Is Scrum a framework or methodology?

Scrum has always suffered from an identity crisis of sorts.

  • Is Scrum a process?
  • Is Scrum a framework?
  • Is Scrum a methodology?

The correct answer might be: none of the above.

Is Scrum a process?

"Scrum Development Process" was the name of the inaugural paper presented by Scrum co-founder Ken Schwaber at the 1995 Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications conference in Austin, Texas. Scrum prescribes a set of ordered, mandatory steps that must be followed, so the term process is certainly apt.

Is Scrum a methodology?

In that same paper, Schwaber stated that "we call the approach the SCRUM methodology." Scrum details a variety of methods teams should use to successfully develop products, so calling Scrum a methodology seems appropriate as well.

Is Scrum a framework?

When the first Scrum Guide appeared in 2010, Schwaber and co-Scrum developer Jeff Sutherland walked back their verbiage about process and methodology. Instead, they stated: "Scrum is not a process or a technique for building products; rather, it is a framework."

Importantly, the word methodology never appears in the Scrum Guide.

Is Scrum a process framework?

The 2017 Scrum Guide asserted that, while Scrum is heavily tied to processes, it is not a process itself: "Scrum is a process framework that has been used to manage work on complex products since the early 1990s. Scrum is not a process, technique or definitive method."

Scrum is not a framework

The 2020 Scrum Guide removed the awkward process framework phrasing and minimized the discussion about processes. It simply stated that "various processes, techniques and methods can be employed within the framework."

The 2020 Scrum Guide also employed some interesting phrasing that let the authors refer to Scrum as a framework but not actually commit to that fact: "The Scrum framework is purposefully incomplete, only defining the parts required to implement Scrum theory."

Many misunderstand what the term incomplete means in this context. An incomplete thing is not the thing it aspires to be, for example:

  • An incomplete Ph.D. is not a Ph.D.
  • An incomplete circuit is not a circuit.
  • An incomplete increment is not an increment.

Likewise, an incomplete framework is not a framework.

If we take the authors of the Scrum Guide at their word, which Scrum advocates insist they must, then Scrum is not a framework. Instead, we should think of it as a blueprint or recipe for a framework.

Is Scrum a framework or methodology?

According to the latest Scrum Guide, Scrum is not a framework, nor is it a methodology. The Scrum Guide never uses the term methodology once. Furthermore, the Scrum Guide says Scrum is an incomplete framework, which means Scrum is not a framework.

Perhaps the more important question is this: Does it matter whether Scrum is a framework or a methodology or a process?

I say it doesn't matter, so long as you follow the steps and strategies outlined in the Scrum Guide in an Agile manner. If you continuously deliver products, customers are satisfied and developers are productive, the moniker you apply to Scrum doesn't matter.

Darcy DeClute is a technical trainer and Agile coach who helps organizations apply Scrum-based principles to adopt a modern DevOps stack. She is a certified Professional Scrum Master, Professional Scrum Developer and Professional Scrum Product Owner, as well as author of Scrum Master Certification Guide.

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