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Learning something new can be a lot of fun as you discover and apply new ideas. But it can also be intimidating, especially when there is a lot of new jargon to learn and use correctly. 

So you might be wondering, is Scrum hard to learn?

Scrum feels like it has its own language at first, but the core concepts are actually quite simple. Scrum is easy to learn but hard to master. It sounds a bit cliche, but it holds true. Let’s break it down.

Scrum is easy to learn.

Getting certified as a CSM (Certified Scrum Master) is way easier than getting certified as a PMP (Project Management Professional). Compared to traditional project management approaches, Scum is much simpler. This simplicity is a strength that allows the team to stay agile and adapt when they encounter complexity and uncertainty.

Scrum is easy to learn but hard to master

Let’s take a quick look at what it means to learn Scrum. I’ll list out the core concepts, the roles, the rhythms, and the artifacts.

You’ve got the three core concepts (also called “pillars”) of Scrum.

  1. Visibility
  2. Evaluation. Also called “Inspection.”
  3. Adaptation

There are three roles within the Scrum team.

  1. Scrum Master
  2. Product Owner
  3. Development Team

Scrum works on a rhythm or cadence of meetings that keep the team in sync and allows them to adapt as things change. There are five meetings to learn.

  1. Daily Scrum (also called the standup)
  2. Backlog Refinement
  3. Sprint Planning
  4. Sprint Review
  5. Retrospective

Scrum also has some artifacts, which are just the tools or processes Scrum uses. 

  1. The backlog
  2. Product Backlog Items (PBIs)
  3. Definition of Done
  4. User Stories
  5. Points
  6. Velocity
  7. Increment

That’s it. Once you understand those concepts, you know the key elements of Scrum. But learning to practice Scrum is a bit more of an art.

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Scrum is hard to master.

You’ve learned all the concepts and taught them to your team. Now you’re ready to start practicing Scrum. What could be so hard about that? 

There are three areas I see teams encounter friction as they begin to implement Scrum.

  1. Translating Scrum to their context.
  2. Learning new power dynamics in Scrum
  3. Teaching Scrum to the organization.

Translating Scrum to your context

This obstacle is primarily for those teams not developing software. Scrum originated as the software development community adopted lean manufacturing concepts from Toyota. Because of this context, most Scrum training and materials are created for teams writing code.

You may have to do some translation if you’re not developing software. I had to do some translating as I led a creative department through the process of adopting Scrum. The same would be true if you apply Scrum to marketing or content creation teams. You’re starting to see some resources produced for other disciplines, but software development still dominates the space. This reality is actually why I created my “What is Scrum?” guide. I had so many people asking for non-software-based resources to learn Scrum.

the team learns Scrum faster than the leadership.

Some translation work might just be swapping words like “code” for “copy.” It will likely also include translating examples of how the work gets done. You may have to figure out questions like, “what does a user story look like for a marketing strategy or graphic design?” This task doesn’t rest solely on you. The team designs how work gets done, so your part may just be facilitating that new learning together. 

Learning new power dynamics in Scrum

Scrum is not a top-down framework. The Scrum Master is not the boss, and they master Scrum, not the Scrum team. In many teams and organizations, this will be a substantial shift. As I’ve worked with teams preparing to implement Scrum, I hear comments like, “how will we know if they're getting their work done?” or “somebody has to be in charge, who makes the decision at the end of the day?”

Scrum is hard for some leaders to practice because it’s hard not to be in control. But let’s be honest here. Control is an illusion, and it’s an illusion we’re willing to buy into because it seems to address our fears. I’ve found that if we do the work of identifying our fears, Scrum often has a better answer for those fears than top-down control does.

Many of the fears I hear from people involve leaders not trusting the teams to do their work, and Scrum addresses this fear quite well. Because visibility is the core concept in Scrum, every day during the daily Scrum, team members share the progress they are making, the problems they are facing, and what they will do next. The daily scrum provides so much more visibility into a team's work than almost any traditional manager has. 

Control is an illusion, and it’s an illusion we’re willing to buy into because it seems to address our fears.

At the end of a sprint, the team delivers finished work during the sprint review. This event is another moment where progress and quality are extremely visible and are being honestly evaluated. Again, this will be a higher level of accountability for most teams than they have experienced in the past.

Another shift that takes some getting used to is who owns getting work done. In Scrum, the team is responsible for all the work selected during sprint planning. So if a product backlog item doesn’t get completed, that’s not on one person; it’s on the team. There is a collective accountability that brings in a collective ownership. This shared ownership is more challenging in highly individualistic cultures.

Practicing Scrum is usually a shift from how things have been done in the past. But given time to learn and grow, teams usually become significantly healthier and more effective. 

Teaching Scrum to the organization

The last challenge is because the team learns Scrum faster than the leadership. We just looked at how Scrum involves learning new practices and even changing the culture and power dynamics of how work gets done. Because the Scrum team is in it every day, they tend to make this shift within a few sprints. But the rest of the organization can lag behind.

It's common to see leaders expect to come in a tell the team what to do and how to do it. They just see this as how things work and don’t understand how it undermines the team's agency and creativity. 

Scrum is hard for some leaders to practice because it’s hard not to be in control.

If you're a new Scrum Master in an organization new to Scrum, then a key responsibility you have is facilitating organizational learning. You’ll want to start with those closest to the Scrum team

Facilitating this kind of learning can come through workshops, slide decks and lots of conversations. My What is Scrum? Guide is a product of those many, many conversations. I had many leaders asking if there were something they could read that would help them understand Scrum. I tried using various other guides, books, or training, but many felt too general, too detailed, or too software specific. So like Goldilocks, I was looking for that resource that was “just right.” You can read through the guide online or download it.

To learn more about Scrum, 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.

If you want more, I also offer a few free coaching sessions each month. 

Scale Your Impact

What if it took the same amount of work to engage and serve 100 people as it would for 10? Let’s map out your workflows and processes and then adapt them in order to impact others at scale.

Schedule a Free Coaching Appointment

This post is part of an upcoming guide called Everyday Scrum? A Guide for Everyday People to Learn Scrum where I will explore and explain the key elements of Scrum.

Perhaps you have heard about Scrum but are not exactly sure what it is. Or maybe you know some about it but are not sure how to apply it, especially outside a software development context.

You find my my current and future guides on everyday.design. Signup to be the first to know when new guides are released.

There are a lot of new terms when learning the Scrum essentials, and this post probably introduced you to some of the vocabulary.

If you want to learn more about specific Scrum topics, here are a few to choose from or check out the scrum FAQs.

Applying Scrum

Agile in Everyday Life

Scrum Roles

Scrum Meetings

Scrum General Topics

Scrum Advanced Topics

To learn more about Scrum, 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.

FAQs

Learning to apply Scrum

How to choose between Scrum and Kanban?

Scrum and Kanban have many similarities, and which one is right for you will depend on your context.

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.

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.

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?

If you’re practicing Scrum, you’re working in an Agile way.

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.

How to use Scrum

Why use Scrum?

Scrum is vital for teams to deliver value amidst changing circumstances.

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 can fail when there is a substantial mismatch between organizational culture and the Scrum values.

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?

When you have a dedicated team, a singular product and are facing uncertainty.

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.

What is Scrum?

What is the definition of scrum?

Scrum is a team-based framework to increase work visibility allowing for regular evaluation and timely adjustments.

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?

The typical response is Scrum is easy to understand but hard to practice.

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?

The term was first used in project management in 1986 but the first Scrum project wasn't until 1993.

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?

There are many, check the glossary.

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.