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How Scrum Values and Principles Drive Success

By Miranda Dulin
Published in Agile Approaches
April 12, 2023
7 min read
How Scrum Values and Principles Drive Success

Does it feel like your team is wandering aimlessly? It’s time to get back on track. Scrum values, principles, and practices can guide your team to success.

Principles vs. Values vs. Practices

I want to start with what I thought would be an easy description to level set the definitions of values, principles, and practices. Once again, I’m caught off guard by the general lack of agreement around the meaning of these words.

There is a bit of a debate on whether values are static and principles can shift or whether it’s principles that are never changing.

We’ll stick to the SPINE model for this article. Practices support principles, and principles support values, and values are the guiding star, if you will.

If you’re not new here, you won’t be surprised that I’ve developed an analogy to solidify my understanding of these concepts.

Map and compass with wooden background
Values are a compass that point out the general direction in which we seek to go. Principles are a map that help us get more specific about how we reach our destination. Practices are the turn by turn directions that we execute on to follow the map.

Values are the foundation of an individual or an organization’s culture, while principles provide more specific guidance for behavior and decision-making based on those values. On the other hand, practices are the tangible actions and processes that we implement to realize the principles and achieve the goals of the values-based culture. These practices are the concrete manifestations of the principles and values.

Scrum Values and Principles

Scrum’s core values include commitment, focus, openness, respect, and courage, but there’s no agreed-upon list of principles. To be effective, these values must be deeply understood and integrated. Without this deep understanding, Scrum can become a superficial set of practices with limited effectiveness.

What are Scrum Values and Principles

Agile project management approaches have different values, but the Scrum Guide is unmistakable regarding the Scrum Values.

“Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living five values: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage.”

- Scrum Guide

I’ll do a deep dive into the Scrum values elsewhere, but let’s quickly cover each for context. While Scrum values provide a foundation for agile development, it’s the real-world examples that demonstrate their power.

FocusThe ability to concentrate on the most critical work and ignore distractions.1. The Development Team finishes Sprint Backlog items before starting new work.
2. The Scrum team uses tactics to set acceptable limits for the work in progress, improving focus by reducing the number of distractions.
3. Non-critical unplanned work is deferred to the next Sprint Planning meeting to allow the team to focus on completing the work of the Sprint Backlog.
OpennessThe willingness to share information, ideas, and feedback openly.1. Before making a decision, we provide each Scrum team member with an opportunity for input.
2. We discuss progress toward the Sprint Goal in the Daily Scrum.
3. The Development Team invites feedback from stakeholders during the Sprint Review.
RespectRespect for the skills, expertise, and perspectives of the entire team.1. Leadership doesn’t blame the team for missing arbitrary deadlines because they respect team members as capable, independent people.
2. Hermione doesn’t feel she has to do all the work herself to ensure it’s done correctly. She trusts Ron and Harry’s capabilities and asks for their help when needed.
3. Everyone shows up on time for the Scrum events out of mutual respect for everyone else’s time.
CourageThe willingness to take risks, experiment, and speak up when necessary.1. Ron tells the team in the Daily Scrum that he’s struggling to solve a problem and asks fellow team members for help.
2. Hermione informs the Product Owner that the requested feature is unlikely to be used by end users, starting a difficult but required discussion on whether the value justifies the effort.
3. Harry questions the status quo in the Sprint Retrospective by calling attention to a systemic organizational impediment holding the team back.
4. More courage examples
CommitmentA shared commitment to achieving the team’s common goals. Commitment is also essential to achieve the benefits of Scrum.1. Ron avoids working on his pet project and instead contributes toward achieving the Sprint Goal.
2. The Scrum Team does everything reasonable to ensure they complete the work added to the Sprint Backlog during Sprint Planning.
3. The entire scrum team has made a commitment to learning.

So that covers the Scrum values, here is what the Scrum Guide has to say about principles:


- Scrum Guide

Oh yeah, that’s right, principles aren’t actually mentioned in the Scrum Guide.

Scrum is a lightweight framework, not a prescriptive process, which means that it provides a loose structure that can be adapted to fit the specific needs of a team or organization. Because of this flexibility, Scrum principles may differ from team to team depending on their implementation. Teams can customize Scrum practices to fit their unique context and goals, allowing them to work more effectively together. However, while the specific implementation of Scrum may differ, the underlying values remain constant. By staying true to these core tenets, teams can use Scrum to cultivate efficient teams.

Still life of objects with role playing game sheet
Scrum provides the rules and objectives, but it's up to each team to decide how to play the game, which strategies to use, and how to adjust their tactics based on the situation.

The Scrum values are a deeper topic that can be hard to explain and even harder to apply. For specific questions not answered here, check out the Scrum Values FAQs.

It’s also worth noting that the Scrum values do not constitute the tripod of Scrum (the three Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation); they do, however, form the foundation of trust.

Agile Scrum Values and Principles

Agile Scrum values and principles can certainly be beneficial, yet many people struggle to define them clearly. Although the Scrum Guide doesn’t list principles, various interpretations exist. Agile and Scrum principles differ, and understanding these differences is key to optimized development processes.

Agilists often conflate the values from the Agile Manifesto and the Scrum values. This observation isn’t surprising, given that people tend to conflate Agile and Scrum. The Agile Mindset is composed of 4 values and 12 principles. Scrum, on the other hand, is an agile framework given that it generally fulfills Agile’s values and principles, but Scrum is a concept separate from Agile. Some people even go as far as to argue that Scrum isn’t Agile, but that’s a topic for another day.

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The Agile Manifesto lays out Agile’s values and principles, while the Scrum Guide is the single source of truth for all things Scrum. That single source of truth lists five values that differ from Agile’s four. The Scrum Guide also doesn’t specify any specific principles.

