What is Scrum? Introduction to Scrum, its Roles, and Ceremonies

Introduction to Scrum, its Roles, and Ceremonies

‘Scrum’ The Name Background

Scrum takes its name from a play in rugby where the players bind together in teams and try to take back possession of the ball. Injuries are common.

‘Scrum’ as in Software Development

The description above is an apt metaphor for Scrum development. It is a lightweight team-based Agile framework that is focused on getting the ball down the field in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Scrum is used for developing complex products and services with a focus on developing incremental units of business value within short iterations. It requires honesty, communication & adaptability. Just like the Rugby scrum it can be painful, but incredibly effective.

Now, let’s breakdown the components of Scrum. It is comprised of roles, ceremonies, and artifacts.


Product Owner

The Product Owner (PO) is the individual who makes the decisions on anything related to the “product”. The PO’s key responsibility is to make sure the team is developing products and features that deliver business value. The PO represents the voice of the customer and other business stakeholders. They drive the vision of the product and its features; create and prioritize the product backlog; define acceptance criteria and ultimately accepts the output from the development team. The PO is essentially an implant from the business world into the scrum team, as they are considered the product champion with the complete product know-how.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master (SM) is the servant leader for the development team. The SM makes sure that the team is on track to deliver the product in increments and within the time-boxed sprint schedule (more on sprints in a bit). They facilitate through devotion to the scrum process, and by swiftly eliminating scrum team’s impediments. They uphold the structure of scrum, and inculcates the principles of agile within the scrum team. The SM is a facilitator for the scrum team, and makes sure that the development team is aware of what needs to be accomplished and when, and that they have the ability to self-organize to accomplish the development tasks.

Team Members / Development Team

The Team Members / Development Team (DT) are those responsible for the implementation of the product or features. These are the set of people who are actually doing the what that has been proposed and conceived through the product backlog and grooming sessions. The DT is usually a cross-disciplinary group of individuals including engineers, UI developers, Analysts and Quality Assurance. The DT self organizes and decides the best way to accomplish tasks they pick up during planning. They provide estimates on stories within the product backlog as well as provide feedback on the acceptance criteria to the PO to help keep development on the right track.


Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is a prioritized list of epics and stories created and managed by the Product Owner (PO). An epic is a large story and there may be smaller stories contained within. The story describes the feature in a way that makes the business value and use for the customer clear to all stakeholders so everyone can understand what is being delivered. A story is an increment of work that can be delivered by the team within the sprint cycle. Priority is set by the Product Owner, and the PO dictates the order in which stories are delivered by the team.

Sprint Backlog

The Sprint Backlog are those stories that have been committed to by the team for the upcoming or current sprint. In order to qualify to be a sprint backlog candidate stories must have enough detail (meeting the Definition of Ready – DoR) that the team is comfortable estimating the size of the story (story points) and stakeholder input/approvals have been included. The number of stories in the Sprint Backlog are determined by teams capacity built over sprint over sprint, what is also known as their velocity.

Burn Down Chart

The Burn Down Chart is the means by which the Scrum Master, team and other stakeholders keep track of progress throughout the sprint. The ideal chart would have the team incrementally completing stories throughout the sprint and thus “burning down” the Sprint Backlog to land at 0 story points left at the end of the sprint.

Sample Burn Down Chart (source: wikipedia)

Sample Burn Down Chart above – Blue line represents ideal progress, red line represents actual progress


Product Backlog Refinement (PBR)

Backlog Grooming is the process by which the Product Owner gets their stories Sprint Ready. It involves setting the vision, proving the business case, meeting with customers and other stakeholders, conferring with the team, working with UX & visual designers. Care should be taken to get enough detail into stories that the team is clear on what needs to be delivered and why, but not so much detail that analysis paralysis occurs. Grooming sessions with the team should be time-boxed to make sure their time is spent optimally and mostly devoted to getting actual work done delivering items for the current sprint. A typical grooming session lasts for about 2-4 hrs depending on the length of the sprint, and the development team has to make sure that each story meets their DoR as an input to the Sprint, and the acceptance criteria and assumptions meet Definition of Done (DoD) for the final approval of the story.

Sprint Planning

The Sprint is time-boxed cycle that is 1 – 4 weeks in duration. At the end of the Sprint an increment of the product should be completed and ideally delivered to the customer. Sprint Planning is the session run by the Scrum Master where the team decides how many stories they can take into the upcoming sprint. The team selects stories in priority order set by the Product Owner. A team that has been working together for several sprints or more will have a historic record of how many story points they can take into a sprint. This is referred to as their velocity. Ideally their velocity will increase over time as the team builds. The objective of the sprint planning is to commit stories for the upcoming sprint to the PO, and identify all activities required for the development of the story to meet the DoD.

