What is Scrum?
Scrum is a methodology of project management that was initially created for software development cycles. It is part of the Agile philosophy, which aims to organize a team to all work simultaneously to get a project done quickly.
At its core, Scrum’s goal is to help you complete complex projects which have unpredictable deadlines by breaking them into manageable tasks with established start and stop dates. The tasks are prioritized by value or importance to the customer, so the most important work is done first. They’re arranged on a board left to right by at least the following categories: To Do, Doing, and Done. Each task has one or more owners responsible for getting it across the board. To keep everyone on task, a daily “stand up” meeting is held, where each team member reports in.
What places Scrum in the Agile category is its small iterations of discrete work, which when finished are fully complete - in the traditional case of software, that would mean a feature is fully developed and ready for customer use. Each of these iterations has an unchanging scope, so the scrum team isn’t chasing every whim and business decision. Also important to Agile is that everyone can break from the meeting and work on their pieces simultaneously - bottlenecks are limited and addressed immediately when they come up.
The most vital aspect is that Scrum seeks to solve a problem with known data, but expects to uncover more information while chipping away at it and change course accordingly. Scrum is concerned with getting a result that works at the cost of some efficiency, not efficiently achieving a misconceived goal.
Why Scrum Works
Part of what’s made Scrum so effective - and so popular - is that it encourages accountability and prevents you from losing sight of overall progress. No critical contributor can disappear into the background, revealed to have completed nothing for days.
On top of no one falling behind, no one takes the reins either. Division of responsibility is a core tenet of Scrum - no leaders or orders, just the team. When everyone shares the load, everyone feels personally invested. Another tenet of Scrum is overlapping work so that team members “later” in the process can begin work sooner to meet the task’s end date. In software, that would mean a developer getting pieces of a feature in a state where it can be tested before beginning work on other pieces of it - efficiency for the team, rather than the individual, is most important.
Scrum was created for “sprints,” periods of focused work spanning from one to four weeks, though shorter is most common and more manageable. This means there is a concrete end point and clear goals, rather than endless, seemingly pointless busywork. A track runner can put in the extra horsepower to win when the finish line is in sight.
How Scrum Might Work in Your Industry
Though Scrum was created for software development with iterative feature sets and release dates, that isn’t the only situation you can use it for. Here are some other fields where the technique has proven successful:
Marketing: Scrum helps teams with creation, testing, and iteration - the same elements as good marketing. When creating marketing collateral such as ads, articles, and websites, you can organize your Scrum board, known as kanban, by campaign or execution. This gives it the contained timeframe and sprint style that Scrum requires.
Small Goods & Parts Manufacturing: With iterative physical products from smartphones to fashion lines, the design, prototyping and everything leading to production can be run through Scrum. Just like in software, you determine the features you want, the parts you need, and pass the project through concept, design, prototype, and quality assurance before settling on the final factory run.
Law: In a month-long sprint, a team of lawyers and their assistants could divvy up precedent research, discovery, interviews, and other aspects of the case. Even in services that are far removed from software development, the nonlinear iterative process and need to change tacks mid-way through makes the well-suited to Scrum.
Journalism / Media: Research precedes drafting precedes editing precedes publishing. This may be true, but if the project were something like a multi-story feature, many journalists, writers, photographers, videographers, editors and more could work simultaneously, moving their respective angles of the story across the kanban as a complete picture gradually becomes clear.
Healthcare: To develop antibiotics, teams can simultaneously conduct the same study on different test groups, and as each draws their conclusions they can provide their data for review. Follow-up studies and adjusting hypotheses will play into each round until they have reliable results and are ready to go into production. Because they adjust their expectations based on new discoveries, agile is perfect for their needs.
The list could go on and on, but it comes down to this; if your industry has any level of uncertainty in the process of creation, and believes in self-discovery and learning while in this process, it can benefit from the Scrum method.
What to Do Next?
Want to learn more about getting your team ready for Scrum?