Agile vs. Scrum in Project Management: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are many methods of project management you can use when working as part of a product development team. Two popular methods are the agile methodology and one of its implementations, the scrum framework, which both allow teams to respond to changes more quickly than traditional project management methods. While the two systems are similar in many ways, there are also some key differences that can help you determine whether to implement a scrum framework or another type of agile methodology for your team.

In this article, we define the two project management strategies, explain some key similarities and differences of agile versus scrum and provide some helpful tips for determining when to use these frameworks.

What is agile?

Agile is a project management methodology that emphasizes continuous development and testing throughout product development. In this methodology, teams work together to produce incremental changes or improvements to a product while receiving consistent feedback from customers or end users. It's a highly flexible method that can help teams manage changes to product requirements throughout various development phases. In the agile framework, the goal for teams is to deliver high-quality software with each iteration of the product. Teams work together to ensure the product aligns with user requirements and business goals.

Related: Using the Agile Project Management Methodology

What is scrum?

Scrum is a specific type of agile methodology that divides the product development process into smaller parts, known as sprints, with clearly defined deadlines for each phase. After each sprint, teams deliver their work to the client for feedback. These sprints, which typically last between one and three weeks, help the team complete complex development projects in shorter time frames than traditional project management methods. The goal of the scrum framework is for teams to produce product deliverables quickly while remaining flexible to changes in product requirements.

Related: What Is Scrum Project Management? A Definitive Guide

Agile vs. scrum

The agile and scrum methodologies have many similarities, but there are also key differences between these project management frameworks. Here's a comparison of the two methods in various areas:

Definition

Agile is a project management methodology that highlights the importance of an iterative approach to product development. There are various types of agile frameworks, including scrum, kanban and extreme programming (XP). Each type of agile methodology has a different set of rules for teams to follow. In scrum, teams focus on completing project phases, known as sprints, within a specific time frame. It's helpful to think of agile as a philosophy for developing products using a flexible approach, while scrum is one of various methods teams can use to implement agile principles.

Team members

All agile frameworks, including scrum, encourage teams to work together to meet the project goals. Some agile methodologies focus on collaboration among cross-functional teams, which may include clients, developers and other stakeholders, such as company executives. These teams usually have a project leader who oversees other team members and guides the project team to make progress toward the deliverables. In contrast, a scrum team has no distinct leader, and everyone works together on different product development priorities. There are usually three roles on scrum teams, which include:

  • Product owner: In scrum, the product owner is the person who explains their vision of a product to the team and helps them understand the business requirements of the project. They may prioritize the work for a project team to complete, but their primary role is to motivate team members to meet the goals and vision of the project.

  • Scrum master: This person acts as a coach for the scrum team to help them meet the project requirements. They oversee the scrum process, such as organizing team meetings and communicating with the product owner, but they have no authority over the other team members.

  • Team members: Scrum teams usually have five to eight members who work together on all phases of product development, including programming, design and testing. Everyone helps each other throughout each sprint to keep the project moving forward.

Read more: What Is a Scrum Team? Definition, Benefits and Roles

Delivery

In some agile frameworks, such as kanban, teams continuously deliver parts of the product, called iterations, throughout development. They continuously release those iterations to customers or users, which helps them collect feedback and make changes based on the public's response to the product. In contrast, teams using a scrum framework only deliver iterations at the end of each sprint. Scrum teams have daily or weekly meetings to discuss their progress and address potential problems, but they wait until the end of the sprint to implement new features or changes.

Key metrics

In agile frameworks, teams can use various metrics to measure their progress toward project goals. For example, the XP framework of agile methodology emphasizes continuous unit testing throughout development. In this type of testing, teams evaluate each individual part of a product to ensure it works as expected before moving onto the next feature. Teams working within this framework use unit testing to track their progress on project goals. In the scrum framework, speed is the primary metric for measuring a team's work. Each sprint has a deadline that teams work to meet, which motivates them to complete tasks quickly.

Response to changes

The agile methodology encourages teams to remain flexible to changes throughout development. The various types of agile frameworks acknowledge that product requirements may change after teams begin working on the project. Other agile frameworks, such as kanban, allow teams to make these changes continuously throughout a project. In the scrum framework, teams rarely address changes to product requirements until the end of their sprint. After they present their work to the product owner, they learn about changes to requirements and incorporate those into their next sprint. This process allows them to keep working quickly to produce deliverables.

Communication

Many agile frameworks encourage in-person communication between various teams, such as project managers and developers. This cross-functional collaboration can help team members understand how their work on the project contributes to the business objectives. The scrum framework also relies on communication, but it's typically limited to the scrum team. Members of the scrum team usually have short daily meetings where they review their work from the previous day, prepare for their next tasks and discuss potential solutions to challenges. These meetings may involve the product owner, though typically only the scrum master and team members attend.

Related: What Is a Scrum Meeting? Types and Tips

Tips for choosing scrum or another agile framework

Here are some tips to help you determine when to use the scrum framework versus another implementation of the agile methodology:

Determine your goals

It's important to establish the goals you have for a project to help you determine the optimal agile framework for your team. If you have a short time frame to complete the project, such as one month, the scrum framework can be a good choice because it encourages team members to do their work quickly to meet their deadlines for each sprint. The scrum framework also works well for complex or in-depth projects because it allows teams to divide various project phases into a series of smaller, more manageable parts.

Understand product requirements

After you determine the project goals, it's helpful to have a discussion with the client or key stakeholders about the product requirements and business objectives. This discussion can guide you in choosing an agile framework that can help teams reach those goals. Typically, the scrum framework can be helpful for projects with requirements that may change throughout development. Teams working under the scrum method can discuss those changes at the end of each sprint and adjust their work as needed to reflect the new requirements.

Consider team members

In the scrum framework, every team member has equal responsibilities for meeting the project goals. For this reason, it's helpful to use this framework when you have team members who are knowledgeable about each part of product development. For example, when working on a software application update, the scrum framework can be a good choice if each team member is familiar with programming and testing. If you have team members who specialize in a specific part of product development, such as design, it may be better to choose another agile framework that allows them to use their expertise more effectively.

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