The Spirit of Scrum

The Spirit of Scrum – A Deep Dive

March 22, 20246 min

In all my years of using Scrum, I have never seen an organization succeed through the application of the mechanics alone.  When an organization fixates on the mechanical application of Scrum, they ignore this advice from Ken Schwaber, co-creator of Scrum, “Scrum is not implemented… as a process; it is used to foment change.”

In truth, Scrum is powered by “people, teams and organizations” (emphasis added) and together they collaborate to “generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.”  The goal of all this change is to deliver on the business outcomes that matter while creating an organization that puts people first.

Therefore, success with Scrum emerges from the interactions of thoughtful, dedicated individuals when their actions and words are congruent with the values and principles of Scrum.  This congruence is what I call the Spirit of Scrum.

Why is the Spirit of Scrum important?

Scrum was designed to be “purposefully incomplete.”  It does not propose to offer answers to every challenge a practitioner might encounter.  As a result, practitioners apply their personal and professional best judgment on how to achieve success within their given context.  This is a good thing since Scrum assumes its practitioners are smart, thoughtful human beings that are trying to do the right thing.

However, personal and professional best judgment varies among practitioners.  In addition, not all personal choices or professional experiences lead to the goal of creating an organization that puts people first.  Given this scenario, what advice can Scrum offer a practitioner so that they can discover which of their experiences are relevant and helpful?  The answer lies in the Spirit of Scrum.

What makes Scrum hard to use is that practitioners need to navigate the murky, gray space between the accountabilities, events, commitments and artifacts.  This gray is space occupied by people.  It’s the Spirit of Scrum which enables practitioners to select those experiences and choices from their personal and professional best judgment that aligns with these goals of Scrum.  More importantly, the Spirit of Scrum is an advanced warning system to help practitioners avoid those experiences and choices which are inconsistent with building an organization that puts people first.

The Spirit of Scrum is what makes Scrum durable.  When it has deep roots, Scrum will thrive within a team or an organization for a long time.  When a team or organization overlooks the Spirit of Scrum in favor of the mechanics, the roots are nonexistent or shallow.  When this occurs, Scrum is just another fad and will be swept away by management when the next reorg overtakes the business.

Scrum Values

Scrum co-creators, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, identify respect, commitment, focus, openness and courage as the core values of Scrum in their Scrum Guide.  Based upon my experience, I have developed a similar, but slightly different set of values to define the Spirit of Scrum:

  • Respect – all participants are treated as valued, unique individuals with an important contribution to make.  Each person is expected to extend this courtesy to all other individuals they encounter.
  • Commitment – participants are expected to fully dedicate themselves to the Scrum Team, choosing to put the objectives of the Scrum Team before their own.  At times, Scrum Team members may choose to make reasonable sacrifices for the greater good of the Scrum Team.
  • Trust – participants can rely on their co-workers to perform their duties to the highest professional standards.  Participants will act with positive intent and assume others are acting with positive intent as well.1
  • Visibility – nothing in Scrum is ever hidden from view.  Every action, decision, artifact, outcome and conversation is freely made available to others for consideration and discussion.2
  • Courage – individuals and Scrum Teams will display strength in the face of adversity.  Scrum Team members will fearlessly address issues as they arise, confident a solution can be found within their skills and abilities.

Scrum Principles

All actions in Scrum spring from the Scrum values.  Yet, these values, which are hardly unique to Scrum, do not offer specific guidance on what Scrum Teams need to do each day in order to successfully deliver a high-quality product that maximizes the business outcomes while satisfying the customer.  For that, Scrum Teams need a concrete set of principles which make the values more tangible.

In my experience, Scrum contains a consistent set of principles that, when acknowledged and acted upon, lead to success at both the team and organizational level.

  • Prioritization – periodic ordering of conflicting desires and needs is vital for success.  Conversations about ranking will involve those who are affected by these decisions and take in consideration their desires and needs.3
  • Accountability – all are answerable for their decisions, words, actions and non-actions.  Each person is empowered to hold one another responsible for meeting their commitments, producing quality work, following the Scrum framework and observing the Spirit of Scrum.4
  • Inspect-and-adapt – at regular intervals, the Scrum Team will check their progress and make adjustments.  Scrum Teams use empirical data to drive their decisions.
  • Rhythm – Scrum Teams will strive to develop a regular cadence to their actions.  Rhythm reduces variability and increases the predictability of the Scrum Team.
  • Feedback – participants accept and receive new information about their circumstances and environment.  Feedback cycles are compressed as short as possible to amplify the effect of new knowledge and make corrections for the advantage of the business and the participants.
  • Collaboration – beyond mere cooperation, we strive to build on top of the talents and ideas of others.  Collaboration signals the shift from simply better, to astonishing business results and outcomes.
  • Self-organization – Scrum Team members are the ones best suited to mobilize their efforts around their goals and to remain on target.  Clear goals, boundaries and autonomy are necessary for this to occur.5
  • Focus – individuals will be given time and space to concentrate.  Scrum strives to eliminate unnecessary interruptions so that people can get things done.

The Spirit of Scrum is your key to doing better Scrum.  You’ll see that once you look at Scrum through this lens, it accelerates the delivery of value and creation of real teams.


1 – Here is one place that I differ with Sutherland and Schwaber.  I include trust as a core Scrum value because I have discovered that Scrum has three meta-concepts that underpin the entire framework: trust the Scrum Team, deliver working software every Sprint and inspect-and-adapt each day.  When these meta-concepts are lacking, Scrum simply does not work.  For this reason, I include trust as a Scrum value.

2 – In this case, I renamed “openness” to “visibility” since I want to emphasize the importance of empirical process control in the foundation of Scrum. In my humble opinion, there is not much to this change beyond a renaming.

3 – In 2011, Sutherland and Schwaber, deprecated the use of the word “prioritization” in favor of “ordering”.  I prefer to use the original formulation of “prioritization” since it resonates better with my customers and is more consistent with the types of changes I encourage my clients to adopt.

4 – In 2016, I learned about The Responsibility Process, first described by Christopher Avery, which more accurately communicates what I have in mind when I talk about accountability in Scrum.  However, Scrum does have a strong sense of accountability built into the framework. At times, accountability can be a useful tool to drive change when applied with compassion and empathy.

5 – Regardless of how you think the Universe came into being, self-organization is a founding principle of nature and human behavior.  Left to their own devices, human systems will self-organize into a stable configuration.  If your team, or organization, lacks self-organization, then there is something actively preventing it from manifesting in your environment.  I recommend taking time to discover what is impeding self-organization and then eliminate it.  If you cannot eliminate it, then reduce its impact.