What in fact is Scrum?

(an attempt to know)

Francis Laleman
6 min readSep 27, 2022


crop circle art, Wiltshire, England, 2011

What is Scrum? Perhaps you have heard the word buzzing around and you have wondered. Or you are a Scrum practitioner, and people have asked you. We’ve all been there, not sure what and how to answer.

Of course, we have The Scrum Guide — a lovely, almost perfect little book describing just the basics. We could be of the stance that everything that’s in The Scrum Guide is Scrum. We all know that there are many things and practices that do not appear in The Scrum Guide, but have become common in relationship with Scrum. Yet, them not being in The Scrum Guide, these practices do not constitute the essence of Scrum. Perhaps they can help with Scrum, but they are not Scrum.

Jeff Sutherland with Ken Schwaber, 2017

The Scrum Guide is the (serially updated) work of Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, who first co-presented Scrum at the OOPSLA (Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications) Conference in 1995. From the beginning, Schwaber and Sutherland’s Scrum was positioned as a somewhat more practical, hands-on version of Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka’s The New New Product Development Game (1986). In this paper, which is even slimmer than the current Scrum Guide, the authors laid out a first version of Scrum — and they were also the first to coin the word in its new, extra-sports-environment context.

From interviews we have learned that leading companies show six characteristics in managing their new product development processes:

1 — Built-in instability
2 — Self-organizing project teams
3 — Overlapping development phases
4 — “Multilearning”
5 — Subtle control
6 — Organizational transfer of learning

These characteristics are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each element, by itself, does not bring about speed and flexibility. But taken as a whole, the characteristics can produce a powerful new set of dynamics that will make a difference.



Francis Laleman

a husband, father, painter, writer, educationist, designer, facilitator. author of “Resourceful Exformation” (a book on facilitation) available from Amazon.