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, who worked together to publish the paper titled “SCRUM Software Development Process” in 1995. This paper was written on the foundations of Scrum built by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka years prior to the publishing of the paper by Sutherland and Schwaber.

Today, Scrum has gained worldwide recognition and is being adopted by major software development companies around the world as well as various manufacturing and marketing companies.

Scrum Training

Scrum.org, The Project Management Institute (PMI), Scrum Inc. and Scrum Alliance are all well-known organizations that offer training and certification in Scrum. They award certifications in Agile related courses. Others include the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile) as well as the Scaled Agile Academy, however, those organizations don’t seem to be as prominent as the others listed above.

For the purpose of this post, we would be focusing on just two of the above-listed institutions. They include Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance.


They offer 5 Scrum based courses which include –

  1.  The 2-day Professional Scrum Foundations (PSF) course – this is a course designed to equip participants with the foundational knowledge needed to function effectively in a Scrum environment. They are introduced to the roles as well as the principles that guide the Scrum methodology.
  2.  The Professional Scrum Master Training – This is also a two-day class where participants are exposed to the fundamentals of coaching a software development team to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Other courses include The Professional Scrum Product Owner Course, The Professional Scrum Developer Course and the Scaled Professional Scrum™ With Nexus Course.

Scrum Alliance

Programs offered at Scrum Alliance include:

The Certified Scrum Master Course (CSM) – At the end of the training, Scrum Alliance promises participants will be equipped with all there is to know about Scrum Applications, Practices, and Values. They are also expected to fully understand the concept of ‘servant leaders’ in Scrum.

The Certified Scrum Professional Course (CSP)- This course is designed for already practicing Scrum Masters and Scrum Developers who wish to take their career to the next level by earning the Certified Scrum Professional credential.

Other courses are the Certified Scrum Product Owner Course, the Certified Scrum Trainer Course, the Certified Scrum Developer Course and the Certified Agile Leadership Course.

The Role of Scrum in Change Management

Although Scrum was primarily designed to facilitate the development of complex products and systems, it has also found a home in change management. Although there are many different industries, most realize that certain specifications and requirements for a project tend to change over time and over the course of a project. Thus, necessitating the need for a change in either design or processes.  This takes us back to the product backlog where such changes in the project are expected to be included in the product backlog.

When a change must be implemented, the team will study the change and reach a consensus on how many tasks they can achieve within one sprint. (Again, please remember that a sprint is not expected to exceed 4 weeks maximum). The concept of change management is then brought to bear on the process involved in prioritizing tasks on the Product Backlog.

As change requests are made, it falls on the Product owner to decide is these change requests may significantly affect the current Sprint or if it makes sense to be left for the next Sprint. Of course, the decision is not made until after consultations with the Scrum Master, the product development team and other stakeholders involved.

It is also important to note that according to the Scrum framework, changes cannot be made to the scope of a Sprint once the Sprint is in progress, unless not integrating this change may negatively affect the outcome of the current Sprint. Those used to traditional project management will note this is a radically different approach from traditional project management but the advantage is that it helps the team effectively manage their work. Furthermore, we also see proper management and handling of the frequent change interruptions that may affect the duration of the project.

The Scrum Methodology in Summary

At the end of each Sprint, the entire team carries out what is known as Sprint retrospective. This is a meeting where all members of the team, including the Product Owner and the Scrum Master, contemplate on what areas of Scrum they need to improve on. They spend time reflecting on what worked for them both as a group and individually and how they can get it to work better.

In summary, Scrum is a multi-disciplinary methodology that accounts for role overlap; this characteristic encourages the better understanding and appreciation of individual roles played by all team members.  It is built on a framework of continous feedback which encourages effective communication among team members. Whereas the traditional Waterfall methodology has the disadvantage of breaks in communication which may immediately become visible or may not become visible until the entire product has been finalized.

With the traditional project management approach, there is a deliberate effort to estimate the project – at the beginning of the project. It takes so much time to do this and not necessarily done with input from the team actually slated to get the work done. It is then, often falsely, believed that the project will succeed if members of the project team stick to the plan.

With Scrum, planning fallacy is taken into account from the get-go; this is why Scrum advocates getting detailed work done in small chunks. That way feedback is immediate and there is continuous improvement throughout the project’s lifecycle.