Why Scrum Won?
According to VersionOne’s last State of Agile report, Scrum and Scrum hybrids make up for 70 percent of practical applications of Agile. While comparing methodologies, methods and frameworks (Scrum is a framework) is a bit of an apples and oranges activity, the fact is that Scrum is the clear winner in the Agile ecosystem.
But, what exactly are the reasons for Scrum’s popularity and clearly superior adoption rate?
As is often the case, the reasons are many and complex.
First of all, Scrum has been around for a while. It’s been around before Agile as a term was adopted for the various approaches to software development (and later project management). It was presented to the world in 1995 by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. In 2001, it became part of the official Agile ecosystem, together with crystal, extreme programming (XP), adaptive software development (ASD) dynamic-systems-development method (DSDM) and feature-driven development (FDD). Kanban and lean would come later.
While the age of a specific practice does not necessarily spell success, it definitely gives weight to it. After all, if it weren’t that great, the excitement would have tapered off.
It has a proven track record
In order for a new practice to gain any kind of traction, it requires proof that it works. Namely, when an organization starts considering adopting a practice, the decision-makers want to be able to consult case studies and reports of successful past application.
Scrum has been doing this extremely well from the very start and the very first application of Scrum at Easel Corporation. One of the most popular resources on Scrum is a book which describes a number of successful Scrum adoptions – Agile Project Management with Scrum. There is an entire website of Scrum case studies.
In short, Scrum has been shown to work.
It is light
Despite what some Scrum detractors like to claim, Scrum is actually a very light framework with a very limited number of rules and defined roles, events and artifacts.
The only proof of this is how little it takes to start working in Scrum. For the majority of teams, it takes only a few Sprints to get familiar with the framework and to start improving their process.
Of course, this does not mean that everything starts to work perfectly in the first few Sprints. In fact, it can take a while before the team truly benefits from Scrum and the Scrum Guide itself points this out.
Still, it is a framework that is very easy to learn and this accounts for much of its popularity.
It is formalized
While its lightness is a big factor contributing to Scrum’s popularity, we must also never overlook the fact that it provides some very clear guidelines on how to set it up in regards to Scrum Roles, Events and Artifacts, as well as some basic practices and interdependencies.
This can make a huge difference in large, hierarchical organizations where managers and C-suite members feel more comfortable if they can see a clearly defined structure. Unfortunately, this can lead to certain Scrum-but experiences, but it can also contribute to the willingness of the organization to adopt Scrum.
While we are on the subject of Scrum’s formal maturity, we should also keep in mind the huge Scrum community and the formal Scrum courses, certifications and coaches which both give it an air of respectability and provide some assurance that certified practitioners will know their stuff (this should be taken with a grain of salt, of course).
It accommodates other practices
In the introduction, we made a reference to Scrum hybrids such as Scrumban and Scrum/XP hybrids which are employed by many organizations and teams. Even when not formalized in such fashion, many Scrum teams start incorporating elements from other Agile (and not just Agile) approaches.
The Scrum Guide welcomes this, ‘it is a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques.’ In such situations, it is Scrum that aids in determining whether such processes and techniques are beneficial for the team and the work it is doing.
This inclusive nature of Scrum makes it an option even for teams that have already adopted certain practices and processes, further expanding its reach.
It can be sold (bad)
The reasons for Scrum’s popularity that we have covered so far have been positive ones. Unfortunately, there is also a negative reason as to why Scrum enjoys such popularity – its marketable nature.
Namely, the combination of the factors we mentioned above makes Scrum the preferred choice of organizations looking to become Agile. Often, this desire to become Agile is nothing more than a passing infatuation, leading to organizations trying to adopt Agile just so they can say they did it while still doing the same old thing.
It should be pointed out that, more often than not, there is no shortage of those willing to help them with this even when it is obvious (or at least very, very likely) that an organization is not honest in its Scrum aspirations.
While there are some cases in which even this ill-motivated Scrum adoption produces true Scrum teams, more often this leads to various Scrum-like abominations which are responsible for the vast majority of Scrum horror stories we read about.
Of course, there are more reasons as to why Scrum become as popular as it did, but it feels like the ones we covered in this article are the most prominent ones.