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 –

Scrum Master, an Agile Role That Is Not a Project Manager

Agile and non-agile product management require two core components – team members, who are knowledgeable about the technical components of a given project, and a leader to guide the team members through the project.  The leadership role in agile product management differs from that in non-agile product management, though, for there is the introduction of a Scrum Master, who is neither a development team member, nor a direct leader.

Non-Scrum Leadership Role

Project Manager Role Defined

In product management, the leading role is that of Project Manager, the person who is responsible for seeing the project through to success.  Essentially, this person establishes the project goals, plans the necessary steps for achieving those goals, monitors progress, and makes decisions regarding various aspects of the project.  The Project Manager is the key decision maker and commander.  In controlling the outcome of the entire project, the Project Manager must also maintain responsibility for the team’s work, making sure that they are on-track to successfully completing the project.  He sets the framework, essentially, for the team in any given project, by establishing their goals and timetable.

Scrum Leadership Roles

Product Owner

In agile product management, particularly Scrum, however, the role of Project Manager is non-existent.  The responsibilities of that role are instead divided into two leading positions – the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master.  Of the two roles in agile product management, the Product Owner role is the closer one to that of Project Manager in non-agile methods.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master, on the other hand, serves as an intermediary between the development team members — those working on completing sprint goals and deliverables – and the Product Owner.  The Scrum Master role differs from a Project Manager role in that the Scrum Master is more hands-on with the development team.  When a technical malfunction occurs and hinders a team member from completing their task, it falls upon the Scrum Master – not the Product Owner – to handle the issue and ensure that the team member is able to complete their work.  In non-scrum project management situations, the Project Manager would not be the one to handle such details.  The Scrum Master is responsible for eliminating any impediments that hinder the development team’s accomplishment of sprint goals, ranging from a development team member’s computer malfunction to handling an uncomfortable temperature in the work environment.  As such, part of the Scrum Master role is to work on behalf of the development team, including facilitating the team’s meetings and coaching the team towards successful self-management and completion of sprint goals; the Scrum Master is there for the team’s benefit.

The other part of the Scrum Master role is to work on behalf of the PO.  In this sense, the Scrum Master can be regarded as the “servant leader,” for he does not make large, product goal decisions as the PO would, but the Scrum Master may make decisions on how to improve the development team’s work environment in order to enhance their productivity.  The Scrum Master ensures that the team meets the PO’s project goals, namely by removing impediments to the team’s success and communicating information about the team’s progress to the PO.  He helps the PO to lead the team by holding them accountable for the project commitments that they make in each sprint, and by doing what is necessary to enhance the team’s productivity.

Essentially, the Scrum Master facilitates the work of both the development team and the Product Owner.  Though the Scrum Master does not make main project decisions as a Project Manager does, the Scrum Master is nonetheless a vital role in scrum product management.  The Scrum Master interprets and solves team issues, and works to help them maximize their productivity, which benefits the Product Owner, as well, by bringing the project closer to successful completion.

Mobile Products: Native vs. Browser

The increase in usage of digital products on mobile makes it such that many Product Owners are tackling the creation of mobile apps — and the decision between developing a native or browser app.  When creating an app, the differences between native and browser apps become undeniably pertinent.  Of the differences between the two types of apps, one of the most visible categories is capability.  In light of the differences in capabilities, native apps and browser apps each have their own benefits; the decision on how to create and deploy the app is a critical one that depends on Product Owners’ customers’ needs and whether the app is to be user-centric or app-centric.

Native Apps

Native apps are those that are developed specifically for a type of mobile device, be it the iPhone or Android. These apps must be downloaded onto the mobile device in order for users to access the apps’ content.  Native apps have elevated user experience design, relative to browser apps.  As the apps are built for specific mobile devices, native apps are created using languages, development tools, and user interface elements specific to each mobile device, which provide native apps the opportunity to be faster and more efficient for users, and to provide better user experiences in general.  By virtue of being downloaded onto the mobile device, native apps allow better control of the mobile device’s camera, and a higher ability to access the users’ contacts, as stored in the mobile device.  The apps are entirely capable with the device’s features and hardware, which is responsible for the easy access that native apps have to their respective devices’ cameras and contact lists.  Another capability unique to native apps is a potential one for the future — the use of thumbprint reading.  The requirement that native apps must be downloaded onto each user’s device provides vast potential for thumbprint reading to be incorporated into the app.  The capabilities associated with native apps are particularly beneficial for users who want convenience and more control over the activities they complete within apps.

