Scrum is (almost) like rugby
In rugby terminology, “scrum” refers to a situation where players of both teams face each other after a foul and touch their heads. Then a ball is thrown between them and they try to catch it, pass it to a free teammate and kick or carry it to get into the opponent’s goal, where they put it down. The goal of a scrum in rugby is to work together in a team to win the ball and move it forward. Scrum has the same goal, i.e. teamwork, in development as well. There’s just a lot less physical contact ?
The origins of the Scrum development framework date back to 1986. That’s when the Harvard Business Review published “The New New Product Development Game” by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (you can read it here). In it, the authors described Japanese companies such as Honda, Canon and Fuji-Xerox, which use “cross-functional teams” to develop products. Within them, individuals with different knowledge work together on several parts of the project at the same time to maximise productivity and minimise unnecessary time delays.
Development is not a relay…
Takeuchi and Nonaka used metaphors from the world of sports to describe the product development process. They compared the classic development process with a relay run, in which each competitor runs alone and passes the baton to the next runner at the end of their run. The authors of the article stated that this approach doesn’t necessarily lead to maximum speed and certainly not to flexibility. As an alternative, they introduced an approach in which the team goes the entire distance together and the baton is dynamically transferred back and forth. It allegedly promises more success in today’s competitive world. Today we know they were right.
In software development, this then-new methodology was first used at Easel Corporation. In 1993, the company’s CTO Jeff Sutherland and his team combined ideas from the article by Takeuchi and Nonaka with concepts such as:
- object-oriented programming,
- empirical process management,
- iterative development,
- and added the results of productivity research.
They named this unique development recipe after the already mentioned rugby situation – Scrum.
…but a game of teams
Why rugby? Jeff explained the connection between the Scrum methodology and this game as follows:
- In both cases, it’s a team sport where the individual parts of the game intertwine and influence each other.
- The focus on teamwork, communication and adaptability that is required in rugby teams is the same when developing through scrum.
- In both rugby and effective development, the team’s ability to react quickly and adapt to changes in the game or project is important.
After intense discussions, Jeff’s colleague Ken Schwaberv published this information in the first article on Scrum (1995). Since then, they have co-written several books on the methodology and they also regularly update The Scrum Guide available at scrum.org. This site is managed by Scrum.org founded by Ken himself, and it features original content from Jeff. So you get first-hand information, directly from the “parents” of Scrum.
As the development progressed, the definition of this methodology also changed. Concepts such as a sprint or backlog were added, roles and scrum events were defined. However, the foundation laid by Takeuchi and Nonaka remained the same – flexibility and teamwork. It’s only thanks to those that you can reach your goal really efficiently.