April 16, 2021


News for Agilists

What is Scrum? — A linguistic research based on Scrum Guide

The surprising power of computational linguistics

A fancy-pancy controversial intro by none other than the author himself!

Just before I’ll dig a bit deeper into the topic I’d like to pose a multiple-choice question:

What is Scrum*?

A. — a process?

B. — a process framework?

C. — a framework?

D. — oh baby, don’t hurt me? (Haddaway reference intended)

E. — a 1mln+ $ training & consulting business?

F. — a religion?

G. — a professional and cultural movement?

see Appendix 1 for potential hints

Now, cheesy jokes aside, let’s dig deeper into scientific research which strives to be neutral and is open for constructive criticism from fellow scientific peers. We’ll get back to cracking jokes after the research, in the Outro part.

And please allow me to change my discourse mode to a more formal one from now on. It’s just fitting the research. We’ll get back to easy-going discourse in the Outro.

Scrum Guide — a linguistic analysis of the usage of nouns “process”, “process framework” and “framework” as used in the “Scrum Guide” in reference to definitions of those words in 3 online dictionaries

Subtitle — the surprising power of computational linguistics


The aim of this research is to analyze the usage of the words “process”, “process framework” and “framework” in the document called the “Scrum Guide” (see Methodology & resources for reference).

This research does not attempt to define what “Scrum” is or is not, nor to criticize the document “Scrum Guide” 2017 or its authors (Schwaber & Sutherland, et al.) in any way. It is presented “as is”.

The Purpose:

The author analyzes the usage of nouns “process”, “process framework” and “framework” in the “Scrum Guide” document and in reference to the definition of those nouns in three online dictionaries (Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster dictionary and Collins Dictionary) with the use of computational linguistics methodology.

The Body:

In this short research the author will analyze the usage of three nouns and their collocates that are used in the document called the “Scrum Guide” and their meaning as used within the “Scrum Guide” document context in reference to three online dictionaries — Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster dictionary and Collins Dictionary (please see Resources section for links).

The words and their collocates that are subject to this study are:

– “Process

– “Process framework

– “Framework

The document that is the focus of this study is the “Scrum Guide”. Please see “Methodology & resources” section to find relevant links to the source documents.

The author has chosen the 3 most popular online dictionaries based on the site indexing in response to a query “process definition” in the Google search engine as queried on 1st of July 2020 and the search location set to Warsaw, Poland.

Dictionary choice:


The Thesis:

“The analysis of the usage of nouns “process”, “process framework” and “framework” in the “Scrum Guide” document in reference to the definition of those nouns in three online dictionaries (Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster dictionary and Collins Dictionary).”


Please compare “Methodology & resources” section of this document for the full methodology used.

PART 1, 2, 3, 4 — “Word definitions” & “The Scrum Process” & “The Scrum process framework” & “The Scrum framework”

The whole scientific research in which the author analyzes the definitions of nouns “guide”, “Scrum”, “process”, “process framework”, “framework” and how the nouns are used in the “Scrum Guide”will be covered in a separate article.

Part 5 — Synthesis & Conclusion

The author based the following synthesis on the definition of “Scrum” in the document “Scrum Guide” and the following passages taken from the “Scrum Guide” document:

“Definition of Scrum

Scrum (n): A framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

Scrum is:


Simple to understand

Difficult to master

Scrum is a process framework that has been used to manage work on complex products since the early 1990s. Scrum is not a process, technique, or definitive method. Rather, it is a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques. Scrum makes clear the relative efficacy of your product management and work techniques so that you can continuously improve the product, the team, and the working environment.”

Comparison of the aforementioned definition with the following passages based on different queries mentioned in PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4 and PART 5 of this research.