Daily Standup (Scrum)

The Daily Standup or Scrum is facilitated by the Scrum Master on a daily basis at the same time everyday without fail for the development team. It is time-boxed to only 15 minutes. Each member of the development team comes on time, and answers three questions – what did they work on yesterday, what are they focused on working today and if there are any impediments in their way. Impediments are noted by the Scrum Master and taken to be discussed offline, and are addressed following the standup.


The Retrospective is a crucial ceremony in Scrum that invites Development Team Members to give an honest assessment of their team’s performance in recent sprint. It is facilitated by the Scrum Master, and may or may not include the Product Owner. Some teams may need the Retrospective as a place to discuss issues with the Product Owner and in that case may need them to be excluded to allow for open communication. Team Members each provide a list of the following categories: “Start Doing”; “Stop Doing”; & “Continue Doing”. These may be framed in different ways but basically the conversation should be open and constructive in identifying room for improvement; issues; as well as celebrating successes.


These are the basic components of Scrum. The best way to learn is to practice and each team will grow and modify the techniques to meet their unique group dynamics & development environment. Other good sources are –

Product Owner Basics: Prioritization

For scrum product owners, there are multiple important considerations to have in mind, and high amongst them is product backlog prioritization.  Product prioritization is vital to achieving a scrum product’s objectives, and there are a number of scrum backlog prioritization techniques that product owners can embrace.  However, it is not a process that product owners can dive into; the process’ basics — including the reasons for it, how to approach it, and the results that can be expected — should be thoroughly understood in order to achieve the full potential of prioritization.

Reasons for Prioritization

One of the top, if not the top, reasons for product prioritization is to maintain clear focus on the items to be delivered.  Of the product backlog items in any given sprint, some are not immediate and may not add significant value to the final product, nor are they necessary for the other tasks that will lead to the product end-goal; prioritization is ideal for targeting and weeding out such backlog items.  Prioritization would push these items to another sprint or eliminate them altogether, leaving the most pressing and valuable backlog items to be attended to in the sprint. Another core reason for conducting prioritization which relates to maintaining focus on the ultimate product, is that the process assists in keeping on-track, in terms of the schedule.  By having a clear list of tasks to tackle — as achieved by the completion of a product prioritization session — the team will know exactly what to attend to, minimizing the risk of some members focusing on non-immediate tasks, thereby resulting in not having sufficient time to complete the vital tasks at the end of the sprint.

Another reason for conducting product prioritization is that it helps to reduce the risk of not meeting the requirements necessitated by the product’s business stakeholders.  Without product prioritization, tasks that address product risks and difficult product components may not be analyzed, leading to less time for the team to address those risks.

How To Approach It

The significance of product prioritization makes it such that Product Owners seeking to optimize the results of their project cannot forego the process.  It should be noted that prioritization is not a one-time occurrence.  Each sprint should have its own product prioritization session.  New requirements and backlog tasks, which inevitably emerge with each new sprint, require a re-ranking of priorities.  Each prioritization session should be approached in the same manner.

In prioritizing product backlog items, customer satisfaction, business value, complexity, safety, and effort for implementation are aspects of each item that should be considered.  In general, when approaching the list of backlog tasks, the Product Owner and teams should consider which tasks will result in features that will generate the highest business stakeholder and customer satisfaction.  Backlog items that will allow customers to realize a high return on investment  should be at the top of the sprint’s list of tasks to complete.  In ranking the items, it is also important to consider each backlog item’s business value.  Does the item provide a long-term business benefit, or does it provide an immediate edge over the product’s competitors?  In either case, how the item ranks according to its business value depends on whether the product’s business stakeholders are aiming for long-term or more immediate results.  Product prioritization cannot be effective unless the Product Owner and teams also rank items according to how complex they will be to implement, how much effort must be invested in completing the item, and whether or not the backlog item relates to a product feature critical for the product’s function.

Once the backlog items have been analyzed from multiple angles, as discussed above, they can be ranked.  Teams can then self-organize in order to complete the tasks for that sprint.  Note that the prioritized list is not to be set in stone — it alters as new, relevant customer information is gleaned or business stakeholders’ requirements change.

The Results

It can be expected that product prioritization will lead to teams completing more of the pressing tasks and remaining on-track towards the product’s final goals.  Teams’ efforts and time will be spent valuably in each sprint, attending to the most urgent tasks — those that will ensure the most success for the product.