What are Scrum Principles

Scrum Principles are not explicitly defined in the Scrum Guide and are subject to interpretation. No universal agreement exists, and industry and company culture will influence principles. Awareness of other perspectives can help you define your own.

pink and blue pushpins showing marking location on map
Scrum Principles are like a map - each traveler (team) has their own journey to navigate, and the route they take may differ based on their own preferences and needs.

Oddly, there is a common belief that there are six Scrum principles, though I suspect this has more to do with people trying to rank on Google for the keyword “what are the 6 Scrum principles” than it does anything else.

The 6 typically referenced Scrum Principles:

  • Empirical Process Control
  • Self-organization
  • Collaboration
  • Value Based Prioritization
  • Time-boxing
  • Iterative Development

The Agile Alliance, in their Scrum Reboot, defined these seven principles:

  • Self-organization
  • Team size and composition
  • Done means done
  • Empowered Product Owners
  • Servant-leader Scrum Masters
  • Team ownership of adaptation
  • Delivery of business value

Ilan Goldstein references several principles in his book Scrum Shortcuts Without Cutting Corners, including the following:

  • One of Scrum’s guiding principles is that team members must work at a sustainable pace.
  • Relative estimation applies the principle that comparing is much quicker and more accurate than deconstructing.
  • Remove the red tape
  • Address issues immediately
  • It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

In his book Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process, Kenneth Rubin lists 22 principles which he grouped into six main categories.

  • Variability and Uncertainty
    • Embrace helpful variability
    • Employ iterative and incremental development
    • Leverage variability through inspection, adaptation, and transparency
    • Reduce all forms of uncertainty simultaneously
  • Prediction and adaptation
    • Keep options open
    • Accept that you can’t get it right up front
    • Favor an adaptive, exploratory approach
    • Embrace change in an economically sensible way
    • Balance predictive up-front work with adaptive just-in-time work
  • Validated Learning
    • Validate important assumptions fast
    • leverage multiple concurrent learning loops
    • Organize workflow for fast feedback
  • Work in Process (WIP)
    • Use economically sensible batch sizes
    • Recognize inventory and manage it for good flow
    • Focus on idle work, not idle workers
    • Consider cost of delay
  • Progress
    • Adapt to real-time information and re-plan
    • Measure progress by validating working assets
    • Focus on value-centric delivery
  • Performance
    • Go fast but never hurry
    • Build in quality
    • Employ minimally sufficient ceremony

If you’re adamant that your team follows a list of Scrum principles, I suggest you review some of these resources and find principles that resonate with your team.

Scrum Values and Practices

Practices is another topic that the Scrum Guide remains silent on. However, this makes sense when you recognize that Scrum is a framework. A good portion of the implementation of Scrum is left up to the Scrum Team to determine what practices fit in the context of their industry and organization.

There have been some efforts to define GASPs (generally accepted Scum practices). You may be surprised that the Scrum Guide does not cover story points, user stories, or Sprint burndown charts.

Surprised Owl Gif

These are generally accepted Scrum practices, but these techniques may not be effective for all Scrum Teams.

Scrum values provide a framework for teams to evaluate whether a particular practice is a good fit. Leveraging Scrum values, the Scrum Team can assess the impact of a practice on their ability to exemplify those values. For example, if a proposed practice doesn’t align with the value of openness, it may not be a good fit for the team. Additionally, Scrum values can help teams evaluate a practice’s effectiveness over time. If a practice prevents us from upholding a Scrum value, it may be time to reevaluate or even abandon it.

For example, I’ll share something I’ve been struggling with lately. It’s commonly believed that Ron Jeffries created the concept of story points when he transitioned away from the terminology ”ideal days” and instead referred to their estimates as points. I’ve been wondering if this obfuscation goes against a culture of transparency and the value of openness.

“We spoke of our estimates in days, usually leaving “ideal” out. The result was that our stakeholders were often confused by how it could keep taking three days to get a day’s work done, or, looking at the other side of the coin, why we couldn’t do 50 “days” of work in three weeks.”

- Ron Jeffries

Knowing the reasoning behind the shift in terminology, one might also argue that it increases openness by reducing the distraction introduced by the term “ideal days.”

Story points, though, come with all kinds of bad mojo when misused, which they often are. It’s not uncommon for leadership to use velocity as a performance metric.

“For example, velocity (average points per sprint) is not a performance metric. If anything at all, it’s a measure of output that tells you nothing about the value of whatever you’re producing, and it’s not even a good measure of output. For one thing, the basic unit (a point) is not a measurable quantity. It’s a judgment. You can’t derive a quantitative measure from qualitative input.”

- Allen Holub

I’ve seen countless management teams that can’t get this point, and they insist on Scrum teams justifying why they have a velocity of 7 instead of 700. This type of behavior runs counter to the Scrum value of respect.

If your team is falling victim to these misuses, the Scrum Team might very well decide, based on their desire to adhere to the Scrum values, that the practice of story points is not something they wish to continue.

Using Scrum values as a guide, teams can make informed decisions about which practices will help them achieve their goals and which may distract them.

Works Consulted


Let’s return to the analogy of values as a compass, principles as a map, and practices as turn-by-turn directions and summarize what we’ve covered.

Scrum provides the map and general direction, but it’s up to each team to decide which stops to make along the way, how long to stay at each stop, and which route to take based on road conditions and traffic.


Previous Article
5 Scrum Values: Create a Culture of Excellence
Miranda Dulin

Miranda Dulin

Scrum Master

Table Of Contents

Principles vs. Values vs. Practices
Scrum Values and Principles
What are Scrum Values and Principles
Agile Scrum Values and Principles
What are Scrum Principles
Scrum Values and Practices
Works Consulted

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