Are agile and Scrum the same?

Scrum has become the most popular framework for agile software development. People are using it all over the world, from small software startups to large enterprise firms. A lot of people are confused about agile vs Scrum, however. More specifically, about whether agile and scrum are the same. This article will clear up this question once and for all, and explain why agile and scrum are not the same.

What is agile?

Let’s first discuss what agile is in simple terms.

Agile is an umbrella term that refers to a mindset or philosophy about software development. And more importantly, how it should be done. Agile approaches favour working in small iterations, focusing on customer value and collaboration, and a culture of empowerment, transparency and continuous improvement.

This was all in opposition to the plan-based, heavyweight “waterfall” approaches of the time. So this was the birth of the agile vs waterfall struggle.

what is agile project management
The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001

Agile came out of some software development practices that emerged in the 1990s. The people who created and practiced systems like Scrum, Crystal and Extreme Programming gathered in 2001 in Utah. They wrote the Agile Manifesto, and agile as we know it was born.

It is important to remember that “agile” is not a specific software practice, like Scrum. It was a word used to describe the mindset or philosophy that lay behind all those different practices.

Agile ideas had been floating around for a while before 2001. And those ideas had led to people creating these various approaches and frameworks.

The meeting in 2001 where the Manifesto was written (and they defined the agile principles and values) wasn’t therefore the birth of agile. It was where it was given a name and a document and a definition.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile framework that was created in the 1990s by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. They also had some help from Mike Beedle. The name and core concept come from a 1986 Harvard Business Review article called “The New New Product Development Game“. It became more popular after the publication in 2001 of the landmark book “Agile Software Development with Scrum“.

scrum vs waterfall
The famous book “Agile Software Development with Scrum”

Scrum refers to the rugby formation, where a group of players of different skills and strengths work together to control and move the ball.

Scrum is a lightweight framework, based on three pillars (transparency, inspection and adaptation), and five values (focus, courage, openness, respect and commitment).

It describes three roles or accountabilities (product owner, scrum master, and developer), five events (the sprint, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint retrospective, and daily scrum), and three artifacts (product backlog, sprint backlog, and product increment).

The Scrum Guide describes these roles, events and artifacts. It also describes the rules, patterns and interactions around them. It is a lightweight framework however, rather than a complex process. It is “intentionally left incomplete”. That is, teams are supposed to find their own best ways of building their product.

Scrum provides a framework of transparency, inspection and adaptation that allows and facilitates that. It has, along with Kanban, become extremely popular (if you want to know about Scrum vs kanban, you can read about that here).

Are agile and Scrum the same?

Let’s look in more detail at the relationship of Scrum to agile. You can see by now that agile and Scrum are not the same.

Scrum is a specific example or instantiation of agile. Scrum is a framework, with roles, rules and artifacts. Agile is a mindset or philosophy. This philosophy was behind many different agile frameworks. Not just Scrum, but also DSDM, Kanban, Extreme Programming, Disciplined Agile Delivery, and so on.

Scrum is the most popular agile framework, but it is one amongst many different frameworks.

You could say that Scrum is agile (in that Scrum is an example of an agile framework), but agile is not Scrum (since there are many frameworks and approaches).

Ways in which agile and Scrum are different

Here are some of the main differences between agile and Scrum.

Mindset vs Framework

Agile is a mindset or a philosophy. It describes the values and principles of agile. It doesn’t really tell you how to “do” agile. Scrum is a framework for agile software development. It tells you how to do Scrum. That is, the roles, rules and artifacts.

Agile vs Scrum values

The values of agile and Scrum are a little different. The values of agile are working software, customer collaboration, responding to change, and people and interactions. The values of Scrum are openness, courage, focus, commitment and respect.

Scrum is agile but not the other way around

Scrum is an example or instantiation of agile. So it is safe to say that Scrum is agile. It inherits from the agile philosophy and is an example of putting it into practice. However there are many other agile frameworks. Some of these are very different from Scrum. So you can say that agile is Scrum.


In conclusion, agile is not the same as Scrum. It is the mindset that underlies and created Scrum (though this can be confusing, since Scrum was created a few years before the agile manifesto was written).

Do you have any more thoughts or questions on this matter? Let me know in the comments below – I will read and respond to them all.

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