What's the Difference Between Agile and Scrum?

Posted by Erika Flora on Feb 9, 2018 12:28:49 PM

In Scrum, Agile, Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Product Owner

You have likely heard the terms Agile and Scrum used interchangeably and wondered to yourself how the words are different. Wonder no more! I’m here to help. Agile and Scrum are different things all together. As any Scrum training worth its salt will tell you, Agile is a mindset or philosophy, while Scrum is a framework (some would say method, but don’t tell any Agilists I said that, ok? Ok, great.)

What is Agile?

Let’s start with what Agile is. Agile is a philosophy, a way of thinking, a movement, really – one that helps us deliver products and services more quickly and of higher quality to our customers. Agile started in 2001 when 17 software developers and self-proclaimed “organizational anarchists” got together in Utah for a weekend of skiing, fun, and discussion. That discussion resulted in the creation of the Agile Manifesto, which reads:

We are uncovering better ways of developing [products] by doing it and helping others do it.

 Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals & interactions over Processes & Tools
Working product over Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change over Following a Plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

There are 12 Agile principles that further clarify and describe the Agile philosophy, but it’s pretty simple. Does it mean we throw out our plans, documentation, and processes and leap headlong into this Agile mentality? Absolutely not. It means we need to find a balance between the items on each side.

Traditionally, organizations tend to focus more on the items on the right (processes & tools, etc.), while customers tend to care more about the items on the left (individuals & interactions). Striking a balance means creating just enough documentation and maintaining our focus on building something to show our customers and get feedback. So, do we still need processes and tools? Absolutely! But we shouldn’t ever hide behind technology or processes to avoid stepping away from our desks and collaborating with those around us.

What is Scrum and How is it Different from Agile?

Think of Scrum like the Kleenex of Agile. It’s the most common method for implementing an Agile mindset or philosophy within your organization and, as a result, has become somewhat synonymous with Agile. Most organizations actually implement a blend of Scrum and other Agile methods like Kanban, Extreme Programming (where the idea of writing User Stories originated), and others. A Scrum project consists of three roles, four events, and three artifacts, which I’ll get into below.

Agile Methodologies UsedSource: stateofagile.versionone.com (2017)

What are the Scrum Roles?

A Scrum team is made up exclusively of a Product Owner, a ScrumMaster, and a Development team:

  • Product Owner – This person serves as the business advocate and maintains a prioritized list of all projects requirements. Their focus is on delivering an awesome product.
  • ScrumMaster – Think of this role as your Scrum Team’s coach; they don’t actually jump into the game and run the plays. Instead, their goal is to make sure the team practices Scrum, improves over time, and wins at game time.
  • Development Team – These are the people who do the work – your core team of friendly worker bees. For non-IT readers, I should stipulate that this doesn’t necessarily mean literal software developers. While Agile and Scrum originated in the software development world, they can and should be applied in almost any industry.

NOTE: You may have noticed there's no project manager listed here. While it's true, there are no project managers in Scrum, there are many ways talented PMs can get involved and take on Scrum roles.

What are the Scrum Events?

A Scrum project includes four short meetings, called events:

  • Sprint Planning – This is where the Product Owner and Development team decide what work can get to completely-100%-done-and-ready-to-show-to-a-customer by the end of a pre-defined length of time (generally in one week to one month’s time).
  • Daily Stand Up – This is a quick meeting (no longer than 15 minutes) for the team to connect and answer the following three questions:
    • What did I do yesterday to help the goals of the team?
    • What am I going to do today to help the goals of the team?
    • Where am I stuck or “blocked”?
  • Sprint Review – This meeting is a chance for the Development Team to show what they’ve built, get customer feedback, and discuss any changes that could impact the work going forward.
  • Sprint Retrospective – This meeting allows the Scrum Team to get together by themselves and discuss improvements to be put enacted in the next sprint.

What are the Scrum Artifacts?

Last, a Scrum project produces three products, called artifacts:

  • Product Backlog – This is a giant prioritized list of everything that needs to be delivered for a project. When a product has not yet been released, it will be made up entirely of requirements. Once a product has been released, it may also contain enhancements, bug fixes, etc. The stuff at the top is what’s deemed most important, so it’s what the team works to deliver first.
  • Sprint Backlog – This is a much smaller backlog that contains the items the Development Team will complete as part of just this one sprint.
  • Product Increment – This describes the pieces of product delivered by the team.

Sounds simple, right? The concepts absolutely are. However, getting really good at the rules takes time (expect some weeping and gnashing of teeth along the way), but sticking with it over the long term is worth the payoff.

NOTE: If you’re going to say you’re “doing Scrum” you must be playing by all the rules of the game. It’s like saying you’re playing football, but you’re changing critical rules (using a net instead of a goal post, assigning different points or penalties for different actions, etc.). You’re either playing football or you’re playing a new game you’ve made up. That’s completely fine, and maybe something you should pitch on Shark Tank, but it’s not football - and a Waterfall-Scrum hybrid isn't Scrum.

So, to recap: think of Agile as an organizational mindset to aspire to and Scrum as the tools and techniques that a team can use to work toward that new mindset and, ultimately, organizational success.


 Need A Quick Overview?
Watch Erika review the differences in this short explainer.