Learn how to apply Scrum to any type of work.

Scrum for non-software projects

July 31, 2023
A woman using Scrum

Scrum is a robust framework for getting things done. Maybe you’re interested in using Scrum but wondering:

Will Scrum work with the kind of work I do? Do I need to customize it to make it work?

Most of the content written about Scrum assumes a software development context, but you can apply it to so many other types of work. This article will cover three essential topics to help you begin using Scrum in whatever kind of work you do.

  • Scrum can work outside software development.
  • The types of work you can apply Scrum to.
  • How to use Scrum in your context.
Everyday Scrum helps you navigate both learning and applying Scrum.

Scrum can work outside software development.

While Scrum does find its roots in software development, you can apply it to non-software projects too. I’ve used Scrum to lead creative media teams, branding projects, content creation, personal growth, and even homeschooling my kids.

These are three reasons I believe Scrum applies broadly.

  1. Scrum doesn’t prescribe much.
  2. Scrum invites evaluation and adaptation.
  3. Scrum creates a rhythm of work.

Scrum doesn’t prescribe much.

Scrum is a relatively simple framework. Some roles, events, and artifacts are critical, but there’s a lot of flexibility around implementing them.

  • If your team is small or just you, you can combine roles
  • If the environment around the work is volatile, you can have short one-week sprints
  • If the environment is more stable and the work progresses slowly, you could choose a two or three-week sprint. 

Either way, Scrum doesn’t prescribe you a schedule, but it forces you to create one.

Scrum invites evaluation and adaptation.

Each day work progress is evaluated, and the next steps are clarified. This rhythm allows the team to shift and adjust as needed. At the end of every sprint, during the retrospective, the team evaluates how they are working, where they can grow or what might need to change. 

You don’t have to get it perfect in the first sprint.

Evaluation is woven into the rhythm of Scrum. This cadence allows new teams to quickly adjust as they discover how Scrum can best serve them in their context. 

You should feel a huge sigh of relief knowing you don’t have to get it perfect in the first sprint. Getting started is vital. As the team works together, they can adapt as they grow.

Scrum creates a rhythm of work.

As I mentioned, Scrum doesn’t prescribe you a schedule, but it forces you to create one. There is a definite rhythm and cadence to Scrum that most teams find very helpful. 

Every kind of work benefits from clarity and focus. The Scrum rhythm provides clear expectations for:

  • what the team delivers.
  • who does what.
  • how progress is made. 

The events of Scrum each have a specific and clear purpose, and there are no meetings just for meeting's sake. 

When a sprint begins, there is a clear set of work to be done listed in the sprint backlog. During the sprint, no additional work can be added. This safeguard provides a protected time for the team to focus, not to be sabotaged by new and unclear requests. 

I’m not saying Scrum works great on every project, but don’t be afraid to try applying to a new space just because you haven’t heard of someone doing it before. 

The types of work you can apply Scrum to.

While you probably could try and apply Scrum to any type of work, there are some places is it will thrive and others where it will feel forced or even detrimental. 

Work considerations for applying Scrum.

Scrum takes an incremental and iterative approach, and this approach shines in uncertain or changing environments. Because scrum has a rhythm of evaluation and adaptation, how the product owner prioritizes the work can change as needed. 

If your work requires everything to be known before you begin, applying Scrum will likely feel forced. Constructing a bridge requires a commitment to finish according to the original plans and not change course halfway across the river, and it’s probably not going to be a good project for Scrum. 

However, most projects these days are not this rigid. 

If your work involves creating some kind of product or service, it will feel more natural to apply Scrum. Fields like media production or copywriting can be good examples.

But even if your work is less product or service oriented, remember that Scrum is about maximizing the value delivered. So if you lead a finance team, you could use Scrum to help your team continually evaluate what work needs to be done each sprint to deliver the most value to the organization and your customers.

Team considerations for applying Scrum.

Scrum assumes and really requires a collaborative team, and the whole team owns the completion of work in the backlog. There is an intentional shift from I to we as a team learns Scrum. 

