Scrum, an effective way of working in an agile working environment for both profit and non-profit organisations

Scrum is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products. The method has been developed in the early 1990s by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. Historically Scrum has most been used for complex products, such as software, hardware,  internet applications, technical devices, electronics, schools, managing the operation of organisations and other projects with complex issues.  Read more background material about Scrum at

Definition of Scrum
Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.
Scrum is one of the techniques, that is applied in an agile working environment. According to the Agile Manifest, Scrum is most effective when;

  • People and their mutual interaction are preferred  above processes and tools;
  • Working results are preferred above comprehensive documentation;
  • Partnership with the client is preferred above contract negotiations;
  • Responding to change is preferred above following a plan.

The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events and rules. Each component within the framework serves a specific purpose and is essential to Scrum’s success and usage.

The essence of Scrum is a small team of people. Preferably 7 and not more than 9. The team is self-organised, independent and not based on hierarchy. Team members have an equal say and participate on equality and their key expertise. The contribution of each team member is valued and decision making is based on consensus.  Teams with more than 9 people require a lot of communication and are generally less productive. The team is highly flexible, diverse and people with different disciplines are included. It is important that the team members are complementary and not competitive, since each team member should be able to excel on their qualities and talents. The Product Owner is the key person who is responsible for developing the final product and who keeps close contact with the client. The Scrum Master is the one who facilitates the process of product development. He/ she leads the meetings and oversees the project. The other team members are the ‘Development Team’.  These are the ones who work on the specific product elements in developing the final application.

The Scrum – Process

The Scrum – Process is composed of several steps:

Step 1:  The product vision (product vision statement)
Together with the client, the Product Owner, the development team develops a prototype of the product they want to produce.  Key questions that will be asked in this process of development are: For who? Which unique problem will be solved? Which needs? Which are the critical elements?
The product vision is flexible. It is a departure point for production and on the way of the process, the prototype can be adjusted, based on the lessons which are learned during the process. The Product Owner and the Client are the key actors who guard and monitor if the desirable product will meet the needs.

Step 2: The product backlog
The product backlog describes the characteristics of the product vision. It is the description of the visualization of the key elements  of the product vision, that need to be produced and it defines the tasks to be done during the production process.   Each element of the product backlog is placed on a white board and is structered by a KANBAN Framework.  The KANBAN Framework describes 1. What has to be done and completed? 2. What is in process?   3. What is completed?  The product backlog has been developed by consensus amongst the development team members and it is part of the ‘Definition of Done’. 

Step 3:  The sprint, including the daily scrum meeting
The sprint is the implementation part of the Scrum cycle. After the product vision and product backlog have been developed, the Product Owner and Development team set a sprint goal under the assistance of the Scrum Master. During the sprint a first prototype or main part of the envisioned product will be completed. A sprint takes optimally 2 weeks and maximum 4 weeks, since the team has to keep energy, commitment and focus. After the sprint goal has been formulated, a sprint backlog including specific targets and tasks will be formulated. The team will meet every day for a maximum of 15 minutes to monitor the progress of the implementation during the sprint. During each daily scrum meeting, the following key questions will be asked;

  • What has been done yesterday?
  • What will be done today?
  • Which obstacles or hindrances have occurred, that need to be tackled and how do we do that?

Each daily scrum meeting will be facilitated by the Scrum Master. It is preferred to do this meeting at a standing table, since it helps the group to be more energetic and involved during the meeting. 

Meeting at a standing table makes Scrum meeting more effective

Sprint Review
A Sprint Review is held at the end of each Sprint to inspect the produced prototype and adapt the Product Backlog if needed. During the Sprint Review, the Scrum Team and stakeholders collaborate about what was done in the sprint. This step mostly takes a maximum of 4 hours. The discussion is focused on the content of the production.

Sprint Evaluation
The Sprint Evaluation provides an opportunity for the Scrum Team to evaluate the process, the interaction amongst the team members and to create a plan for improvements during the next Sprint. This step takes at most 3 hours. The Scrum Master facilitates both the Sprint Review and the Sprint Evaluation.  The Starfish method is a helpful tool to evaluate the process.

Step 4:  Product improvement
After the last sprint has taken place, the final product will be tested and reviewed by the client. Usually the client is involved in the whole process of Scrum, but a bigger group of customers and users will be involved to test the developed product on improvements. Feedback will be incorporated and the development team will finally make adjustments on the feedback collected from users in the pilot.     

Step 5:  Final product
After all the feedback has been incorporated, the final version of the product is ready and Scrum team members can focus on the development of a new product or service.

The Scrum Master as facilitator
The Scrum Master plays the role of facilitator. Some of his key roles consist of;

  • Ensuring that goals, scope and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible
  • Understanding and practicing agility;
  • Checking if assumptions are valid for achieving the goals or need to be adjusted;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed;
  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Facilitate conflict resolution and resistance, when this occurs;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders to understand the process and the product development and create ownership for the final product.

It is crucial that the Scrum Master has facilitation skills and understand the principles of facilitation. Scrum is not just is method, it is a process that requires experience in group facilitation and understanding team dynamics.

Scrum in the non-profit and NGO-sector
Scrum is not only applied in the technical and IT-sector. It is also very much applicable for complex projects in the non-profit sector.  Especially projects that involve a large number of stakeholders and that regularly need to be adjusted or modified in a changing environment, Scrum is an excellent way for guiding projects.  Scrum can be applied for social development projects, research, lobby and advocacy, development of monitoring, evaluation and learning systems of projects in a complex environment,  social innovation and pilots.

Are you an organisation in the transition phase of making your organisation more agile and if you would like to conduct a pilot with Scrum and apply it in a non-profit setting or in a development context, you can contact me;   Simon Koolwijk,  e-mail.    I am an experienced facilitator in the non-profit and international development sector and am familiar with working in context in an agile working environment. 
Read more background material about Scrum at


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