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Ian Wilson
Ian Wilson

The Elements of Scrum: A Practical and Engaging Guide to Agile Software Development

The Elements of Scrum: A Book Review

If you are looking for a book that explains the basics of scrum in a clear, concise, and engaging way, you might want to check out The Elements of Scrum by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson. Written by a top scrum trainer and a novelist, this book demonstrates the principles, practices, and pitfalls of the scrum framework through lively storytelling and vividly told examples. In this article, I will review the book and highlight its main features and benefits for anyone who wants to learn or improve their scrum skills.

The Elements of Scrum Chris Sims

What is Scrum and Why is it Important?

Scrum is a popular agile methodology for software development that focuses on delivering valuable products to customers in short iterations called sprints. Scrum aims to maximize customer satisfaction, team collaboration, quality, and adaptability by following a set of values, roles, events, and artifacts. Scrum is important because it helps teams cope with complex and changing requirements, deliver faster and more frequently, improve feedback and communication, and foster innovation and creativity.

The History and Origins of Scrum

The book starts by giving a brief overview of the history and origins of scrum, comparing it to traditional waterfall methodologies that were prevalent in the software industry before the 1990s. The authors explain how scrum was inspired by empirical process control theory, lean manufacturing principles, rugby metaphors, and Japanese management practices. They also introduce some of the pioneers and influencers of scrum and agile, such as Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Hirotaka Takeuchi, Ikujiro Nonaka, Kent Beck, Martin Fowler, and others.

The Agile Manifesto and its Principles

The next section of the book covers the Agile Manifesto and its principles, which are the foundation of scrum and other agile methods. The authors explain how the manifesto was created in 2001 by a group of software practitioners who wanted to find better ways of developing software. They also break down each of the four values and twelve principles of the manifesto and illustrate them with real-world examples. For instance, they show how valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools can lead to better collaboration and motivation; how valuing working software over comprehensive documentation can lead to faster feedback and validation; how valuing customer collaboration over contract negotiation can lead to better understanding and alignment; and how valuing responding to change over following a plan can lead to more flexibility and agility.

The Scrum Framework and its Roles

The core of the book explains every aspect of the scrum framework in detail, starting with the three roles that make up a scrum team: the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team.

The Product Owner

The product owner is the person who represents the voice of the customer and the business. The product owner is responsible for defining, prioritizing, and communicating the product vision and requirements to the scrum team. The product owner also manages the product backlog, which is a list of features, bugs, enhancements, and other items that need to be done to deliver a valuable product. The product owner collaborates with the scrum team and other stakeholders to ensure that the product backlog is clear, up-to-date, and aligned with the customer needs and expectations.

The Scrum Master

The scrum master is the person who facilitates the scrum process and ensures that the scrum team follows the scrum values and principles. The scrum master is not a manager or a leader, but a servant-leader and a coach. The scrum master helps the product owner with the product backlog management, helps the development team with self-organization and cross-functionality, and helps the whole team with removing impediments and resolving conflicts. The scrum master also organizes and moderates the scrum events, such as the sprint planning, the daily scrum, the sprint review, and the sprint retrospective.

The Development Team

The development team is the group of people who do the actual work of building and delivering the product. The development team is self-organizing, cross-functional, and accountable. The development team decides how to do the work, what skills and tools to use, and how to collaborate and coordinate with each other. The development team also decides how much work to commit to in each sprint, based on their capacity and velocity. The development team works on one sprint at a time, producing a potentially releasable increment of working software at the end of each sprint.

The Scrum Events and Artifacts

The book also describes the five events and three artifacts that constitute the scrum process. The events are time-boxed meetings that help the scrum team plan, execute, inspect, and adapt their work. The artifacts are tangible outputs that help the scrum team track, measure, and communicate their progress.

The Sprint

The sprint is the main unit of work in scrum. It is a fixed-length period of time (usually one to four weeks) during which the scrum team works on a subset of the product backlog items that they have agreed to deliver. The sprint has a goal, a scope, and a duration that cannot be changed once it starts. The sprint ends with a sprint review and a sprint retrospective, where the scrum team inspects their work and their process and identifies ways to improve.

The Sprint Planning

The sprint planning is an event that happens at the beginning of each sprint, where the scrum team decides what to work on in the next sprint. The sprint planning has two parts: one for defining the sprint goal and selecting the product backlog items that support it; and one for breaking down those items into smaller tasks and estimating their effort. The output of the sprint planning is the sprint backlog, which is a list of tasks that need to be done to complete the selected product backlog items.

The Daily Scrum

The daily scrum is an event that happens every day during the sprint, where the development team synchronizes their work and plans their next steps. The daily scrum is a short (15 minutes or less) meeting that follows a simple format: each team member answers three questions: what did I do yesterday? what will I do today? what impediments do I face? The daily scrum helps the development team monitor their progress, identify risks and dependencies, and coordinate their actions.

The Sprint Review

The sprint review is an event that happens at the end of each sprint, where the scrum team presents their work to the product owner and other stakeholders. The sprint review is an informal meeting that aims to collect feedback and validate assumptions. The development team demonstrates what they have done during the sprint, showing how it meets the acceptance criteria and contributes to the product goal. The product owner checks if the work meets their expectations and updates the product backlog accordingly. The stakeholders provide comments, suggestions, and requests for future features or improvements.

The Sprint Retrospective

The sprint retrospective is an event that happens after the sprint review, where the scrum team reflects on their performance and identifies ways to improve. The sprint retrospective is a collaborative meeting that follows a simple structure: what went well? what went wrong? what can we do better? The scrum team discusses what they learned from their successes and failures, what they enjoyed or disliked about their work environment or process, and what they want to change or keep for future sprints. The output of the sprint retrospective is a list of actions that the team agrees to implement in the next sprint to improve their process.