You will want to evaluate the current level of trust in your team. Adopting Scrum might be more than the current team dynamics could handle if it's shallow. Even on a healthier team, the shift can be difficult at first but usually results in greater trust and collaboration than there was before.

Here are a couple of other team-related considerations:

  • Distributed teams. A lot of Scrum literature will talk about teams needing to be co-located, but it doesn’t have to be. Scheduling and collaboration become more complicated if the team spans over four time zones. I’ve led Scrum across multiple distributed teams, and the level of communication and collaboration significantly strengthened the community. 
  • Part-time teams. Scrum teams are usually full-time teams, and that setup is ideal. I have led Scrum on teams where no one was assigned full time to the project. The primary adjustment was to the cadence of the Scrum events. Over time, as we evaluated and adapted, we found a rhythm that fit.
  • No team at all. I’ve used Scrum on a team of one for many years, and I’ve applied it to my professional development and home renovation projects. In both cases, it helped me prioritize among the possible options. 

I’m continually experimenting to see how Scrum can help me and others get essential work done. Here are examples where I’ve applied Scrum to different kinds of projects.

Learn an agile way of working.

Are you ready to give it a try and apply Scrum to your work and your team? Remember, you don’t have to try to get it perfect the first time. Each sprint, you will grow and get better. 

Let’s look at a few steps to get started

  1. Assess your context.
  2. Learn the essentials.
  3. Phone a friend.
  4. Start simple and lightweight.
  5. Leverage the retros.

Assess your context.

Look back at the previous section to assess how Scrum will fit your team and type of work. You will also want to consider your leadership and the teams around you. When you begin to work differently, they will notice, and you’ll want them to understand and align with these changes. 

Learn the essentials.

The good news is Scrum isn’t overly complicated, but the bad news is most resources were written assuming the context of software development. This is why I’m creating a Getting Started with Scrum Guide, and it will teach you the transferable essentials of Scrum.

Phone a friend. 

When I took on implementing Scrum across a creative department with four different creative teams, I encountered some resistance to using it for video. One leader came and told me they had googled “Does Scrum work for video production” and read an article saying it doesn’t, so we would need to do something else.

So aside from being wary of “I read this on the internet” advice, I was also pretty confident Scrum could work for video production. But the reality was that I hadn’t done it yet, and I didn’t know anyone personally who had.

So I went to LinkedIn and searched for “Scrum and Video Production” and began reviewing people’s profiles to see if anyone seemed to have the experience I was looking for. I messaged a few of the people I found using the following message.

Hi ______. I’m a Scrum Master in the creative department of a large non-profit. This year is my first time applying Scrum to the work of video production, so I began looking for examples of others who have done this before.

Looking at your profile, it seems like you have experience and expertise in this area. I’d love to connect if you’re willing to give some guidance to someone earlier in the journey of applying agile/scrum in the area of video.

Not everyone responded, but a few did, which was all I needed. It was so helpful connecting with someone who has already been down the road I was on

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Most people are excited to help. (If messaging a stranger about Scrum feels intimidating, start with me, I'd love to hear what you're doing.)

Start simple and lightweight.

If starting Scrum still feels like too much, try using a Kanban board to organize your team’s shared work. It will increase awareness of what the team is working on. You could then introduce retros inviting the team to explore how to grow.

Leverage the retros.

You don’t have to have it all figured out before starting. You may need some help getting your team initially oriented but start with the expectation that you’ll learn a lot in the first few sprints and make necessary adjustments. 

Leaning Scrum for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. There are many new terms and concepts in Scrum.

Well we’re here to help.

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Action Plan

Next steps​ for applying Scrum.

We covered a lot. I hope this article has given you a vision of how Scrum could help you do the crucial work in your context. 

If you want to learn more about Scrum in general, check out my What is Scrum? A Guide for Everyday People to Learn Scrum. If you have more questions, please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Still not sure about your next step with Scrum? I offer a couple of free coaching sessions each month. You can signup for a free 30-minute coaching session, and we can work together to identify a good next step for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Scrum?

