Scrum vs Traditional Project Management

December 2, 2013

Traditional project management emphasizes on conducting detailed upfront planning for the project with emphasis on fixing the scope, cost and schedule – and managing those parameters. Whereas, Scrum encourages data-based, iterative decision making in which the primary focus is on delivering products that satisfy customer requirements.

To deliver the greatest amount of value in the shortest amount of time, Scrum promotes prioritization and Time-boxing over fixing the scope, cost and schedule of a project. An important feature of Scrum is self-organization, which allows the individuals who are actually doing the work to estimate and take ownership of tasks.

Following table summarizes many of the differences between Scrum and traditional project management:

Parameters Scrum Traditional Project Management
Emphasis is on People Processes
Documentation Minimal – only as required Comprehensive
Process style Iterative Linear
Upfront planning Low High
Prioritization of Requirements Based on business value and regularly updated Fixed in the Project Plan
Quality assurance Customer centric Process centric
Organization Self-organized Managed
Management style Decentralized Centralized
Change Updates to Productized Product Backlog Formal Change Management System
Leadership Collaborative, Servant Leadership Command and control
Performance measurement Business value Plan conformity
Return on Investment Early/throughout project life End of project life
Customer involvement High throughout the project Varies depending on the project lifecycle

In traditionally managed projects, Change management is closely related to Configuration Management. The tolerances will be defined within which the Project Manager can manage the day-to-day activities and decisions of the project. The basis for considering the changes will be their magnitude of variation from a baseline value. Also, it needs approval from several people. Responding to change becomes extremely complicated since you need to do lot of documentation and seek approvals.

Change in Scrum works very differently as compared with Traditional Project Management. Scrum is a simple framework which believes in responding quickly to changes in business environment and the ability to respond to changes is one of the reasons that made Scrum popular. The Scrum framework is highly flexible and enables managing changes effectively and efficiently. The Product Owner is responsible for getting the Product Backlog ready and prioritizing the items in the Product Backlog. The Scrum Master and the development team will use the Product Backlog as the basis for planning the Sprints based on the priority of the items listed.

In complex projects, the customers may not have a concrete idea regarding what the end product should look like and what are their actual requirements. Whenever there is a problem or new requirement that needs to be addressed immediately and mandates a change affecting the current Sprint, the Product Owner terminates the Sprint, with approval from relevant stakeholders. Once terminated, the Sprint will be re-planned and restarted to incorporate the new requirements.

However, if the problem or change is not major and does not warrant a change within the current Sprint, the change will be added to the Prioritized Product Backlog and incorporated into the planning for a subsequent Sprint. Scrum projects are completed in an iterative manner delivering value throughout the project lifecycle. In large projects, various cross-functional teams work in parallel across Sprints, delivering potentially shippable solutions at the end of each sprint.


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