Source file — the “Scrum Guide” document:

“Scrum (n): A framework”

“Scrum is a process framework”

“Scrum is not a process”

“(Scrum) Rather, it is a framework”


“(…)within the Scrum process framework” — Process query Hit #1

“(…)the process or the material being processed must be adjusted.” — Process query Hit #5

“(…)within the Scrum process framework” — Process query Hit #6

“(…)A common language referring to the process must be shared by all(…) — Process query Hit #10

“Significant aspects of the process must be visible to those responsible(…) — Process query Hit #11

“If an inspector determines that one or more aspects of a process deviate outside acceptable limits(…) — Process query Hit #12

“The remaining events may end whenever the purpose of the event is achieved, ensuring an appropriate amount of time is spent without allowing waste in the process.” — Process query Hit #13

“The Scrum Master participates as a peer team member in the meeting from the accountability over the Scrum process.” — Process query Hit #15

“The Scrum Master encourages the Scrum Team to improve, within the Scrum process framework, (…)” — Process framework query Hit #1

“The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and their associated roles, events, artifacts, and rules.” — Framework query Hit #1

“Scrum is a framework for developing(…)” — Framework query Hit#2

“(…)and insights that complement the Scrum framework(…)” — Framework query Hit #6

“Specific tactics for using the Scrum framework vary and are described elsewhere.” — Framework query Hit #7

“Scrum is a process framework that has been used to manage work on complex products since the early 1990s.” — Framework query Hit #9


Based on this research author poses a conclusion that the “Scrum Guide” document has inconsistent and interchangeable use of nouns “process”, “process framework” and “framework” that are not synonymous to each other based on definitions of those nouns according to 3 referential dictionaries.

In addition, the author of this research would like to state that an entity such as the “Scrum” as defined within the document “Scrum Guide” may indeed be “simple to learn, difficult to master” considering the inconsistent usage of words defining what “Scrum” is or is not, especially when the definition is not based on keywords that are defined in the context of the document “Scrum Guide”, instead seemingly being based on the free-form and interchangeable usage of nouns “process”, “process framework” and “framework” that are not synonymous to each other as based on definitions of those nouns according to 3 referential dictionaries.

Author of this research would like to suggest that future versions of the document “Scrum Guide” be reviewed linguistically for keywords, the clean definition of proper nouns and nouns and dependencies between keywords and definitions in order to match keywords to definitions. Otherwise, if any potential keyword has several different definitions such a situation may create confusion and misunderstanding of those potential keywords and their meaning among readers of such document and practitioners of “Scrum” framework and/or “Scrum” process framework and/or “Scrum” process.

Methodology & resources:

The “methodology & resources” part will be covered in a separate article.

*Appendix 1:

Master count of collocates of the word “Scrum” in the “Scrum Guide” document

Scrum is:

· a process — 1 hit, reference query


· a process framework — 1 hit, reference query


· a framework — 3 hits, reference query


An Outro — who won the quiz and additional comments

As promised, we’re back to the easy-going discourse mode. What’s the proper answer to the multiple-choice question asked at the very beginning of this document? I don’t know. To many people “Scrum” is many things, both separately and at once at the same time. It can be “a process”, it can be “a business”, it can be a sort of “a religion” to some as well as “a professional and cultural movement” (like DevOps). I don’t know, you decide.

My point was not to discover some Great Cosmic Truth behind what Scrum is or is not, I just like to use clean language (pun intended) when it comes to definitions in order to avoid definition & method wars (as in the “safe” way to use scaling agile and all the hilarity that ensued out of it), pointless arguments based on anecdotes and singular examples from any particular context used in such a discussion (as in the no-true-Scotsman way of arguing “but it’s been working here this way for ages!”).

So I guess that it’s not really possible to discover another 0 conditional as defined in linguistics, so in short — some absolute truths in mathematics (2+2=4), physics (boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celcius, at least at the “standard sea-level atmospheric pressure” which you can read as — in your room as long as you don’t live high up in the mountains, in that case, the boiling point is lower at lower pressure or higher altitudes — fun fact, at 15,000 (4572 m) boiling point is 184.1°F (84.5°C). Quite a long digression, isn’t it?), chemistry (winners don’t use drugs) or biology (living beings bereft of sleep usually fare much worse).