What is the definition of scrum?

Scrum is founded on three essential pillars leading teams to ask the following questions:

  1. How does this make things more visible? (Transparency)
  2. Where does this create space to evaluate? (Inspection)
  3. When does this encourage growth? (Adaptation)

Further explore the definition of scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Is Scrum hard to learn?

This is because Scrum’s simplicity makes learning easy, but Scrum truly changes how you work, and that adjustment can be difficult. It changes power dynamics and expectations within the team and between the team and the rest of the organization.

You can explore further is Scrum hard to learn, along with the pros and cons of Scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

When did Scrum start?

Scrum was initially used as a term related to project management in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their paper “New New Product Development Game” In the Harvard Business Review. The first recorded Scrum project came a little later in 1993 from Jeff Sutherland.

You can learn more about Scrum’s backstory. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What do all the scrum words mean?

Learning Scrum for the first time can be overwhelming. There are a lot of new terms and concepts in Scrum. I’ve listed the most common terms in a Scrum glossary.

How to use Scrum

Why use Scrum?

It forces clarity and prioritization, which provides the focus necessary for teams to be effective. Scrum embraces complexity and change by keeping many things simple and iteratively evaluating and adapting. 

You can learn more about why to use Scrum and three challenges Scrum solves. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

When does Scrum not work well?

Scrum isn’t always the best option for teams. Scrum can fail when there is a substantial mismatch between organizational culture and the Scrum values. It also depends on the nature of the work you do. If you work if very linear, predictable and tightly defined, you may not experience many benefits Scrum provides.

Find out more about aligning your organizational values with Scrum or how Scrum might fit in your context. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

How do I know when to use Scrum?

Scrum functions at its best when you have a dedicated team focused on developing a singular product. Its agility shines when there are time constraints combined with uncertainty. 

Explore the pros and cons of Scrum along with expectations vs. realities with Scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Learning to apply Scrum

How to choose between Scrum and Kanban?

Important factors include your team size and the type of work you do. Kanban is very process-oriented, so you should consider how defined, static, or long your process is? 

You can explore Scrum and other agile approaches. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

How does scrum help an organization?

Scrum forces clarity and prioritization, which are critical to organizational effectiveness. It provides a competitive edge by allowing teams to adapt as the market or priorities change. Teams operate more effectively because Scrum combines empowerment of the team members with alignment to top priorities.

Learn more about scrum’s impact on organizational culture. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Is scrum a methodology or a framework?

Scrum is more of a framework than a methodology, and it helps teams adhere to Agile principles and get stuff done. Scrum provides basic rules but doesn’t prescribe how to do the work. It provides principles, values, rules, and some core structure but still leaves a lot undefined.

Learn more about scrum as a framework. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What’s the difference between scrum and agile?

When people say “agile,” they usually refer to it as a mindset. Scrum is a framework for how to organize people and work in an agile way. If you’re practicing Scrum, you’re working in an Agile way.

Learn more about the relationship between scrum and agile. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Scrum design

What are the three pillars of Scrum?

Scrum is founded on three essential pillars, and each leads the team to ask a critical question.

  1. Transparency. How does this make things more visible?
  2. Inspection. Where does this create space to evaluate?
  3. Adaptation. When does this encourage growth?

Learn how to apply the three pillars of Scrum and then explore the most common terms in a Scrum glossary.

What are the values of Scrum?

There are five values critical to the practice of Scrum: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect.

  1. Commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team.
  2. Courage to do the right thing and work on challenging problems.
  3. Focus on the Sprint's work and the Scrum Team's goals.
  4. Open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work.
  5. Respect each other to be capable, independent people

Learn how to align Scrum values with your organization and then explore the most common terms in a Scrum glossary.

What is the sprint goal in scrum?

The sprint goal encapsulates the product owner’s vision into a concrete statement for the development team to measure the sprint against. The sprint goal provides a theme for the sprint’s work helping the team see how all the parts come together. 

Learn more about the role of the sprint goal in scrum and explore the essential Scrum glossary.

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