What is a Scrum and How is it Related to ISD?

A Scrum is agile development methodology for working with complex, unpredictable projects using an iterative approach. Scrum is usually associated with large scale software development projects and is used by many large massively multiplayer online game development companies to update and maintain their products. But elements can be used for the ISD project (or all of it if its a large enough project). Below is a great video on Scrum if you don’t want to read all this stuff.

The scrum process starts when a stakeholder who is called a Product Owner develops or is handed a vision or idea for a new product or update. The Product Owner represents the business or the client, they are the voice of the customer.

From that vision or idea, a bulleted list requirement is created, this is known as a product backlog. The items on the list are called product backlog items. The list of product backlog items is naturally incomplete due to emergent requirements that will appear during the life cycle of the project.

However, rather than try to define all possible requirements in a design document up front as with ADDIE, the process accounts for the emergent requirements by allowing them to enter the project in one of the many iterative cycles called sprints. The Product Owner is responsible for the prioritization of the product backlog items. He or she decides in what order the items should be addressed based on estimates provided by the Scrum team.

The Scrum team is the group of people who are going to be actually working on the gamification product. The teams are cross-function and there are no official roles.

Although in an instructional design environment, you’ll need people who have knowledge in programming, instructional design, artistic development, animation and even music which makes it a little harder to have a truly cross-functional team. Most scrum teams are seven individuals but teams can scale up or down one or two people as needed. The ideal situation is that the team is self-led but some scum teams do have project managers.

To start a project, the team meets with the Product Owner and picks items from the backlog list and places those items on the sprint backlog list. The team only works from the sprint backlog list during a sprint. The sprint can range from two to five weeks or longer but should be kept short with one day at the beginning of the sprint for planning and one day at the end for review.

The goal of each sprint is to develop finished functionality that can be reviewed by the Product Owner and outside stakeholders. During the sprint, no changes or modification can be made to the sprint backlog.

Often upon reviewing the results of the sprint, outside stakeholders or the Product Owner provide feedback and typically additional emergent requirements that are then placed on the product backlog and reprioritized. This is the part of the process that allows for changes and modifications, in the next sprint the modifications can be made if they are of a high enough priority.

The process allows for software to be developed quickly and changes to be easily incorporated into the process which improves the quality of the final product reducing risk and increasing the return on investment. On tenant of scrum is to prioritize the product backlog and subsequent sprint backlog according to which ones provide the most return on investment.

To keep the team focused during the sprints, daily meetings called scrums are planned. Daily scrums get the entire team together and address three questions from each team member to keep the scrum short and focused. The questions are:
• What have I done since the last meeting?
• What do I still need to do?
• What obstacles have I encountered?

To make sure the daily meetings run smoothly, to ensure that the scrum team is not pulled in different directions by others in the organization and to oversee the entire project, scrum employs a person known as the scrum master.

The role of the scrum master is not the team leader, he or she acts as a gatekeeper to make sure the scrum team works without impediment and provides guidance and mentoring throughout the scrum process.

The scrum master also helps team members think through problems that might be causing delay or issues. Progress of the entire project is kept with a tool called a burn down chart. The chart visually shows how much work is left to do versus how much time remains and usually is posted in a visible place so all team members can view the chart. Typically there is a burn down chart for each sprint and a burn down chart for the entire project

Posted in: Design

Leave a Comment (4) ↓


  1. [email protected] July 5, 2011

    Within an organization, ISDs are usually flexible, analytical, sharp folks who can slide into almost any role. Let’s face it, ISDs are learning machines. When we are able to work like h_ck on one or two projects with a team of people who (for the most part) all want the project to finish on-time…stuff gets done…and done well. But, lately ISDs are expected to do it all – up to and including sales, graphics, team building, QA, supervising subs, project management, and covering more and more projects and admin tasks. Yes – SCRUM…it works It’s awesome. I think just some basic workload mgt will go a looong way. Perhaps it’s the ISD who is ideally positioned to be the scrum master?

  2. karlkapp June 17, 2011

    oops…plus it sounds so much cooler than “ADDIE development.”..SCRUM DEVELOPMENT

  3. karlkapp June 17, 2011

    Thanks I agree most e-learning teams I’ve seen are too small as well but the idea of a list of requirements and being prepared to change are ideas I’m going to try to borrow from scrum and the building of something quickly and expecting changes rather than laboriously and hoping for no changes is exciting to me as well.

  4. Lee Graham June 17, 2011

    Personally, I love the idea of integrating SCRUM and training development. I think it would be very beneficial and innovative. From what I’ve seen though (I know I haven’t seen it all), is that too often eLearning development teams are too small for SCRUM. With the economy going to the pits the last few years, seems like organizations have shrunk their training dev. team to small groups or individuals that “do-it-all”.

    Great post!

Karl Kapp
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