Project management: What is scrum?

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Under the umbrella of project management, there are many different styles and approaches project leaders can take depending on the type of initiative, the unique requirements and team members involved, the budget, schedule, and other elements involved in the project.

Agile project management supports the cooperation of many different team members working simultaneously toward a common goal. Agile thinking has been applied to initiatives across many different sectors, including software development and other information systems pursuits. Within agile is scrum, which co-creators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland describe as “a simple framework for effective team collaboration.”

Today, we’ll learn more about the specific processes included within the scrum model how these activities are applied within information systems and how this impacts project management.

Man in business dress leaning over another man and two women sitting at a table working on a project.

What is scrum?

Individuals with basic experience in software development or other information systems projects may already have a foundational understanding—or at least an awareness—of scrum. While interestingly named, scrum has gained popularity within the technology and product development circles over the last few years, boasting leaner and more flexible working processes as well as heightened collaboration and cooperation among different development teams.

Schwaber and Sutherland explain that scrum is a lightweight framework for approaching project management. While it is simple to understand, scrum can be somewhat difficult to master. Where some project management styles attempt to create a large collection of overlapping components and mandatory processes, Scrum is the opposite.

“Scrum is not a methodology,” Schwaber and Sutherland write for “Scrum implements the scientific method of empiricism. Scrum replaces a programmed algorithmic approach with a heuristic one, with respect for people and self-organization to deal with unpredictability and solving complex problems.”

The scrum framework involves specific roles for team members—including the product owner, development team and scrum master—as well as certain events to govern working processes.

Scrum team roles

Teams organized according to roles within the scrum framework are unique. The framework does include a team leader role, but also values independent work and self-management.

As the Scrum Alliance notes, the key members and responsibilities of a scrum team include:

  • Scrum master: This individual maintains a top focus on enabling the rest of the team to complete their critical tasks and perform these to their best ability. The scrum master prevents the team from being impacted by internal or external distractions, and works to eliminate any elements that might impede the team’s progress or completion of tasks within each sprint.
  • Product owner: This person is a key stakeholder within the project, and is responsible for deciding which projects take priority with the team, and how to best address stakeholder needs within the initiative. The product owner ensures that everyone, including the scrum master and development team members, understand the priorities of the project. The product owner is also responsible for maintain product backlog, or the master list of tasks needed to complete the product.
  • Development team: Within a scrum initiative, the development team works to complete items on the product backlog, and are empowered to organize and manage their own working processes while also observing the priorities laid out by the product owner. The development team delivers the product or results to their best ability, according to the agreed upon schedule and requirements of the project.

Roles and responsibilities of these team members vary, but all stakeholders work together toward a common project goal.

Scrum’s main processes

Now that we understand the different roles included in scrum and their associated responsibilities, let’s examine some of the key phases or working activities involved in a scrum initiative.

Each scrum includes the Product Backlog, or a list of everything needed for the specific project at hand. As Scrum Alliance explains, this backlog is “constantly evolving and never complete,” as scrum focuses on continual improvement to the product or initiative.

Scrum project management also includes what is known as a sprint. Each sprint can vary in length or time, and last a few days, a week or even a month, as the development team works to create the actual product. Sprints involve specific goals and processes, and once one sprint is completed, the next sprint takes place directly afterwards with a new set of objectives and tasks.

Therefore, ahead of the sprint, the team takes part in sprint planning to decide what work will be completed during the upcoming sprint and how long it will take. These tasks are then added to the Product Backlog by the product owner.

Sprints also include a daily scrum, a short meeting—typically 15 minutes or less—that takes place each day to review the team’s progress and ability to achieve the stated goals of that sprint.

After each sprint, the team takes part in a sprint review where they examine which processes and tasks were completed and what items remain on the product backlog. This also helps inform the next sprint, depending on the backlog list.

Finally, there is also a sprint retrospective—a review meeting where team members examine and discuss successes during the sprint, as well as any shortcomings or challenges. In the sprint retrospective, there is a keen focus on improvement and how the team can ensure that any issues that occurred don’t impact work moving forward.

Scrum in information systems: Project management skills

The ability to effectively spearhead a project and align processes with specific objectives while maintaining a high priority on initiative requirements are important skills for any industry. However, project management and applying successful frameworks to organize work is even more imperative for information systems professionals dealing with complex technology that impacts users and departments across a business.

Students enrolled in the University of Alabama Collat School of Business’s Online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems will learn more about scrum and other project management skills through course MG 417: Project Management. This class is part of the Information Systems core, and provides skills including planning, scheduling, organizing and controlling the activities involved in key projects.

To find out more about learning scrum project management, check out the resources on our website and connect with one of our expert enrollment advisors today.

Recommended Reading:

How IT project management is unique

How to choose your BS IS electives


Scrum Alliance


UAB BSIS Course Descriptions