Agile and Scrum for Earned Value Professionals (Part 2 of 2): Scrum and Earned Value

How to Apply Agile and Scrum to EVM Projects Part 2 of 2 

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the powerful ways that the Agile approach improves Earned Value Management (EVM) processes. In this second part, we look at Scrum, a highly effective method for putting the Agile mindset into action. At its core, the Scrum approach works best for projects where the scope has some flexibility. Scrum allows teams to continually refine the scope, drop non-essential deliverables, and promote schedule and budget efficiency along the way.  

Like Agile, the Scrum methodology is shrouded in so much corporate mysticism and jargon that it can be difficult for many teams to decipher what it’s really about. After reading this article, we hope you will have a better idea of what Scrum means and when it makes sense to apply it. 

Why Does Scrum Exist? The Challenge of Traditional Project Management  

Scope, time, and budget are key elements of every evm project. However, things rarely go as planned. The traditional Project Management (PM) approach — the waterfall method — involves advance planning of features and development that won’t come to fruition for many months or even years. This may mean that project teams don’t get a testable product until it’s too late to change course, resulting in the unpleasant trio of schedule delays, rework, and/or reduced capabilities.  

As a result, technology projects on average run 45% over budget, 7% over schedule, and deliver 56% less value (scope, performance, and capability) than expected. These overruns are interesting when you consider that only 20% of software features are used often, 30% are used infrequently, and 50% are hardly ever used — or never used. Considering this, the scope of software projects is usually a lot more flexible than project teams realize. In a more flexible strategy, teams could drop rarely-used features to meet time and budget projections.  

Unfortunately, the waterfall method can’t achieve this level of flexibility for several reasons: 1) the PM details are defined by the scope; 2) frontloading costs in the planning phase; and 3) a slow feedback process. In other words, this traditional approach assumes that the project is scope-boxed — meaning the goals for technical requirements and capabilities are fixed, while the budget and time are flexible.  

After years of development and user data, it has become clear that the waterfall model is not suitable for projects with flexible scope, such as software development. This is where Scrum shines. It acknowledges the importance of flexibility and responsiveness. 

What Is Scrum? 

If you’re a rugby fan, you may already see the correlation in the term “scrum.” In rugby, a scrummage — usually referred to as a scrum — is a procedure for restarting play. It involves packing a large number of players close together while they attempt to gain possession of the ball. The scrum concentrates all the play in a single area, creating space for new play in other areas. Similarly, Scrum in EV allows teams to prioritize key elements of scope while freeing up time and resources, which allows them to better meet the cost and schedule objectives.   

These characteristics of Scrum make it the ideal complement to the Agile mindset. While emphasizing flexibility and collaboration, Scrum also focuses on iterations — i.e., the process of building, refining, and enhancing projects along the way. In this respect, Scrum is an Agile-friendly approach for achieving project goals. It involves a mechanical process that teams use to fix the time and budget of a project (time-box and cost-box) while allowing for flexibility in scope. This adds flexibility by reconvening at set intervals (i.e., having a scrummage) to re-evaluate the deliverable features or goals that matter most. 

What Does the Scrum Process Look Like in Earned Value?  

The Scrum process begins by taking the overall vision of the product or project and prioritizing its features. Then, we establish a fixed period of time to produce working, testable deliverables. Typically, this period of time ranges from a week to a few months in length. These time-boxed chunks are called sprints — another rugby term. At the end of each sprint, the team produces a deliverable feature evaluated with frequent feedback from clients and other stakeholders. 

For the next sprint interval, we add all changes and new ideas to the product backlog and prioritize them. The backlog is a prioritized list of tasks or features that need to be completed; a running in “to-do” list managed by the product owners. It helps the team focus on the most valuable work. The backlog is updated and reprioritized as needed, and guides the iterative and incremental delivery throughout the project. We then focus on producing the next set of deliverables. We continue this process until the budget and time are complete. Ideally, the Scrum method results in the most optimal project outcome for the amount of time and resources allocated, with the most useful and functional features getting top priority. 

Ultimately, the use of Agile and Scrum is considerably different from the waterfall method. Here’s a simplified, side-by-side diagram for comparing the two approaches:  

  • Waterfall: Plan Requirements Design Implement Test Deploy 
  • Agile & Scrum: Release 1 Release 2 Release 3 Features Capabilities 

To Scrum or Not to Scrum? That Is the Question 

Scrum is excellent for EVM projects that have flexible scope targets. Therefore, when considering to Scrum or not to Scrum, the first thing to identify is whether a given project is scope-boxed. If there is some flexibility in scope, then the Scrum method can take advantage of that flexibility for the benefit of meeting cost and schedule parameters and working with stakeholders to deliver incremental, working features and capabilities.  

This is the elegance of Scrum in an EV context. Traditional approaches such as the waterfall method simply assume that scope is inflexible. However, when we take a step back, speak with stakeholders, and continually reevaluate scope throughout the course of a project, we often discover that not all of the original scope parameters are required or needed. When they’re not — and especially when teams take a moment to recognize that they’re not — we can use the newly discovered scope flexibility to make radical performance improvements.  

Taken together, Agile and Scrum allow us to find the perfect sweet spot of scope, cost, and schedule efficiency. This is EVM at its finest as it makes good on the promise of improving project performance.  


This article provides a simplified explanation and much-needed context on how to apply Agile and Scrum in EVM. Of course, a blog post can only scratch the surface. True mastery of Agile and Scrum comes from putting them into action, again and again.  

Are you wondering if Agile and Scrum are right for your project? Let’s talk! 

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