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What is Agile and what is Scrum?

Jeff Sutherland and Arlene Sutherland visiting with Han van Loon in Switzerland.

Small 'a'gility is the ability to handle change. This might be intentional change in customer needs and wishes, changes in plans, changes in markets and other areas driving work and solution development. It is also the ability to handle unexpected change or unintentional changing circumstances, e.g. competitors and the competitive environment.

In 2001 various Agile method proponents and developers got together to agree what this meant for teams building software. This became known as the Manifesto for Agile Software Development or Agile Manifesto in short, and the Agile Alliance was formed. Capital 'A'gile is specifically defined by the Agile Alliance and consists of a set of values and principles which are more exact than small 'a'gile.

There are many Agile development methods including XP (Extreme Programming), DSDM, FDD, Crystal, EVO and Scrum.

Agile Retrospective

Well, things move on and there was a 10 year retrospective in 2011, which enlarged the reach but kept the intent of the manifesto the same. Interestingly they adopted things that have existed in STARS for well over a decade!

We first set up and ran agile project development about eighteen years ago and I am happy to say that the business division and company are still operating healthily to this very day. This was almost five years before the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created. It was a pity I could not be in Snowbird for the event.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a work management method that promotes agility to change by performing work in short iterations called Sprints. The second enabler is a close, constant communication and collaboration with the customers.

Scrum was created by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the 1990s and has become the most popular agile method today. It originally was applied to software projects, but is now used for almost any type of project and even for business as usual work.

How to successfully adopt Scrum

While the Scrum process is very simple, the practices are subtle and mindset of the person is critical. To successfully adopt Scrum in the fastest and simplest way, it pays to use a Scrum master coach

Agile attributes

Agile methods have 3 major attributes:

  • Ability to handle change - with a focus on both the customer and the solution changes
  • Velocity - the pace at which a solution is developed
  • Quality - a strong focus on getting it right the first time

By using a short iteration cycle, called a Sprint, Scrum is able to handle change easily. By building into the scrum cycle a review and lesson learned retrospective, Scrum enables continual improvement.

Scrum cycle

The Scrum cycle is simple to depict. However it takes experience to optimize the results using Scrum. This is where an experienced practitioner, sometimes the Scrum Master, sometimes a Scrum coach or a Scrum trainer will train and coach a Scrum team to achieve superior performance.

A good Scrum Master will improve the productivity of a Scrum team through effective coaching and removal of impediments to performance. The team will use the Scrum Master's advice to better organize itself and achieve hyper-productivity. Many improvements are subtle and often escape the attention of people without the required experience and expertise. It is critical to match the coaching and improvements to the team culture and the individuals working in the team. 

And it is important to understand the differences between a group of people working together and a real team. For more on real teams, check out the STARS team pages.

Han van Loon

Certified Scrum Professional

Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Product Owner.

Scrum Master Coach

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