Few people in history can claim as much long-lasting influence over the software development and product management space as Ken Schwaber.
Born in Illinois, USA, in 1945, Ken is one half of the duo behind the agile framework scrum.
A household name for almost every software developer working today, scrum is a methodology that allows development teams to create products based on iterative, short-term “sprints”. Each sprint has dedicated goals and objectives, followed by review and retrospective meetings to assess the team’s progress.
In this way, scrum has revolutionized the way product teams go about their jobs; streamlining development, ensuring closer adherence to project outcomes, and creating better products.
Ken Schwaber was one of the original 17 signatories of the agile manifesto, meaning he is a pioneer of the agile framework — and the domain of product management — in every sense of the word.
If you were to go by the book, Ken Schwaber is known as a software developer, product manager, and consultant. In reality, though, he’s as close to product management royalty as it’s possible to get.
Chief among Ken’s many shining accolades have to be his role in the creation of the scrum framework — a model of software development used by businesses large and small across the globe to break complex development projects down into more manageable pieces.
Along with Jeff Sutherland, Ken presented the concept of the scrum framework during the OOPSLA (object-oriented programming, systems, languages & applications) conference in 1995. From there, both Schwaber and Sutherland went on to join with 15 other well-known product management leaders to sign the manifesto for agile software development in 2001.
Schwaber and Sutherland also co-authored The Scrum Guide — the definitive handbook for anyone looking to implement the scrum framework in their development process. The guide is still regularly updated to maintain the utmost relevance for product teams today.
If you’ve ever worked on large-scale, high-complexity software development projects, you’ll know things can quickly get out of control.
Whether it’s the dreaded “scope creep” or simply a lack of communication, it’s surprisingly easy for development to drift off course and stray far, far away from the initial roadmap. Agile software development is an elegant solution to this problem, providing an iterative and self-governing framework to continuously review your progress.
The scrum framework is a variation of the agile methodology, and it’s the means by which Ken Schwaber has effected real, measurable change in the world of project management for over 20 years.
How does scrum achieve this?
In a nutshell, scrum challenges a development team to break down their complex project into smaller, bite-sized iterations known as "sprints". These sprints can be one, two, or three weeks in length, but shouldn’t be much more than that. The team sets very specific goals at the beginning of the sprint and — as the name suggests — tries to get as much done in that time as possible. They sprint to the finish line.
Once there, they hold sprint review and retrospective meetings to assess their progress and ensure they’re aligned with the project roadmap.
Following this method of working, product management teams can:
Make remarkable progress in a very short space of time.
Stay motivated and accountable with a continuous process of review and self-reflection.
Avoid scope creep/feature creep and stay focused on the roadmap.
As one of the pioneers of the scrum framework, there’s plenty of information out there about Ken Schwaber and his approach to agile development.
That said, if you’d like a more personal take on Ken and his work on scrum, the best place must be his blog, Telling It Like It Is. Here you’ll discover regularly-published posts directly from Ken, highlighting his magnetic personality as well as his industry-leading expertise in the area of software development. From farmyard analogies to step-by-step guides on incorporating the agile methodology into a business, Ken’s blog is an excellent resource for anyone with even a passing interest in scrum.
If you’re new to the world of scrum, though, you can discover everything you need to know (and probably even more) from the Scrum.org website. A testament to Ken’s genuine passion for software development, the website is still being updated and managed by Ken himself today.
The Scrum Guide — essentially the bible for anyone leveraging the framework — is updated every couple of years, with the most recent version published November 2020.
Eager to go beyond the theory of scrum and put some learnings into practice? You can also sign up for any of the myriad training and certification courses, offering diplomas for scrum masters, scrum developers, scrum product owners, and other professional roles. Ken has contributed to each of these, so this is one of the best ways to benefit directly from his knowledge and industry expertise (and get a certificate in the process).