January 31, 2015 / in Blog, / by Number8

agile scrum and rugby scrumIn the popular game of rugby, a scrum (used as an abbreviation for "scrimmage"), is used to begin a match, typically after some type of rule violation or error. During a rugby scrum, eight players from each team tightly huddle heads-down in three rows. The primary goal is to gain possession of the ball, which is placed into the opening between the two opposing front line team members. Borrowing the concept of scrum from the game of rugby, the agile approach to software development uses a scrum framework to effectively manage product development. Using the scrum framework to create custom software, a product development team operates as a cohesive unit working towards a common goal. Team members function to support and empower one another. This involves frequent communication, realistic goal setting, and an overall commitment to the team. Similar to the agile scrum methodology used in product development, in order to be successful, a strong rugby team with self-managed roles works together for a common goal. Much like agile scrum software development, a rugby scrum relies heavily on strong communication among team players, with each player fulfilling a specific role to the best of their abilities. When a player is unable to execute, for whatever reason, teammates are expected to step in to fill the gap.

5 Interesting Similarities between Rugby Scrum and the Agile Scrum Methodology

Software developers using the agile approach are well aware that the scrum methodology was developed with inspiration from the sport of rugby. Many of the principles of the scrum methodology are fundamental to the game of rugby. Here are five interesting similarities between agile scrum and rugby scrum:
  1. Using A Team Approach - One talented player working alone cannot win the game of rugby. The sport requires a team effort to move the ball down the field. Passing the ball is a fundamental part of winning the game, and that is why there are more than a dozen different types of rugby passes. Similarly, in the scrum methodology for software development, the team is what makes the agile approach so successful. Individual software developers do not work in isolation. A scrum team works together in an organized way to accomplish clear tasks towards a common goal. Team members must be able to pass work along from one team member to another with as much ease as possible.
  2. Each Player Has Specific Roles - Each position on a rugby team requires a specific set of skills and even a certain body type that must meld with other players on the team to function successfully. There are forwards like the hooker, prop, flanker and number eight, and backs that include the three-quarter wing, full-backs and half.  Agile scrum is very similar in that the cross-functional team requires a variety of roles including scrum master, product owner, and software engineers. Each member of the team has important skills needed to complete specific project tasks.
  3. Sprints are Important - A sprint in rugby describes short bursts players do when running the ball down the field. On an agile scrum team, a sprint is an established period of time (typically between 7 and 30 days), where a specific segment of project work is accomplished.
  4. Flexibility is a Must - Working as a cohesive unit, a rugby team must use good judgment during the fast pace of the rugby game. The outcome of each play is somewhat unpredictable, and the rugby team must be flexible in determining the best approach to out maneuver the opposing team. In agile scrum, a product backlog is used to identify the work required to complete a project. This list is typically refined throughout a project, and team members must adapt to the changes as they arise, keeping the end goal in mind.
  5. Core Values are Embraced - In the game of rugby, there is an important code of conduct that players are expected to maintain whether on or off the playing field. Players treat one another with respect, and this creates a powerful group bond. As with the sport of rugby, the scrum methodology supports an important set of values that team members must adhere to in order to create a high functioning scrum team. Commitment, focus, positivity, courtesy and tolerance are all important traits that enable an agile scrum team to work together as effectively as possible.
Agile development and the scrum methodology has many parallels to the game of rugby. Maybe the most important similarity involves the shared emphasis on a team approach towards a common goal. The most successful teams, whether in the sport of rugby or in agile software development, enjoy working hard and having fun together. They develop solutions to the inevitable set backs, staying focused on the bigger end goal that is shared by the entire team.

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