Scrum Methodology and Rugby

Date: 21/06/2022| Category: Agile| Tags:

Methodologies and best practices in general can be linked to the world of sports. We have already talked about how Formula 1 is considered an Agile sport, in this article we will understand how Scrum practices can be found and traced in rugby.

The New, New Product Development Game

The term Scrum originates from rugby and is the English translation of what we call “scrum”. However, the connection between the Scrum methodology and rugby goes much deeper and some elements of the framework itself originate from this sport.

The connection between the Scrum methodology and rugby dates back to 1986, when professors Takeuchi and Nonaka published their study entitled The New, New Product Development Game in the Harvard Business Review. Here they compared two approaches to product development:

  1. A dated and less effective approach in which each team member was specialised and work progressed sequentially, comparable to a relay race
  2. A new, more effective “rugby-style approach” in which a team is made up of professionals with transversal skills and self-managed roles working in synergy to develop a product

This new approach that promotes flexibility and creativity is much more effective and allows the creation of new product lines that are better in terms of quality and quantity.

Obviously, the “rugby-style” approach was not implemented without difficulties. It was challenging to move from an organisation based on control and predictability to one based on team reinforcement and less rigid planning.

Takeuchi and Nonaka’s approach certainly influenced Jeff Sutherland, one of the authors of the Scrum Guide, who particularly liked the sports metaphors associated with the two approaches.

It must be kept in mind, however, that Scrum is not the “Wild West of coding” where everyone does what they want without duties or responsibilities. Rather, Scrum is based on discipline, commitment and the ability to adapt: just like a good rugby team, a successful Scrum team uses these techniques to deliver quality products.

Scrum & Teamwork

One of the fundamental rules of rugby, which most distinguishes it from other sports, is that in order to advance towards the goal, the ball must always be passed backwards: the oval can never be passed forward.

For this reason, the game of rugby imposes strong teamwork that requires all players to work in a coordinated manner. No matter how fast, strong and good in game strategy, in rugby no player can score without teamwork.

And so does a team that applies the Scrum methodology: work must be organised in such a way that it can easily be passed from one person to another without room for a ‘superstar’ to work alone without giving or receiving input from the team.

This is why daily scrums are extremely important: they allow the entire team to be aligned and up-to-date on activities so that they can coordinate work, identify possible threats or obstacles and plan the day.

One Team, many skills

A rugby team consists of 15 players. Each player requires different characteristics, skills and physical traits. Unlike other sports in which body type and skills are fairly standardised, rugby teams need to be extremely heterogeneous with players who are tall, short, slow but strong, fast, able to throw with their hands or feet. In rugby, such a team is much stronger and more successful than a team in which all players achieve the same performance.

Scrum teams apply the same principle: they are cross-functional groups with self-managing roles, i.e., it is the team members themselves who decide how to divide and approach the work. It is the team itself that decides how to approach the different tasks without having to deal with the challenges according to a top-down organisation.

In both rugby and Scrum, each player has specific skills that add value to the team.

Adaptation and Flexibility

Rugby is not based on rigid, predefined schemes: teams often have a strategy that they adapt to the moment and the type of game, and not vice versa. The game changes from moment to moment as the action unfolds. The victory of one team over the other depends on action and reaction.

In the same way, Scrum teams are flexible and elaborate Project Plans. They start working on the basis of some basic information provided by the Product Owner, who together with all the stakeholders defines the Product Backlog. This contains a list of necessary requirements that is subject to continuous revision. The Scrum team knows that at each sprint, the Product Backlog will undergo changes, which is why it remains flexible and adaptable.

It is the Scrum team that adapts to the changes that occur in order to successfully reach the end of the project.

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The similarities and connections between Scrum and rugby are many: skills are used effectively and flexibly, actions are organised dynamically and the more the team is able to adapt to the situation, the more successful and competitive it is. Like rugby, Scrum can be adapted to tactics that bring out the skills of individual members but always within a team effort.

Do you want to deepen your understanding on these concepts and learn how to use the Scrum framework to its full potential? QRP International organises Scrum Master and Scrum Product Owner Certified courses. Visit the site or write us for all the information!

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