Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Ewen Finser
Effective project management is critical to the success of any business. In modern DevOps, an organization’s success depends on its ability to rapidly deliver features and value to customers. It doesn’t matter whether you are developing software or hardware; the principles are the same. The goal is to get products out the door quickly and efficiently while maintaining quality.
Scrum vs Agile are two popular approaches that help organizations achieve these goals. Both share common values and principles, but they have different emphases. Given that businesses have varied needs, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to project management. The key is to select a framework that best suits your organization’s culture, values, and needs.
For instance, a startup might prefer a Scrum framework because it is lightweight and fast-paced. On the other hand, a large enterprise might choose an Agile framework because it is more flexible and can accommodate larger projects. But there’s more to consider than just size and speed. Both approaches have pros and cons.
In this article, we’ll compare Scrum vs Agile project management side-by-side, so you can decide which framework is right for your organization. We’ll also provide some tips on how to implement each approach.
Scrum vs Agile Project Management – Bottom Line Up Front
The main difference between Scrum and Agile is that Scrum is a framework, whereas Agile is a philosophy. The Scrum framework is a subset under the Agile umbrella. Both are iterative and incremental, but Scrum is more prescriptive in its approach and has more structure. Other frameworks under the Agile umbrella include Kanban, Crystal, and Extreme Programming (XP).
Main Differences Between Scrum vs Agile
The main differences between Scrum vs Agile are:
- Scrum is a framework for software development, whereas Agile is a philosophy or mindset
- Scrum has more structure and is more prescriptive in its approach, whereas Agile is more flexible
- Both are iterative and incremental, but Scrum is time-boxed, whereas Agile is not
- Scrum uses a product backlog to track progress, whereas Agile does not necessarily use one
- The Scrum Master is responsible for removing impediments, whereas the Agile Coach is responsible for helping the team with process improvements
The Scrum Guide vs Agile Manifesto
When comparing Scrum vs. Agile, reading their respective guides and manifestos is the best place to start. Everything about the two frameworks flows from these defining documents. The Scrum guide is a concise set of rules that define how the framework works. The Agile Manifesto, on the other hand, is more of a set of values and principles. It’s less prescriptive than the Scrum Guide but nonetheless guides how to approach software development.
About the Scrum Guide
Scrum is a combined effort of Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. The duo developed the Scrum guide in the early 1990s and formalized the framework in the Scrum Guide, which they first published in 2010. The guide is a living document with continuous updates and clarifications. The current version is from November 2020.
As the adoption of Scrum increased, the need for more explicit guidance on implementing the framework became apparent. The recent update to the guide includes more detail on Scrum’s roles, events, and artifacts. The goal is to make it easier for beginners to start with Scrum.
About the Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto came about in 2001 as a response to the waterfall method, which was the standard approach to software development at the time. A group of 17 developers got together to discuss the state of software development. They were concerned that the waterfall approach was too rigid and didn’t allow for enough adaptability.
Out of that meeting came the Agile Manifesto, which contains four values and 12 principles (discussed later). The purpose of the manifesto is to provide a set of guiding principles for developers to follow. It’s not a prescriptive document like the Scrum Guide. Instead, developers should interpret the codes in a way that makes sense for their organization and project.
What is Scrum?
So when you hear someone say, “We’re doing Scrum,” what do they mean? Scrum is framework organizations use to structure and manage their work. It prescribes specific roles, events, and artifacts that teams should use to optimize their efficiency and effectiveness. But there’s more to it than that.
At its core, Scrum is an incremental and iterative approach that helps organizations deliver value quickly and frequently. Scrum teams work in short sprints, usually two weeks long, to make incremental progress on a product. Developers review their work and plan for the next sprint at the end of each sprint. This cyclical approach allows them to rapidly gather feedback and course correct as needed.
By building a sprint on top of the previous one, teams can incrementally add features and functionality to a product until it’s complete. Scrum also emphasizes close collaboration between team members and stakeholders. Everyone should be on the same page about the product’s goals and how to achieve them.
