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Sep 12 2019 - 06:00pm
Rethinking the Agile Scrum: How educational projects become manageable, measurable, and sustainable

Article Purpose:

As an educational researcher,

I want to share my rethinking about how Scrum could be applied in a collaborative learning environment,

so that readers have the interest to understand, explore, and use this strategy in their learning or teaching experiences.


What is Scrum:

Scrum is a lightweight, iterative, and incremental framework for effective team collaboration on intricate knowledge work. It is a simple, agile process, which emphasis self-organizing, cross-function, and continual improvement.


The participants of Scrum (broadly) includes: product owner (figure out what to do to maximize the value of product), scrum master (figure out how to do to promote and support the use of Scrum), and development team (self-organizing in pursuit of delivering value; sometimes can be divided into build team and test team).


Note: Daily Scrum usually includes daily standup.


The Scrum team together in a flexible way to fulfill the needs from stockholders and provide a better product to the customers.




  • The critical feature of Scrum:
  1. Autonomy and flexibility: Scrum transfer the process of complex collaboration from the traditional command-and-control waterfall into manageable, measurable, and sustainable style.
  2. Communication and collaboration: Scrum emphasis the commutation among the team members. For example, backlog grooming from product owners is required to be clean and tidy (better with explicit metadata) for avoiding misunderstanding from the development team. Steps like reflection, demonstration, testing, and iterative planning all provide opportunities for consultations.
  3. Learning by doing: Scrum is a learning process which encourages learning from failure. The iteration of Scrum allows everyone to bring new ideas.
  4. Purpose: Scrum aims at solving the problem, which is prioritized.


  • Misunderstandings

Even though Scrum is an initial emphasis on software development, it has great potential in many scenarios beyond IT (e.g., project-based learning in high school physics class and managing the room recovery project after fire damage).


Additionally, Scrum does not care about the job title. "Development team" does not necessary means engineer. "Development" cares more about the cross-functional value that each member could bring into the product.



Learn from failure: example

Peurach and Marx (2010) described a failure case of systemic improvement in underperforming six high schools. The target of this educational project is to support "sustained, systemic, district-wise improvement in mathematics." It seems that the product manager (the Mathematics Turnaround Initiatives) made a clear and measurable goal with the support from the stakeholders (school board, parents, and even students). However, the first-year implementation of the project ended up with a disaster. Here are some reasons that Ms. Johnson (the new Turnaround Coordinator) pointed out for this failure.


"The very notion of systemic, sustained improvement ran counter to the usual cycle of adoption-and-abandonment." ==> Disconnection of scrum master (Turnaround Coordinator) and development team (school teachers, external partners), lack of daily (or even weekly and monthly) scrum that provide important communication platform for the whole Scrum team to share timely feedbacks.


"few leaders had either the knowledge or the inclination to engage classroom instruction, and most feared a backlash from teachers if they tried ." ==> lack of Scrum environment. The working style not supportive, collaborative, and adaptive.


"a lack of integration and coordination among the programs resulted in disconnections between them."


"She simply did not have enough time to provide extensive support to leaders and teachers in all three high schools." ==> inappropriate plan of Spring Backlog


The lack of flexible, interactive, and iterative project framework is the main reason for this failure. Similar scenarios happen every day. Even in a traditional classroom environment, disconnection also exists between students and teachers: command-and-control instead of collaborative learning.


Scrum is rarely used in the educational environment. Using Scrum, could this problem be fixed? Probably, yes. However, there are also many risks. How to avoid dogmatical goal from product owner killed the pluralistic interests from students? How to keep motivation during the long-term process? How to ensure communication to be thorough instead of formalistic? Scrum is simple and powerful. While, in order to apply this framework in education, we need to do more research.

Posted in: Research|By: Yi Chen|128 Reads