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October 28, 2022

Scrum vs Agile – know the difference

Project Management
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

The terms “Agile” and “Scrum” are almost ever-present in project management. So much so that some people use them interchangeably. But if you dive deeper into the Scrum vs Agile comparison, you’ll see the two are not the same.

It’s important to explain each term in detail to know the difference. Do you use these terms correctly? Find out by reading the article.

What is Agile?

It’s an approach to delivering functionalities to customers frequently and being able to respond to change quickly. In other words, think of Agile as a general philosophy of delivering value in short increments of time.

Agile is an “umbrella term.” That’s because it contains various project management methodologies, practices, and frameworks. They use the values and principles of Agile as a starting point and expand on it on different levels.

To clarify, a methodology is a complex set of solutions to specific problems, an in-depth process of conduct in various situations. In contrast, a framework is much more narrow in its scope. It provides Agile teams with a short set of guidelines to follow.

An image showing the relationship between Agile and its frameworks, such as Scrum, Kanban, and others.

When it comes to Agile, you can find the entire philosophy in the Agile Manifesto. It’s a document outlining the values and principles for the practitioners to follow to “be Agile.” The Manifesto provides great insight into incremental product development. As such, it’s worth taking a more in-depth look.

As for the goal of Agile, the Project Management Institute defines it as follows. Agile approaches to project management aim for early, measurable ROI through defined, iterative delivery of product increments.”

Values of Agile

In 2001, the Agile Manifesto signatories devised a new way of software development. They agreed on four values to guide anyone who wants to develop software iteratively.

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Even though the items on the right provide value, those on the left have priority in the Agile approach.

Principles of Agile

Aside from the values, the Agile Manifesto contains twelve principles. Developers should adhere to them when creating new software.

A table with twelve principles of Agile

There are a few takeaways we can draw from the Agile principles. We can divide them into three categories: team, customer, and product.

The teams should be self-organizing. It requires having all the qualities necessary to deliver continuous product improvements. Cooperation is vital to the product’s success. Frequent and personal communication between members is highly encouraged. Moreover, the teams should improve their internal processes regularly to increase efficiency.

The customers are the focal point of Agile. After all, they are the ones who derive value from the work of the team. Their frequent feedback helps Agile teams deliver functionalities that satisfy their needs. Thus, they should actively participate in the evaluation of the increments. Furthermore, the customers should be on top of the changes and understand them.

As for the product, it must be functional and deliver the desired value to the customers or stakeholders. That’s why their involvement and feedback are so important. The release of the increments should occur frequently. That way, the product improves over time. Since working software is the measurement of progress, testing happens often.

Now you should clearly understand the first part of the Scrum vs Agile distinction. Therefore, it’s time to move on to the latter part and explain it in detail.

What is Scrum?

It’s the most popular application of the Agile approach. Let’s see what it’s all about, shall we? Scrum is defined as a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.

Simply put, Scrum provides teams with a set of values, pillars, and rules. These elements aim to help organize work, divide accountabilities, and reach goals effectively.

Pillars of Scrum

The framework’s foundations originated from empiricism. It’s a theory that favors experience and observation when making decisions. The three pillars of Scrum are called Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation.

A visualization of three Scrum Pillars: Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation


The first Scrum pillar ensures that we can see things as they really are. This applies to the process, the workload, the tools, the artifacts, and the goals for everyone involved in the project, as well as the overall vision of the company.

Transparency allows teams to work towards the common goal more effectively. Also, it strengthens communication between members. Without Transparency, the next pillar of Scrum – Inspection – is pointless.


The elements of Scrum, such as the goals, the process, the artifacts, the events – even the people – are inspected on a regular basis. The idea is to verify what works and what can be done better with every iteration.

Every member of the Scrum Team can inspect any of its parts. It stems from the previous pillar – Transparency.

Inspection involves feedback – communicating what went right and what needs to be modified. Usually, the feedback results in action points to specify the activities necessary to make changes happen. This leads us to the third Scrum pillar.


Scrum emphasizes adapting the product, the process, and any other element that can benefit from it. To quote the Scrum Guide: If any aspects of a process deviate outside acceptable limits or if the resulting product is unacceptable, the process being applied or the materials being produced must be adjusted.

Notably, Adaptation is related to the idea of continuous improvement. Having said that, successful adaptation is only possible when the previous two pillars are applied. Trying to make improvements before inspection is pointless. As is inspecting without the clarity provided by transparency.

As you can see, the three pillars of Scrum are deeply intertwined. Just like any physical structure, when one pillar doesn’t work, the entire construction is at risk of collapse.

Values of Scrum

Aside from the pillars, the people who utilize Scrum in their daily work should also uphold specific values. After all, values shape the way we behave, our priorities, and our outlook on things around us. You can think of them as a moral compass of sorts. The Scrum Guide lists five values that are integral in successful application in the framework:

  • Courage,
  • Focus,
  • Commitment,
  • Respect,
  • Openness.

Take a look at the video of two Professional Scrum Trainers explaining the meaning of Scrum values.

Scrum vs Agile – the key differences

The main difference is that Agile is a philosophy whereas Scrum is one of Agile’s frameworks. You can think of Scrum as a loose practical application of the Agile mindset. In other words, Scrum expands the Agile approach and provides more specific ideas for implementation.

For instance, Agile’s priority is to continuously deliver functionalities to customers. In Scrum, this notion also applies, but it’s accompanied by the continuous improvement of the process, product, and teams.

Communication is another example of Scrum being more specific. Per the Scrum Guide: Agile teams collaborate through face-to-face interactions on a regular basis. In scrum, communication is structured on a daily or sprint basis through daily stand-ups and sprint reviews.”

The same can be said about roles in a team. Scrum has added roles of the Product Owner and Scrum Master – something that the Agile founders have not considered. It doesn’t mean that the roles are not in line with Agile thinking.

Agile mentions regular intervals for team reflection, whereas Scrum contains a specific Event – the Retrospective. Furthermore, the Scrum values and pillars are based on their Agile counterparts. They simply offer a more concrete implementation.

That’s all you need to know about the differences between Scrum vs Agile. As you can see, treating these two terms equally is not the best idea. Hopefully, this article has cleared any misconceptions about what Agile and Scrum stand for and how they differ.