Empirical Scrum Pillars
Three pillars underpin the Scrum framework:
Transparency means that all aspects of the work and the team’s progress should be visible to everyone. There should be no secrets. This way, stakeholders can provide the right level of support, and the team can identify any roadblocks early on. Artifacts with low transparency include a poorly defined product backlog or sprint goals that are too vague.
To ensure that work is transparent, inspect it regularly and diligently. Scrum provides regular opportunities to do this at the end of each sprint. During an inspection, the team looks at its progress and compares it to the sprint goal. They also identify any areas that need improvement.
Inspection enables adaptation. If the team discovers it’s not on track to meet the sprint goal, it can adapt its approach in the next sprint. Developers may need to adjust the product backlog or change how they work. When something isn’t working, the team should be flexible enough to change it.
Five Scrum Values
When you strip away the roles, events, and artifacts, there are five values that Scrum teams should aspire to:
Ideally, these values should guide every decision the team makes. In commitment, the team comes together and agrees to complete the work they’ve taken on. They make a promise to each other and the stakeholders. It can be difficult, especially when the going gets tough, but it’s essential for maintaining trust.
Courage is about more than just being brave. It’s also about having the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s not easy. Like commitment, it can be hard to stick to your convictions when you’re under pressure. But if the team is courageous, they’ll be able to push through and do what needs to be done.
Focus means that the team should concentrate on completing the work before them, whereas openness refers to the team’s willingness to share information. Both values are essential for maintaining transparency and ensuring everyone is on the same page. Finally, respect is about valuing each member of the team and their contributions. Everyone should feel like their opinion matters.
What is Agile?
Agile is a philosophy. It’s a set of values and principles that guide organizations in their work. Agile isn’t prescriptive like many other project management methodologies. Essentially, there’s no one-size-fits-all template for how to do Agile. Instead, it provides a framework that teams can use to tailor their processes.
The Agile approach has its roots in software development. In the early days of computing, most software projects were waterfall projects. They followed a linear process where each phase had to be completed before moving on to the next. This approach worked well for small projects with well-defined requirements. But as software became more complex, it became clear that the waterfall approach wasn’t enough.
Today, Agile is applicable far beyond the software development world. It’s now common in manufacturing, marketing, and even government. Any organization that needs to be adaptable and responsive to change can benefit from Agile.
Agile Values and Principles
To incorporate Agile into your organization, you must start by understanding Agile values and principles. These values and principles will guide your work and help you decide how to serve your customers best.
The values that guide Agile organizations include:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Apart from the four values, there are also 12 principles, which further help explain how Agile organizations work.
- The highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even in late development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for a shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to do the job.
- A face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- The team regularly reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
We’ve talked about the values and principles that guide Agile organizations. But what does this look like in practice? How do these values manifest themselves in an Agile team’s day-to-day work? Agile is a philosophy; however, you need a framework to put that philosophy into action.
The three most popular Agile frameworks are
While we will focus on Scrum vs. Agile, it’s worth mentioning the other two frameworks so you can understand how they fit into the bigger picture. So Scrum is a specific framework that teams can use to implement Agile values and principles. It’s the most popular Agile framework, and it’s what most people refer to when they talk about Agile.
Kanban is a framework that helps teams visualize their work and optimize their process. Kanban aims to help teams work more efficiently by reducing waste and optimizing workflow. As for lean, it’s more of a philosophy than a framework. Lean values include continuous improvement and eliminating waste.
Scrum vs Agile Project Management: What’s the Difference?
At first glance, it may seem like there’s no difference between Scrum and Agile—they both promote iterative workflows, rapid delivery, and close collaboration between cross-functional teams. However, some key distinctions set these two approaches apart.
The main difference between Scrum and Agile is that Scrum is a specific framework prescribed by the Scrum Guide, whereas Agile is a broader term that can refer to any of the various frameworks and practices that fall under its umbrella. Scrum and Agile aim to help teams work more efficiently and deliver higher-quality products. However, Scrum is more prescriptive and rigid in its approach, while Agile is more flexible and adaptable.
