Agile vs. Scrum: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Even Matter?

The word agile is used a lot when referencing Scrum– agile methodologies, agile scrum, agile workflows. But what does it really mean? And how does it relate to scrum? 

Without fully realizing the differences between agile vs scrum you’re already starting with three fries short of a happy meal. The reality is, there are clear differentiators between Scrum and agile that have to be understood to fully adopt the Scrum framework. Don’t worry, we’ll spell it out for you. 

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What is Agile?

At the risk of sounding caustic— agile is just an adjective. 

Okay, okay. Maybe we can provide a little more detail than that. As it relates to business, Oxford dictionary defines agile as “denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.” 

In other words, with agile project management, things move fast and can change within the blink of an eye. While not every business effort requires an agile approach, organizations that embrace agile methodologies tend to reap some remarkable benefits, from accelerating product time-to-market to improving transparency and communication at every level.

Agile Leaders

Modernizing your organization will require input from the whole team, but there’s no denying the influence a single leader can have when implementing agile. 

At first, this might seem contrary to agile’s core principles of self-management and independence. Without the leadership and guidance of a well-respected figure, however, it can be difficult to effectively align various groups within an organization. 

Personal agendas will always be a factor, and some members of the organization may push back, feeling as if adopting agile isn’t their top priority. By taking a “serve the people” approach, however, servant leaders can help every stakeholder feel their needs are being met. 

Agile Workspaces

An “agile workspace” is often accompanied by iconic (and stereotypical) tools of the trade– how many post-it notes is too many post-it notes? Still, times are changing, and organizations are opting for less conventional workplace environments, from home offices to coworking spaces. It’s important for businesses to continue adjusting their sails, creating spaces that make the adoption of agile easier by fostering transparency, collaboration, and inclusion

For example, while open floor plans are useful for fostering collaboration, it’s also important to offer smaller workspaces for more focused, intimate group activities. And what about a field trip? Consider frequent off-site meetups— taking your team out of their comfort zone can be a great way to spark out-of-the-box creativity. 

What is Scrum? 

When it comes to solving complex business problems, Scrum is one of the most versatile tools out there. Legacy project management techniques tend to prescribe a rigid, precise order of operations, leaving stakeholders little room to make adjustments. Scrum offers a different approach, emphasizing the role of empiricism (learning from our experiences) and iteration (incrementally adapting in response to these experiences). 

We implore you, don’t be ‘that guy’ who confuses methodologies with a framework. Scrum is a lightweight framework– NOT a methodology. It’s purposefully incomplete allowing teams to adapt the framework to the unique characteristics of their work.

By providing a set of values, heuristics, and personas for accomplishing complex work, Scrum distills abstract agile principles into a collection of more actionable practices and components. 

Scrum is Agile’s Most Popular Child.

Love it or hate it, Scrum is by far the most popular framework in the world of agile. Over the years, dozens of competing philosophies have emerged, seeking to displace Scrum as the dominant agile implementation. Outside of a few niche applications, however, Scrum remains the most widely used project management framework, providing teams with an unparalleled balance of focus and flexibility. 

Through Scrum, teams can accelerate their delivery of value, responding quickly to market dynamics through frequent, incremental feature releases. Organizations utilizing the framework will also produce higher-quality products and services, as Scrum ensures mistakes are addressed early on in the development process before it’s too late to make fundamental changes. And with more autonomy and the promotion of self-management, people actually start to enjoy what they do. Crazy. 

Change Management

Speaking of people… When it comes to adopting agile across your enterprise, having a vision is important— but it’s not everything. Guiding your organization through this process also requires a thoughtful approach to change management, particularly when it comes to your people. 

In many cases, leaders will ship their employees to a Scrum training class, expecting them to return as expert guides. This strategy rarely works out– shocking. The reality is, there are no shortcuts. An effective Scrum implementation requires gradual shepherding, guiding your team to long-term success by starting small, conducting intimate lunch and learns, and gathering constant feedback.

You’ve read books, you saw a speaker once, you understand every step of the process. That’s an excellent start but leading a successful transition to Scrum still demands experience and expertise. 

Having the help of an agile consultant can accelerate adoption, providing your team with the tools and techniques they need to get things right the first time. At Responsive Advisors, our team offers an extensive catalog of online training programs, getting your organization up to speed on the most essential Scrum principles and can also serve as a guide through your transformation. Most importantly, we actually make it interesting and don’t believe that you have to wear a suit to understand Scrum. 

Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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