If you are not a software developer, you might have heard the term Scrum but are not sure what it refers to. As a term it's hardly self-explanatory. The ironic part is that, without realising it, you have more than likely been employing the methods of Scrum for a large portion of your working life. Whether it's submitting a weekly report, organising project schedules, or having a brainstorming session, all draw at least in part on the Scrum methodology. ScrumMaster certification, the training program derived from it, is also highly popular at all levels in a business. Once the methodology has been learned, it can be applied swiftly and is fairly intuitive to understand.
In a nutshell, Scrum is a management and control process that allows for the removal of complexity in complex software production. This is built on effective team collaboration, empiricism, adaptability and sustainability throughout the production process.
Once a project is conceived, the Scrum method can be applied at every stage. Unlike other methods, Scrum focuses on objective-based production processes, rather than tasks, allowing for a more creative approach to problem-solving. This empirical approach accepts the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of software development, allowing for greater flexibility and creative scope when formulating tasks for your team.
Imagine, for example, that you are a developer who is designing a simple enough video game. Whether you know about the design processes involved or not, you would imagine it's a fairly complicated process, involving not just your team, but several others. Graphical interfaces, narratives, music - all the elements that make up the game must be integrated as one. Rather than pose a set of tasks to be completed in sequence by each team, Scrum would suggest presenting every team with a set of objectives they can work towards together. Tasks can then be adapted for each team to suit that objective. This kind of thinking has had lasting effects for business and how complex issues are dealt with.
The method was originally conceived by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the early ‘90s in response to a groundbreaking 1986 paper by Nonaka and Takeuchi in which the metaphor of a rugby scrum was used to symbolise the chaotic yet adaptive nature of the production process. It replaced the so-called ‘waterfall’ method in which tasks were conceived of as a sequential set, completed one after the other. Although this is a viable approach in other areas, for complex software it is better to design tasks to suit an ever-shifting set of objectives. That way, whatever obstacle emerges, the production process will remain steady.
As a general working method, its versatility has seen it spread to areas beyond software development including manufacturing, marketing and education. A Certified ScrumMaster program was launched by Ken Schwaber in 2002 to help demonstrate the business value of Scrum. Over 1,000 books have been published on the subject, as well as several guides as recently as 2013. It continues to remain the dominant methodology within software development.