The Product Backlog

The product backlog is an artifact that represents the ordered list of all the work that needs to be done to create and evolve the product. The product backlog is owned and managed by the product owner, who constantly updates and prioritizes it based on the customer feedback, market changes, business value, and technical dependencies. The product backlog contains product backlog items, which can be features, user stories, bugs, enhancements, or any other deliverable that adds value to the product. Each product backlog item has a description, an estimate, a priority, and an acceptance criteria.

The Sprint Backlog

The sprint backlog is an artifact that represents the plan for the current sprint. The sprint backlog is owned and managed by the development team, who selects the product backlog items that they can complete within the sprint time-box and commits to delivering them as a done increment. The sprint backlog also contains the tasks that the development team identifies as necessary to complete each product backlog item. Each task has a description, an estimate, a status, and an owner.

The Increment

The increment is an artifact that represents the sum of all the product backlog items completed during a sprint and all previous sprints. The increment is a potentially releasable piece of working software that meets the definition of done and the sprint goal. The increment is inspected by the scrum team and the stakeholders during the sprint review and provides feedback for future product backlog refinement.

The Benefits and Challenges of Scrum

The book also discusses the benefits and challenges of using scrum for software development. Some of the benefits include:

  • Higher customer satisfaction and loyalty

  • Faster delivery and feedback cycles

  • Improved quality and reliability

  • Reduced waste and risk

  • Increased collaboration and empowerment

  • Enhanced innovation and creativity

  • More fun and enjoyment

Some of the challenges include:

  • Changing mindsets and behaviors

  • Dealing with uncertainty and complexity

  • Managing expectations and conflicts

  • Aligning vision and goals

  • Balancing flexibility and discipline

  • Adopting technical practices and tools

  • Scaling scrum across multiple teams and products

How the Book Teaches Scrum through Storytelling and Examples

One of the distinctive features of this book is how it teaches scrum through storytelling and examples. The book uses a narrative style that engages the reader and makes them feel like they are part of a scrum team. The book also uses real-world scenarios and solutions that illustrate how scrum works in practice and how to overcome common challenges.

A Week in the Life of a Scrum Team

The book opens with a blow-by-blow description of a week in the life of a scrum team, showing how they go through each scrum event and artifact in a realistic setting. The reader gets to know the characters, their personalities, their roles, their interactions, their problems, their decisions, their actions, their outcomes, and their emotions. The reader also gets to see how scrum values and principles are applied in everyday situations.

Real-World Scenarios and Solutions

The book also includes several real-world scenarios and solutions that demonstrate how scrum teams deal with various issues and dilemmas that arise during software development. For example, how to handle changing requirements, how to estimate work, how to test software, how to handle technical debt, how to collaborate with other teams, how to handle stakeholder feedback, how to resolve conflicts, how to improve performance, etc. The book provides practical advice and tips on how to use scrum effectively in different contexts.

Supporting Technical Practices for Scrum Teams

The book concludes with a section on supporting technical practices for scrum teams, such as Test Driven Development (TDD), Pair Programming, such as Test Driven Development (TDD), Pair Programming, Continuous Integration (CI), and others. These practices are not part of scrum, but they can help scrum teams deliver high-quality software faster and more reliably. The book explains what these practices are, how they work, and why they are beneficial for scrum teams.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, The Elements of Scrum is a great book for anyone who wants to learn the basics of scrum or refresh their knowledge. The book is easy to read, informative, and entertaining. It covers all the essential aspects of scrum and provides practical examples and tips. It also introduces some supporting technical practices that can enhance the scrum process. The book is suitable for beginners and experienced practitioners alike, as well as for anyone who works with scrum teams, such as product owners, stakeholders, managers, or customers.

If you are interested in reading this book, you can find it on Amazon or Google Books. You can also visit the authors' website for more resources and information about scrum and agile.


Here are some frequently asked questions about the book and scrum:

  • Q: How long is the book and how long does it take to read it?

  • A: The book is 184 pages long and it takes about 3 hours to read it.

  • Q: Who are the authors and what are their credentials?

  • A: Chris Sims is a certified scrum trainer and agile coach who has been helping teams improve their happiness and productivity since 2000. He has made a living in roles such as scrum master, product owner, engineering manager, developer, musician, and auto mechanic. Hillary Louise Johnson is an author and journalist who has written on innovation, technology, and pop culture for Inc Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. She has also drafted numerous technology patents and written a novel.

  • Q: What are some other books that are similar to this one?

  • A: Some other books that are similar to this one are Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by the same authors; Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process by Kenneth S. Rubin; User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn; The Scrum Field Guide: Practical Advice for Your First Year by Mitch Lacey; and The Art of Agile Development by James Shore and Shane Warden.

  • Q: How can I learn more about scrum and agile?

  • A: There are many online resources and communities where you can learn more about scrum and agile. Some of them are, Scrum Alliance, Agile Alliance, Mountain Goat Software, InfoQ, Agile Zone, Stack Overflow, and many others.

  • Q: How can I apply scrum to my own projects or teams?

  • A: The best way to apply scrum to your own projects or teams is to start small and experiment. You can use the book as a guide and follow the steps of the scrum process. You can also use some tools and templates that can help you organize your work, such as Jira, Trello, Asana, Google Docs, GitHub, etc. You can also seek feedback from your customers, stakeholders, peers, mentors, coaches, or trainers. The most important thing is to inspect and adapt your process based on your results and learning.



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