Scrum History: A Timeline of Change

While it’s true that the first official Scrum Guide wasn’t released until 2010, companies have been adopting the ideas of Scrum for far longer. 

For decades, project management professionals have tinkered with new methodologies. It was from some of these experimental efforts that Scrum first evolved. But, how does the original concept of Scrum compare to what we know now? It’s worth taking a look at Scrum history.

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The Prequel: A Waterfall is Born

To understand Scrum, we’ll have to go back to the era of the “waterfall”, one of the most well-known predecessors to modern project management disciplines. While waterfall is still widely in use today, it shouldn’t be. Still, many of its strengths— as well as its weaknesses— have played an important role in shaping the world of project management over the course of Scrum history.


The waterfall methodology first surfaced in the 1950s, providing a system-driven approach to managing traditional industrial efforts like manufacturing and construction. 

These industries required a strict, predictable order of operations, so the waterfall’s phases within project planning felt like a natural fit. Over time, more and more businesses adopted the framework, leveraging its rigid planning requirements and linear, sequential execution style to add more structure and clarity to collaborative efforts. 


While many of these foundational ideas are still held in high regard today, by the 1970s it was beginning to become clear that the waterfall methodology itself had some major flaws— especially when applied outside of the traditional industrial scope. 

Software experts, in particular, pointed out some significant shortfalls when it came to applying the waterfall methodology to programming tasks. For example, waiting until the very end of your project to test an important algorithm or block of code would almost certainly invite failure. 

By the end of the ’70s, it was clear that project management desperately needed a breath of new life– a hero to save the future of product development. But what and how? 


As the popularity of PCs skyrocketed and software began to converge on common standards, new ideas about how to best manage enterprise-scale projects began to emerge. The world was changing quickly, and businesses were struggling to keep up with the demands of the market. 

In “The New New Product Development Game,” a seminal essay by management experts Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, the pair explores the most effective product development practices from a handful of successful firms. It was here that the word “Scrum” was first used in the context of project management, borrowed from the game of rugby to underscore the importance of intense collaboration and teamwork.


As these new ideas about project management began to circulate throughout the community, two of the industry’s most prolific pioneers— Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland— began to independently implement their own versions of an empirical, incremental development process. 

Soon after, Ken and Jeff began collaborating to combine this material into a single, unified system, ultimately codifying it as “SCRUM” in a 1995 paper at the OOPSLA conference. At this moment, a brand new, sweet baby framework was born, still nascent and completely unaware of its own destiny.

The Early Years

The first public appearance of Scrum at OOPSLA was undoubtedly an important moment in Scrum history— yet the framework was far from complete. In fact, back then, Scrum was most commonly referred to as a “process,” offering a far more prescriptive view when it came to things like team size and techniques. 

At its core, however, the paper advanced a spirit of innovation and change, foreshadowing the many ways it would transform project management for years to come.

The Manifesto

Even if you’ve never heard of OOPSLA, you’ve more than likely come across the well-known Agile Manifesto. Published in 2001 by an iconic collective of developers, the Manifesto pulled directly from the early ideas first published by Schwaber and Sutherland. 

While Scrum itself sought to codify a new framework for iterative development, the Agile philosophy represented a broader effort to distill these concepts into 12 simple principles. The Manifesto has Scrum thinking written all over it, urging practitioners to “welcome changing requirements,” emphasizing the importance of “self-organizing teams,” and encouraging leaders to support contributors and “trust them to get the job done.”

With each passing year, Schwaber and Sutherland continued to research best practices, amending their own understanding of Scrum with each new case study. By 2010, the pair felt confident enough to release the very first edition of the official Scrum Guide, detailing the features they felt best described their framework. 

This was their most coherent distillation of the philosophy yet, but there were still plenty of changes to be made. In fact, a few passages ended up being somewhat problematic— in one metaphor, Ken and Jeff explain the importance of roles in Scrum using a story about “pigs and chickens.” Unsurprisingly, some practitioners weren’t thrilled to be compared with farm animals, and the passage was removed in later publications of the guide. 

Still, as the community continued to get more involved, the Scrum Guide improved with every release, culminating in the launch of the latest edition in 2020.

A New Hope 

Scrum is predicated on flexibility. Flexibility in your team, flexibility in your tooling, and flexibility in your focus are all equally essential. The evolution of the Scrum history and the guide itself is a lesson in the importance of adaptability— as each artifact and event became better understood over time.

Schwaber and Sutherland have continued to adapt the document’s language to better suit the needs of team members and organizations alike. The 2020 Scrum Guide presents a number of notable, positive changes, both big and small:

  • In general, the 2020 Scrum Guide is less prescriptive than ever before, offering leaders more flexibility in determining how exactly they implement the framework. 
  • The concept of a “Product Goal” has been established, allowing the Scrum Team to hone in on more specific objectives across each Sprint.
  • Thanks to adoption across a diversity of industries, the new guide terminology has been broadened, removing references to software-specific development practices in favor of more universal language.
  • The phrase “Servant-Leader” has been removed, instead describing Scrum Masters as “true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization.”
  • The term “roles” has been replaced by “accountabilities” in order to clarify that the labels of Scrum Master, Developer, and Product Owner aren’t necessarily meant to be treated as job descriptions.

Some of these changes may introduce major shifts in how Scrum is practiced, while others simply enable a more nuanced interpretation of the day-to-day work. Nonetheless, every adjustment is designed to help empower Scrum Teams and their organizations to consistently deliver more value. 

Scrum: The Story Continues

The battle for better product development has been hard-fought, but it’s far from over. The world is constantly changing, and every organization must be ready to adapt to new challenges and conditions at any moment. 

While Scrum is arguably one of the best frameworks for managing change and complexity, it’s not always easy to embrace these shifts on your own. With a partner like Responsive Advisors, organizations can leverage the insights of an experienced team of Scrum professionals, putting you on a straightforward path to success. 

When it comes to adopting Scrum, there’s nothing more important than continuing to learn and better yourself, and Responsive Advisors can offer you all the training and guidance needed. And, don’t worry, it’s not in the form of boring Zoom calls where everyone is required to wear a stifling suit. Instead, continue to learn, ask questions, and network with other future Scrum leaders in a relaxed, yet more productive, environment. 

If you’re ready to make your own mark on Scrum history, reach out to Responsive Advisors— they’re ready to take the journey with you, but you bring the donuts. 

Greg Crown

Likes baking, craft beer, whisk(e)y & beaches.
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