Agile vs Scrum: What, When and Where to Use to Maximize Productivity

by Alex Wyatt in

Agile methodology and Scrum are two of the most popular and widespread frameworks for organizing and tracking work. At ScrumGenius, we use both in our reports!

The problem is that though both Agile and Scrum can be incredibly helpful, they can also be difficult to understand and implement, often leading to breakdowns in communication and productivity.

Here’s a quick rundown of what each framework includes, how to implement it, and when and where each is best used.

What are Agile and Scrum Methodologies?

Agile methodology and scrum are two frameworks used to organize work within a specific team. Both have many similarities, but there are also many differences to keep in mind as well.

On the most basic level, Agile methodology is a framework with an iterative approach to development, where the process of your project is broken into smaller sections. Scrum is a process within Agile itself that allows software development teams to focus on quickly delivering values by frequently inspecting their software.

Essentially, Agile is the entire process of development and testing, whereas Scrum is an Agile process focused on delivering valuables within a specific time frame. Both of these strategies are effective at keeping on top of work and tracking progress across your team, but which one you implement will depend on your team.

ScrumGenius is based largely on Scrum framework, but it can be used for general agile methodology as well. To see some examples, read on to the examples section at the end of this article or take a look at our Templates page.

All About Agile

Now that we’ve discussed the main distinction between the two frameworks, let’s discuss agile methodology in a little more detail.

Agile Methodology

As we mentioned earlier, Agile development takes an incremental, iterative approach to product development. Because of this, the process is highly flexible, and it allows change over time due to feedback from the team.

Your team will work on iterations of the product over a specific period of time, often prioritized based on value, with the end goal of each iteration to produce a working product.

Agile encourages teamwork, accountability and communication. Everyone must work together to align the product with the company’s goals and their client or customer’s needs; therefore feedback from both is heavily encouraged.

One of the most important documents in Agile is the Agile Manifesto, created in February 2001 by a team of 17 software developers. The manifesto contains 12 principles:

  1. Satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery of product is your highest priority.
  2. Changing requirements is encouraged, no matter where you are in the development process.
  3. Software or product must be delivered frequently.
  4. Managers and team members must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Projects must be built around motivated individuals who are given the environment and support they need to get the job done.
  6. Face-to-face conversation is the most effective method of communication within the team.
  7. A working product or software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile promotes sustainable development; therefore everyone must be able to maintain a constant pace for the length of the project.
  9. Continuous attention should be paid to technical excellence and design.
  10. Simplicity (defined as maximizing the amount of work not done) is essential.
  11. The best work comes from self-organizing teams.
  12. The team must reflect on how to become more effective at regular intervals and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

There are also four main roles within Agile methodology. Product Owners communicate with customers and relay feedback to the team; Product Managers guide the project team itself; Project Team Members are those who actually work on the project; and finally, Project Stakeholders are those who aren’t actively involved in the project, but whose input is vital to its process.

The Agile Development Cycle

There are several stages of the Agile development cycle, though they aren’t always in a set order. Because of the flexible and changing nature of Agile, some of these stages might happen concurrently or out of order.

The first stage is planning. Once an idea is formed, the team will work together to break down the idea into smaller pieces (known as features), and then prioritize each feature and assign it to an iteration.

The next stage is requirements analysis. In this phase, the team’s goal is to gather detailed information on business requirements (e.g. such as who their customers are and how it’ll be used). Because of this, this stage often includes meetings with managers, stakeholders and clients.

The third stage, design, is when the product design is prepared based on the business requirements. The team will have to decide what the product will look like and come up with a plan to execute it.

The next stage is implementation; this is where the features of the product are created, tested and scheduled for development. This stage will always start with iteration zero, as no features have yet been delivered.

The fifth stage, testing, is where the product is tested against the initial requirements to make sure the product meets customer needs. Further testing is also done.

The last stage is deployment. This is where the product is delivered to customers, but it’s important to note that deployment isn’t always the end of the product. Once the product is used by customers, they might run into new issues for the team to address.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Agile

Agile has many benefits and advantages. For example, shorter iterations make it easy to accommodate change at any time during the project to increase flow and productivity. This also means Agile is focused on continuous improvement, becoming better and more refined as the project goes along.

Agile can be especially helpful for projects with an undefined or unknown end-goal. As the project progresses, goals will become more obvious and development can thus adapt to fit these new requirements.

Agile also allows for fast delivery of outcomes. Breaking the project into iterations allows the team to focus on development, testing and collaboration, so any problems or blockers identified along the way can be solved quickly.

Lastly, Agile helps boost communication between everyone involved. Agile highlights the importance of frequent communication and collaboration between team members, but it also gives clients the opportunity to see the work as it’s delivered in each iteration, so they can share input and have an impact on the end product.

Agile also has several disadvantages. Within Agile framework, planning is less concrete and it can be hard to stick to a fixed delivery date. Some items originally scheduled for delivery at the end of an iteration may not be complete in time, or new tasks may be added as they pop up.

Agile requires a lot from team members as well. As Agile teams are usually small, team members must be highly skilled in a number of areas and very knowledgeable of Agile methodology. This requires having the right people on your team.

Agile also requires a heavy time commitment from team members, and requires frequent communication and collaboration throughout the process.

Lastly, as Agile focuses on finishing deliverables, documentation throughout the process may fall to the wayside. It is important to look for the right balance for your team between documentation and active, face-to-face discussion.

All About Scrum

Now that we’ve discussed the larger Agile framework, let’s talk about Scrum a little more.

Scrum Methodology

Scrum is one of the most popular subsets of Agile methodology. Like Agile, it uses an iterative model to manage software and product development, often in the form of fixed-length sprints. Each sprint, which usually lasts about a week or two, helps teams develop product on a regular cadence.