So what would be such a 0 conditional when it comes to “Scrum”? I guess it’s whatever you make of it. The main gripe is that if some method, framework, process, you name it, should perform as expected we should be on the same page when it comes to its definition. Language is a really imprecise tool, though maybe that’s the reason we are able to invent different things. If entities (be it definitions for example) would have a determined meaning that is set in stone, not prone to change and is absolute then there would be no room for evolution.

Like just take a look at how “Scrum” evolved**. Scrum Master manager, chicken & pigs (gosh that was awful), release planning meeting, hardcoded sprint burndown, commitment mutated to forecast, “grooming” replaced by “refinement” (possibly due to some linguistic connotations of the word “grooming”. Or not.), daily Scrum questions hardcoded, then free-form, then just “an example”, Scrum Master as a coach, not enforcer, etc., etc., to name just a few.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with those changes or not, if the “Scrum Guide” is a living document then it’s just that — a living document. It will evolve (or as they like to say — inspect & adapt) in response to technology, culture, economy, sales of Scrum training & merchandise (what!? What “what!?”? People are making a business out of Scrum so if there would be another Paradigm Shift in the management attitude then Scrum will evolve simply not to fade away), etc..

I’d just like to see what would come out of a hypothetical situation in which a traveller in time, let’s say one of the authors of the Scrum Guide meets himself in the past and quarrels about the definition of Scrum.


Though, to end this quite long-ish Outro part I’d like to create a sketch of a potential situation that just may occur one day… but before, let’s just clarify those two asterisks used just a few sentences before “Like just take a look at how “Scrum” evolved**.”

**Guys at Serious Scrum did a good job of comparing those changes over the years, take a look here:

Ok, so the sketch

Imagine you are in a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show and somehow you’ve managed to scrape your way up to the 1mln $ question, maybe due to sheer luck, exquisite knowledge bordering on being a polymath or just by knowing the right people… yeah. Anyways.

– So, mister Maciek, you’ve passed 2 safe havens and climbed up to the toppity top. You’re in for the grand finale, would you like to know the final question?

– Sure, go on, please.

– Oki doki! So the final question is…

(Dear Readers, you should know what the final question would be right now)

(Cut those digressions in parenthesis, immediately!)

– Oki doki! So the final question is…

What is “Scrum”?

A. — A process
B. — A process framework
C. — A framework
D. — It depends

– Yeah, easy to learn, difficult to master… reminds me about some research done by one guy that I’ve read one day. Language is imprecise at best. … Yeah… how many lifelines do I have? Can you remind me?

– Three. 50/50, Phone a friend, Ask the audience.

– Ok, let’s ask the audience then.

(polling going on. Ping! Done.)

– (silent laughter of the presenter) So, the audience provided the following answers:

A. 25%
B. 25%
C. 25%
D. 25%

– (the player turning around to face the audience) Well thanks guys, that was really helpful! (turning back once again). Let’s phone a friend.

(computer calling a pre-defined friend)

– Sup man? Calling you from Who wants to be a millionaire and I’m having this 1mln $ question — What is Scrum? “A process” or “a process framework” or “a framework” or “it depends”.

– Maciek listen, it really depends on how you look at it but see, this is a very important question. You must understand that I have wife, kids and a dog, I’m an honest-to-God man and I cannot risk giving you the wrong answer, sorry bro, God bless and God speed (hangs out).

– Is it even real? I fell like in some kind of scripted play… Pfffff. Let’s go on with 50/50 on this one.

– Ok, 50/50 coming up right away! Computer!

(Computer parses the command, gets syntax query error, then the blue screen of death)


(“Haddaway — What Is Love” starts playing)

Fin. Curtains roll.

Source link