Very often the term agile and scrum are used interchangeably by many of us. However, by definition, you should know that they are different. Agile is a mindset or a way of working that focuses on adaptive approaches and continue improvement practices to deliver value to the end-user. It only contains mainly 4 values and 12 principles. There are many frameworks that can be used to guide organisations and teams to follow the “Agile mindset” and one of the most commonly used frameworks is Scrum.
The concept of Scrum was developed in the early 1990s by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. They published the first version of Scrum Guide in 2010 officially with the goal to help people worldwide understand Scrum. The Scrum guide has evolved since the first introduction with minor functional updates. The latest version was published in 2020.
The conventional project management approach also known as the “waterfall approach”, focuses on a linear-sequential lifecycle project management approach, whereby each stage needs to be completed before moving to the next throughout the project lifecycle. Thus, when dealing with project that have many uncertainties, the waterfall approach may not be the most suitable approach.
The Agile way of working focuses on iterative and incremental delivery that allows detailed requirements to be defined later as solution evolves and feedback loops are incorporated throughout the project lifecycle.
The straightforward answer to the question is no, as it depends on the circumstances. In some cases, the Waterfall approach may work better especially when there is very little uncertainty about the delivery or project and how to deliver it. If there are many uncertainties, the best approach among the two would be Agile, as dealing with more complex delivery requires an empirical and incremental way of working. Below is the comparison between the two different approaches and when to use them.
Scrum can be used when dealing with projects that have uncertainties in terms of the project scope regardless of the nature of the project (IT or non-IT). Its practices, techniques, and concepts guide teams to work in an incremental and iterative manner which provides transparency, flexibility, quick delivery and adaptive learning. Those are the important elements that can help to manage complex projects with many uncertainties.
Scrum is founded on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism states that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed instead of intuition and feelings. Lean thinking focuses on the concept of reducing “waste” and focuses on the essentials that actually bring value.
Iterative way of working is to revisit previously worked-on process using feedback to make it better with each cycle/delivery. Incremental delivery is the approach of delivering work “piece-by-piece” and realising value with each delivery. When combined, the Scrum team can deliver value faster with incremental delivery and learn from feedback to further improve the solution as it evolves, thus meeting the requirements of the end-user. The emphasis on iterative and incremental development can help to optimize predictability and control risk. This unique approach is one of the reasons why Scrum is effective when it comes to managing uncertain projects.