Scrum follows a specific set of roles, responsibilities and meetings. There are four ceremonies that structure a sprint: sprint planning, daily standup, sprint demo, and sprint retrospective. We’ll discuss these later in a little more detail.

There are also three specific roles in Scrum. The Product Owner is the one who conveys their vision of the product to the team; they focus on the business requirements of the product and provide guidance on the priority of different features. Instead of managing the team, they motivate them through a goal and vision.

The next role is the Scrum Master, who coaches the team to do their best possible work. They organize meetings, deal first with blockers and challenges, and work alongside the product owner to make sure the product backlog is ready for the next sprint, but don’t have any direct authority over the team or process.

The final and most common role is Scrum Team Member. Everyone on the team works together in collaboration to meet goals and finish tasks. Within Scrum, there are no distinct development roles like programmers, designers and testers; everyone completes the work together and creates the plan for each sprint together.

The Scrum Cycle

Unlike Agile, the Scrum process has a specific, unchanging set of steps within its flow.

Product Backlog

During the Product Backlog, the Product Owner and Scrum Team will meet to prioritize different items in the project (known as the product backlog). From this, the development will pull items to complete during each sprint. 

Sprint Planning

Before each sprint begins, the Product Owner will present the top items pulled from the product backlog and present them to the team in a Sprint Planning Meeting. The team will then choose which work they can complete during the sprint and move that work to the Sprint Backlog (a list of tasks to complete during the sprint).

Backlog Refinement

At the end of a sprint, the Scrum Team and Product Owner will meet to make sure the product backlog is ready for the next sprint. This may include adding or removing items, reassessing the priority of specific items, or breaking down items into smaller chunks. This keeps the backlog relevant and detailed so the team can stay on track. 

Daily Scrum Meeting

Daily Scrum Meetings are short standup meetings where each team member talks about their goals, completed tasks and any blockers they may encounter. They will happen every day and help keep the team stay on track.

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review meetings occur at the end of each sprint, and allow the team to present the work they have completed throughout the sprint. 

Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Finally, the Sprint Retrospective meeting allows the team to reflect at the end of each sprint on how the scrum process is working and discuss any changes that need to be made for the next sprint. This includes what went well during the sprint, what went wrong, and what could be done differently. 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Scrum

Like Agile, Scrum has many advantages that make it useful and efficient for teams. For example, Scrum helps to boost transparency and project visibility through its daily standup meetings. This keeps the team updated on who is assigned to which tasks, eliminating breakdowns in communication. It also allows issues to be identified in advance so they can be resolved quicker.

This boosted communication helps increase team accountability. Instead of having a project manager tell the team what to do and when, the team collectively decides on the work to be completed during the sprint and collaborates to get this work completed.

Lastly, like Agile, Scrum also is suited to accommodate changes throughout the development cycle. The shorter sprints and constant feedback make it easy to incorporate changes and new tasks as they come up. For software development teams in particular, the shorter sprint length means coding and feature testing happens in smaller chunks, so there is a continuous feedback loop and bugs can be corrected early on.

Scrum also has several disadvantages and downsides. One of the biggest disadvantages is the risk of scope creep (the continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope). Because Scrum projects often lack a specific end date, managers or stakeholders may be tempted to keep requesting additional features, dragging down productivity.

Scrum also places heavy requirements on team members. Because of all its defined roles and responsibilities, your team will need to be familiar and knowledgeable with Scrum principles and have the technical experience to carry them out. It also requires a commitment to the daily Scrum meetings and other ceremonies throughout the project.

Furthermore, having the wrong Scrum Master can handicap your team’s performance. Unlike a project manager, the Scrum Master doesn’t have any authority over their team, and instead must trust the team they manage without telling them what to do. As such, if the Scrum Master tries to control the team, the project might fail.

Finally, if you don’t define tasks well enough, you can create inaccuracies within your project timelines and costs. Sprints can take longer than estimated, frustrating both your team and clients.

Which One Do I Use?

Because of their similarities, it can be hard to decide which method is best for you and your team. Though this will be personal to you and can even change as you switch projects, here are a couple of guidelines to get you started.

When to Use Agile

Though some may still see Agile as a project management methodology centered around software development, the truth is that there are tons of different variations of Agile that can make it useful for every kind of team.

One of the biggest differences between Agile and Scrum is in their leadership structure. In Agile methodology, leadership is essential. This includes both product owners, who gather feedback from customers, and the project manager who oversees the project team based on this info.

In this model, the project team relies heavily on their leadership for insight on next tasks and roles, and stakeholders have an important say in how the process goes.

As such, Agile may be better for teams with a strong leadership structure and project stakeholders, though they still need to be self-sufficient and highly collaborative. It is also great for teams that need to be able to accommodate quick changes in the project, especially from clients.

When to Use Scrum

In contrast to Agile, Scrum requires teams to be highly independent and cross-functional. While the Scrum Master still guides their team through the process and leads meetings, they play more of a coaching role to their team instead of the project manager role found in Agile.

This means that a Scrum team, which is generally smaller in size as well, has a lot more autonomy over their work and process. Scrum actually encourages each team member to function with as little overhead supervision as possible, as tasks are often highly complex. This, in addition to the small team size, means collaboration is essential.

Scrum team members also have to be sufficiently experienced with Scrum processes. As such, this means that Scrum would be best for independent, collaborative teams who already have some experience with Scrum.

Finally, though Scrum processes are useful for any kind of team, they are especially helpful for software design teams which can be more complex.

Learn more about how to get ScrumGenius and help you organize your Scrum and Agile teams here.

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