Scrum is popular as a jumping-off point for agile software development because, experts agree, it’s lightweight and easy to grasp. Because it’s a framework and not a methodology, it’s more empirical in nature than prescriptive, and it looks more at the process of creating software than at the engineering required to create it.

Despite its relative simplicity, agile development experts agree that certain bridges must first be crossed before an organization can implement Scrum (and other agile methods) successfully.

Scrum is best utilized for developing software products that would otherwise fail using a more traditional approach to project management, according to Victor Szalvay, CTO of the Scrum business unit at CollabNet. Among the factors is the complexity of the project.

“Are requirements changing? Is the technology squishy? Where you’re injecting uncertainty, the project becomes non-deterministic, and that’s where Scrum is the best fit,” he said. Projects that are simple, highly repeatable, and with little risk and uncertainty, can be done using more traditional “waterfall” methods, he added.

After an organization makes the decision to move to Scrum and agile, it must first have an understanding of what it’s getting into with the framework before trying to implement it. Moving to agile development, and particularly Scrum, involves a major change in the way development shops work. As the old saying goes, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”

One of the first keys to gaining the productivity benefits that Scrum promises is to get total buy-in, whether from a small team doing a pilot project or an organization-wide shift. The experts interviewed for this story agreed that it is important to have both bottom-up and top-down support before beginning to work this way.

“You have to understand when you move to agile methodologies, there will be a learning phase that should be accounted for in the planning,” said David Vidoni, director of product management at BPM software maker Pegasystems, which transitioned to Scrum and agile development about a year ago. “In situations where you don’t have buy-in, that’s where you run into problems.”

Ideally, an organization will have a team of developers that wants to work in a Scrum and agile environment, along with a higher-level executive who understands the benefits to the business and will champion the effort. “Bottom-up alone will get squashed because the higher-level individuals will feel threatened, while top-down doesn’t work because there’s too much organizational change involved,” said Szalvay. “It’s best if it spreads organically; people will want to do it.”