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Why Scrum is Named After Rugby



Scrum is the most popular Agile framework. According to the 17th annual State of Agile report from Digital.ai, 63% of teams who are using Agile are using Scrum.


For Rugby fans, the term Scrum may already be familiar. In Rugby, a "scrum" is where players pack closely together, heads down in formation, to gain possession of the ball. Each member of the scrum formation in Rugby serves a specific purpose. Some people in the formation push forward, while others hold the formation up. The success of the scrum in Rugby hinges on the collaboration and coordination of every team member. Remove one, and the entire structure collapses.


The first mention of Rugby as related to product development appeared in the 1986 Harvard Business Review article titled "The New New Product Development Game" by Takeuchi & Nonaka. The article made the case that traditional, sequential methods for product development slow value delivery because work is passed from one team to the next.  The article compared traditional approaches to a relay race, passing tasks from team to team.  



Incremental delivery vs. waterfall delivery

The article showed that value is delivered more quickly when teams collaborate as multidisciplinary groups from start to finish.  The article compared this approach to Rugby because everyone in Rugby collaborates as a team to move the ball across the field.  


The Scrum framework is named after the Rugby formation partly because of the mention of Rubgy in the article "The New New Product Development Game" but also because teams operate as cohesive units in the Scrum framework, with each member bringing unique skills and perspectives to the table, just like the Rugby scrum formation. The cross-functional nature of the Scrum team ensures that all necessary expertise is available to deliver a fully functional product. Just as in Rugby, collaboration and teamwork are paramount in achieving success.


The comparison between Rugby scrums and the Scrum framework extends beyond surface-level similarities. Both emphasize adaptability and continuous improvement. In Rugby, the game evolves through constant interaction and iterative experimentation, mirroring the agile principles embedded within the Scrum methodology.


The essence of the Rugby approach to product development, as articulated in the Harvard Business Review article, resonates deeply with the core principles of Scrum. Rather than following a rigid, linear process, the Scrum framework embraces flexibility, trial and error, and learning by doing. This dynamic approach is crucial in an ever-changing business landscape, where speed and innovation are imperative for success.


Furthermore, just as the Rugby scrum serves as a catalyst for change within a game, the adoption of Scrum can spark transformation within organizations. By promoting collaboration, breaking down silos, and fostering a culture of innovation, Scrum becomes not just a development methodology but a driver of organizational evolution.



Cross-functionality still matters


Cross-functional teams deliver value sooner

Naming the Scrum framework after the game of Rugby is more than just a nod to the article "The New New Product Development Game." It highlights the importance of a cross-functional team for adaptability, speed, and continuous improvement.


Too often, organizations overlook the importance of cross-functional teams for maximizing value delivery. As a result, organizations create unnecessary silos in an attempt to "specialize" and keep people busy. Managers in these organizations are trying to optimize value delivery but are having the opposite effect. Rather than optimizing value delivery, these organizations create unnecessary dependencies that slow value delivery - a lot.


The very name of Scrum emphasizes the importance of a cross-functional team with all of the skills necessary to deliver a done increment each Sprint.


Conclusion


Rather than creating silos that slow value delivery, organizations involved in an Agile transformation should bring together team members with all the skills necessary to deliver value and empower them rather than micromanage them. Only then can organizations and teams get the most from the Scrum framework.


To learn more about Scrum, sign up for Rebel Scrum's Applying Professional Scrum course and receive a free attempt at the globally recognized Professional Scrum Master certification from Scrum.org.


To learn more about how to define products and assemble cross-functional groups to support those products, sign up for Rebel Scrum's Product Definition course.



Rebel Scrum Product Definition Course

2 Comments


Oscar Olaro
Oscar Olaro
a day ago

i would like to share this on linkedIn to further bring the message home.

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 I've never thought about things from this perspective before Only Up

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