Browser Apps

On the other hand, browser apps, also known as web apps, are internet-enabled.  They are similar to native apps in appearance and operation — they do not have browser buttons, for one — but they require an internet connection.  This key feature of browser apps enables users to access the apps’ content on their mobile devices, by way of the mobile device’s web browser, without having to download the apps onto their devices.  Browser apps are not developed to be compatible with any single mobile device; instead, they are compatible with all types of mobile devices.  Given that these apps are internet-enabled, they are more searchable and accessible, allowing them to have higher discoverability by users.  Relating to the discoverability aspect of browser apps, they are also more advanced than native apps in terms of allowing users to search, share, and bookmark content across multiple browser apps.  For users, this ability to share and bookmark across apps is not available with native apps.

Is One Better Than the Other?

Product Owners may be under the impression that browser apps are a dying type, especially given a recent article on Forbes, but  whether your app is a browser or native app will depend on your specific product goals. Those seeking to develop an app that will have lower overhead costs, less restrictions on content due to lack of an intermediary store, and wide discoverability for the app will likely want to lean towards developing a browser app.  More customer-centric products, with enhanced user experience and design will be more likely to reap those results if they are native apps.  There is also the possibility of building a hybrid app that is between a browser and native app, for those seeking to have the benefits of both types of apps.

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.

How to Be a Stellar Product Owner

Here’s the repost of my recent post on ScrumAlliance.org:

As we get into the routine of releases and sprints, over time the Scrum team establishes its work pattern, and the product owner (PO) becomes more familiar with not only the team but with methods for developing the product build with agility. As we move into sprint after sprint, daily stand-ups, planning, review, and retrospective sessions become second nature for the team. During this process, the PO may feel overwhelmed by the demands of involvement with the team, as well as the demands of external priorities. Some POs may lose their focus on the team as those external priorities shift. To address this and a few other factors that can affect the transition from being an average PO to being a stellar PO, I’ve listed some traits that can help a PO move in that direction.

A stellar PO makes himself or herself available to the team.

Product ownership is more than just a minor commitment — active participation in team gatherings is essential. A stellar PO must also commit to assisting with the resolution of various impediments affecting the team and with keeping product development on track, which requires more than a fair share of commitment.

Product ownership may be not a full-time job, but it needs sincere, dedicated attention from the PO so that the team gets queries answered and clarified, so they can keep development continuous, without any hiccups.

While the PO makes sure that his or her availability is active and ongoing for the team, the team should make sure that they respect the PO’s time, making productive use of everyone’s time during various Scrum ceremonies and activities.

A stellar PO is knowledgeable about the product being developed.

One of the key factors that every PO should know is the organization’s end-user market. Without that knowledge, any PO could unintentionally derail the team and lead them in the wrong direction — and on toward failure. The PO must be well versed in each and every end-user requirement.

From the team’s perspective, the PO is a powerful and resourceful representative for the business (as it pertains to a specific product within a business unit). As such, a stellar PO should have access to all pertinent information and should have full authority to guide product decisions in the right manner through the various Scrum ceremonies.

The PO represents the business and speaks on behalf of the business — any conflicts or issues encountered during development must be resolved by a single voice in the favor of customer value and end-user benefit.

A stellar PO is empowered.

With two-week sprint cycles, the entire duration is crucial for completing, testing, and potentially shipping the number of stories selected by the team. Since time is of the essence here, it becomes absolutely essential for the PO to respond in a timely manner to all requests for information or clarification that are sent his way by the team. Promptness, being on top of things, and fighting fires for the team is the key to the success of the project.

POs are direct business representatives (at least that’s the expectation), and it is expected that part of the PO’s role is to provide ready access to decision makers or influencers. In the absence of such access, crucial development decisions can be delayed and progress slows down — or comes to a halt — as the team struggles with issues that the PO should be able to easily manage. The result is incomplete stories and an unsatisfactory sprint outcome for the end user.

One of the strong traits that a stellar PO exhibits is acting as an advocate for the team. Teams that receive essential and accurate product direction and support build a higher-value business product. The stellar PO should take every opportunity to demonstrate advocacy for the team.


If you think of the product development cycle as a train, the team is part of the engine and the PO acts as its conductor. As developers move the process forward (acting much like an engine), they improve efficiency with every effort applied to delivery, and they help move the product as directed by their conductor, the PO, according to the defined and accepted stories and requirements. The conductor keeps the product train on track so it reaches every determined station (sprint completion) with the allotted resources and within the set time frames. Both the conductor and the engine must work together to get the product train to the right station with the right requirements and resources, in one piece and on time — each representing half of the equation toward reaching the solution. The PO and the team are core partners on this “journey,” and their profit is ultimately measured by building a high-value business product for their customers.