Scrum for One: Is it Possible?

A Scrum team, per the Scrum Guide, includes three roles (called accountabilities), the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Developer (we usually say Team Member around here so there is no confusion in nonprofits about Development as a fundraising function in the organization). You will usually hear that the “ideal” number of people on a Scrum Team is 3 to 9 individuals. As a result, a question that our team continuously fields is, can I do Scrum as a team of one? 


In some cases when individuals inquire about being a “team of one” (this often happens with grant professionals/grant writers that are employees in a nonprofit organization) the reality is that there is actually MORE than a team of one because of the ongoing cross-functional collaboration happening across staff/departments (i.e. – to achieve the grant team’s goal of getting competitive grant applications out the door). So it isn’t actually Scrum for one, but rather helping your colleagues understand their contribution and capacity for the team, even though likely very part-time.


In many situations though, there are individuals starting nonprofits who are a team of one, and there are consultants/freelancers supporting nonprofits as a team of one. So I return to the original question they pose, “Can do I Scrum as a team of one?” 




Scrum CAN work in this situation. The Scrum framework can still work in single-person scenarios in nonprofits and nonprofit-supporting organizations, but it takes focused effort on your part.


Here is how you can approach being a Scrum team of “just” one person:

  1. Learn the framework and the language of the Scrum Guide. Understand the 5 events (Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective) and the 3 artifacts (Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Product Increment) and make a plan to apply them to your work. (You may also want to download our free glossary that helps put some nonprofit context on all the Agile and Scrum language you are learning.)
  2. Understand the purpose of each of the 3 roles and when in your work you are wearing which hat. When are you wearing the Product Owner hat and focusing on prioritization of your work? When are you wearing the Scrum Master hat and thinking about your effectiveness? And most importantly, when are you wearing your Team Member hat and *doing* the actual work?
  3. Test your implementation of the Scrum framework by adding ONE element at a time based on what you hypothesize will be most valuable to you next. You might learn that the Product Backlog, as JJ Sutherland suggests in this interview with me, is truly the best place to start. Make all your work visible and then put the Product Owner hat on and start prioritizing your work. Maybe next you try setting your Sprint length (1 to 4 weeks) OR perhaps it is scheduling Sprint Reviews so you are regularly collecting feedback from your stakeholders.


A great and lower risk way to test the idea of Agile before you use it in your professional work? Try it in real life. Your day-to-day activities – house projects, volunteer activities, and even vacation planning are a great way to practice your Agile mindset and Scrum framework skills. You can read about some ideas for practicing in real life here.


Do you want to make sure you understand what the Scrum framework is so that you can use it in your one-person team? Join us for one of our upcoming Scrum Basics for Nonprofits 2-hour LIVE and INTERACTIVE webinars.


Also, be sure to put our bi-monthly free Office Hours on your calendar (be sure to register in advance to save your seat!) so you can come ask questions of our team and others who are implementing Agile in their own team settings as well.