Scrum: Framework, not methodology

Scrum is not a methodology

Scrum has no exhaustive and formal prescriptions on how to design and plan the behavior of all software development actors against time, let alone how these designs and plans must be documented and stored. Scrum has no rules for upfront predictions of document types and deliverables to be produced or the time of their production. Instead of installing and thriving on hand-overs, toll gates and control meetings like software development methodologies typically do, Scrum removes them as a major source of delays and waste.

Methodologies are composed of stringent and mandatory sequences of processes and procedures, implementing predefined algorithms. As such, methodologies tend to replace the creativity, autonomy and thinking of people with components like phases, tasks, must-do practices, techniques and tools. As long as the methodology is being followed everyone feels safe, because they are formally covered, even in the absence of working results. Methodologies depend on high degrees of predictability, otherwise the preset algorithms fail.

Scrum is the opposite of a big collection of interwoven mandatory components. Scrum is not a methodology. Scrum implements the scientific method of empiricism. Scrum replaces a programmed algorithmic approach with a heuristic one, with respect for people and self-organization to deal with unpredictability and solving complex problems.

Is Scrum a process?

If Scrum is a process, it is certainly not a repeatable process. That’s often a challenge to explain, because the term ‘process’ typically invokes algorithmic predictable steps, repeatable actions and enforceable top-down control; the sort of expectations for a… methodology.

Scrum is not a commanding process. If referred to as a ‘process’, then Scrum is a servant process. What works best for all involved players, their working process, emerges from the use of Scrum. The players discover the work required to close the gap between an inspected intermediate result and an envisioned outcome. Scrum is a process that helps surface the real process, structures and a way of working that are continuously adapted to the actual context and current circumstances. Therefore we prefer to call Scrum a… framework.

Scrum is a framework

Scrum as a framework describes roles and rules upon principles that help and facilitate people in a low-prescriptive way. The Scrum Guide holds the definitive description of these base rules of the game. The prescriptions are minimal, but every single one of them addresses a common dysfunction of software development.

Over the nearly 20 years of Scrum, the rules of Scrum, as captured in the Scrum Guide, have gradually evolved, with small functional updates and releases. The prescriptions of Scrum, what needs to be in place to have the full benefits of Scrum, becomes more and more focused on emphasizing ‘what’ is expected in developing complex products over instructing ‘how’ to do it.

A good illustration of such an evolution is the elimination of burndown charts from the Scrum framework as mandatory (the ‘how’). This obligation however has been replaced by the explicit expectation that progress on the mandatory Scrum artefacts, the Product Backlog and the Sprint Backlog, is visualized (the ‘what’). The form or format of the visualization is no longer prescribed, thereby turning burndown charts into a non-mandatory, but still good practice; a good way to play the game suitable in many situations.

Yes, it’s Scrum if the Backlogs exist and a visualization of their progress is available, accessible and clear. This may be a burndown chart with open effort. It may also be a burnup chart in value. It may be a Cumulative Flow Diagram. It may be as simple as a Scrum board.

The Scrum framework leaves different options and tactics to play the game, ways that are at any time adopted to the context and circumstances. The Scrum core values give direction to the actions, the behavior and the additions to the framework. Upon that core, in a ScrumAnd way of thinking many opportunities emerge. Have a look at some illustrations of ScrumAnd.

9 thoughts on “Scrum: Framework, not methodology

  1. […] Scrum emerged in the early ’90s from the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They formalised and turned their way of working into a cohesive set of rules and roles for complex product development, that was formally presented as “Scrum” to the public for the first time in 1995. As the co-creators of Scrum are signatories of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the Agile values and principles underpin the Scrum framework. […]

  2. Nice read!

    I am an old-school self-made programmer. Today at work, a colleague-programmer made a similar statement “about scrum not being a (software development) methodology”. Given my background as an amateur of philosophy, I was confused. I googled about it and landed on your excellent writing.

    Now, I was pretty sure that what I knew about scrum – I know just a little, I admit – all fits in, what I understood is “methodology” (philosophical). So I re-read about “methodology” on After, I still believe “scrum” DOES fit the philosophical term “methodology”. So, I am afraid that, at least in a philosophical context, I must disagree with you.

    But OK, we are speaking about software development, not living in the ancient world of philosophy. So I took the time to read about methodology in that context as well : Please do take a look at that article, under section “As an approach” … it says “… may also refer to an approach used to apply the software development methodology framework. Specific approaches include … 1990s … Scrum …” (!) Really. Would you reconsider? Or pick up the fight at Wikipedia?

    Anyway, I loved your writing about the framework, and hope certainly to read more on your blog. Please excuse me, for being both an amateur in programming and an amateur in philosophy ;-)

    Yet another positive: I will finally start reading one of the books that is on my list for years: “Discourse on the Method”, by Descartes. In fact, I will get in my car and listen to it: Now.



    • Hi Rik, thanks for the feedback. I have no plans to start fighting Wikipedia, and it doesn’t look like I have to, as you grasp my line of thinking (in why we prefer to call Scrum a ‘framework’). Enjoy your philosophical discoveries.

  3. Vishal Somal

    One of the best works that I have read that explains the general view that people casually take by referring ‘Scrum method’ or ‘Scrum process’…

    • Thank you, Vishal. It is the essence of the beauty of Scrum: discovery, learning, improvement, people. Much more than seeing Scrum as a way to better ‘deliver’ IT projects.

  4. I totally agree! Nice read! It always makes me shiver when people talk about the SCRUM Methodolgy. :-)

  5. Nice one to read again, as it usually is :-) I’ll be sharing it

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