Scrum: An Agile Development Favorite

When it comes to agile software development methodologies -- such as Extreme Programming , Scrum, New Methodology, Dynamic System Development, Lean and others -- it often seems as though Extreme Programming grabs most of the headlines. But as far as Victor and Laszlow Szalvay are concerned, Scrum has emerged as the most popular lightweight method, and they say they've got the numbers to prove it.

The Szalvay brothers, who are CTO and president, respectively, of Danube Technologies, had been in the "agile trenches" for about five years working as consultants when they came to the conclusion that Scrum is the most effective "sub-method" among agile approaches. "We weren't a product company at that time," said Victor Szalvay. "But we were seeing that this Scrum stuff really works, and that it was taking off. And so we made a commitment to that method and released a free product purely focused on Scrum."

Released in 2007, ScrumWorks is a free, agile-process automation tool. Szalvay said the on-site-installed system made its way into the enterprise quietly, as agile development gained popularity among corporate coders. "It was a stealth, way-under-the-radar type of approach," he said. "But people liked it and kept asking us for more features."

The Bellevue, Wash.-based company soon released a commercial version, called ScrumWorks Pro. Szalvay said that Danube's ScrumWorks Pro and ScrumWorks Basic (the free version) are now among the most widely licensed agile development tool sets; the company claims more than 85,000 registered active users of the products worldwide. The company also teachers the methodology through its ScrumCORE training courses. The training is most popular, he said, in Finland and Denmark.

Danube has just launched a new version of its commercial product. ScrumWorks Pro 3.1 is a major release, Szalvay said, with such new features as improved collaboration and enterprise reporting capabilities within the desktop client, and enhanced customized visibility via the Web client, he said.

Agile software development methodologies (also known as lightweight methods) differ considerably from traditional approaches, such as the waterfall method. They're based on a few rules and practices, all of which are relatively easy to follow. They emphasize individuals and interactions over processes, and working software over documentation. There's an actual agile manifesto.

"Agile has become kind of a stale term," Szalvay said, "because its meaning has been diluted by buzz. Everyone in the industry is 'agile' now, without necessarily having implemented one of these specific methods. Scrum, on the other hand, has been shepherded and protected by a core of practitioners. The Scrum Alliance has been a strong advocate, keeping it under control in terms of its implementation. The other methods don't have that core support."

The Scrum Alliance is a non-profit organization focused on the promotion, education and development of the Scrum agile methodology and related practices. The group describes the methodology as "an agile framework" that structures development in cycles of work called "sprints." Sprints are iterations of work lasting between two and four weeks. During each sprint, dev teams work from a prioritized list of customer requirements, called "user stories," which helps to ensure that the features developed first are of the highest value to the customer. The result of each sprint is what the Alliance calls "a potentially shippable product."

The Alliance has certified ScrumMasters for hundreds of companies, from IBM to John Deere.

"Scrum" is a Rugby term, which two Harvard Business School professors used in 1986 to describe an approach to new product development hat emphasized speed and flexibility. It was later adapted to software development by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, and later Mike Beedle.

Szalvay explains Scrum's growing enterprise popularity this way: "There's a strong ROI message in Scrum," he said. "It addresses the business side, because it focuses on constantly prioritizing for return on investment. Yes, there are iterations, just like you see in XP or even RUP (Rational Unified Process), but it's an incremental process as well. You're turning out potentially shippable product with each iteration. And the method allows for adaptation to emerging business realities, because at the end of each sprint you can readjust your plan if the business dictates. This is very powerful for companies that don't want to shoot off an arrow and hope that it hits the bull's eye six months later."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].