Below are other differences that may help you better understand the distinction between Scrum and Agile:
- Scrum is a framework, whereas Agile is a philosophy.
- Scrum has specific roles, events, artifacts, and rules that must be followed, whereas Agile is a more general term that can refer to any of the various frameworks and practices that fall under its umbrella.
- Scrum has five core values (commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect), whereas Agile has four core tenants (individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change).
- Scrum teams are self-organizing and cross-functional, whereas Agile teams may or may not be.
- Scrum offers three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, whereas Agile has 12 principles.
Similarities Between Scrum vs Agile Project Management
Scrum predates Agile by about ten years. However, people often use these terms interchangeably because they share many similarities.
Below are some key similarities between Scrum and Agile:
- Both Scrum and Agile promote iterative workflows.
- The two approaches aim to help teams work more efficiently and deliver higher-quality products.
- Both Scrum and Agile place emphasis on close collaboration between cross-functional teams.
- Both methods seek to avoid scope creep and promote constant feedback.
How to Choose Between Scrum and Agile Project Management
Choosing when to use Scrum or Agile can be confusing because one Scrum framework is an implementation of the Agile philosophy. Therefore when deciding, we need to consider whether we intend to use Agile as a general philosophy or if we want to use the Scrum framework specifically.
Recommendations for when to use Agile:
- If you need to implement changes quickly in response to customer feedback or the market
- When there’s a need for rapid deployment of new features
- The project you are working on has high uncertainty or risk
- The team is adaptable and can think without a lot of structure
Recommendations for when to use Scrum:
- If you want to use a framework that is tried and tested with specific roles, events, artifacts, and rules
- The team is comfortable working within a prescribed framework
- When stakeholders need continuous feedback on the project’s progress
- The need for autonomy from management and team self-organization is high
When to Adopt a Hybrid Approach
In many cases, adopting a hybrid approach that combines Scrum with other Agile frameworks makes sense. For example, you might use Scrum for product development but Kanban for the marketing team’s workflow.
Here are some common hybrid approaches:
- Scrumban: This approach combines Scrum with Kanban. The main goal is to make the product development process more flexible using Kanban’s visualization tool, the Kanban board.
- Agile Scaling: This approach helps organizations scale Agile across the enterprise. It combines Scrum with other Agile frameworks, such as Kanban or Lean.
- Lean Agile: This approach combines the best of both Lean and Agile. The main goal is to create a more efficient and effective product development process.
Other hybrid approaches include SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), which combines Scrum with Kanban, and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), which combines Scrum with various other Agile frameworks.
Answer: Scrum is a framework that provides a structure for how an Agile team should work together, while Agile is the overall set of principles and values that guide the development process. So Agile comes first, and Scrum is one of the frameworks you can choose to help you work in an Agile way.
Answer: Agile is not necessarily better than Scrum, but it is a more general philosophy that can be applied to any software development process. Scrum is one specific way to work Agile. Some people may prefer Scrum’s structure and framework, while others may find it too constraining and prefer a more flexible approach.
Answer: The main difference between Agile and Waterfall is that Waterfall is a linear approach to software development, while Agile is more of a flexible and iterative approach. In other words, with the Waterfall model, you complete one phase of the project before starting on the next phase. With Agile, you work on small pieces of the project at a time and then put them all together at the end.
Scrum vs Agile Project Management: Closing Thoughts
The debate between Agile vs. Scrum will likely continue for years. Both approaches have pros and cons, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best way to decide which approach is right for your team is to experiment with both and see which one works better for you. However, you must understand that Agile is the overall philosophy, while Scrum is just one of the frameworks you can use to implement Agile.
If you are considering using Scrum in your organization, read the Agile Manifesto and understand the principles behind Agile before making a decision. And if you are already using Agile, it’s worth taking a closer look at Scrum to see if it could help you work more effectively.