Scrum and Rugby – How the Game Inspired the Name


Scrum is a command for restarting the rugby game: players from the two teams get together with heads down and push each other to win possession. The term comes from the English word ‘scrimmage (skirmish). The scrum applies for penalty charges.

Rugby players at the stadium.


Rugby has a strategy called Scrum, which is the restart of a play. This same strategy has 8 players and of those players, 3 are in the formation line. The gamers’ position in the game inspired the usage of the term on IT.

The first time someone officially mentioned the term “Scrum” in a development context was on the article “The New New Product Development Game” at Harvard Business Review in 1986 by Takeuchi & Nonaka.

That’s where the Scrum pioneers got their inspiration. In this article, the authors made a metaphoric comparison between American and Japanese companies’ development methods and the rugby game:

“Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t do the job. Instead, companies in Japan and the United States are using a holistic method — as in rugby, players pass the ball within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.”

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Takeuchi & Nonaka also analyzed different forms that multidisciplinary teams use to reach positive results. They even sorted American big companies into groups, comparing their different approaches and strategies.

Nevertheless, in the end – while interviewing their respective CEOs, they verified that all of these leading companies showed managing characteristics in their new product development processes.

The research examined multinational companies like Fuji-Xerox, Canon, Honda, NEC, Epson, Brother, 3M, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard.

The authors also highlighted the importance of seeing these assets as a puzzle, not as independent parts. It means only one of them wouldn’t do, they are all part of a winning whole.


1. Built-in instability

It consists of the top management kicking off hard challenges for the team, pushing them forward by forcing difficult situations with very ambitious goals, deadlines, or budgets.

At the same time, they give the team freedom on how to conduct the development process.

For example, Fuji-Xerox’s directors ordered a completely different copier and gave the FX-3500 project team two years to develop the new machine to be produced for half the cost and the same performance.

“It’s like putting the team members on the second floor, removing the ladder, and telling them to jump or else. I believe creativity is born by pushing people against the wall and pressuring them almost to the extreme.”, said a Honda executive.

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2. Self-organizing project teams

These companies trained their teams to have autonomy in their daily activities, with no need for constant interference from superiors, provided that they are able to manage their own work and present results. They lean on multi-talented capacity, collaboration, and constant evolution to reach individual and common objectives during the development process.

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3. Overlapping development phases

Deliver value constantly, overlapping development stages, by managing team activities with different multidisciplinary teams. The team starts to work as a unit until the individual becomes inseparable from the whole. The individual’s rhythm and the group’s rhythm begin to overlap, creating a new pace. This pace moves the team forward and allows them to deliver value frequently.

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4. “Multi-learning”

Keep project members in touch with external sources of information, so they’ll respond faster to dynamic demands. Engage staff in an empirical process to reduce the number of alternatives that they must consider. Encourage them to improve their knowledge and skills, and become capable of solving problems.

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5. Subtle control

Although these companies preserve team’s autonomy, they adopt some principles to avoid problems and maintain good communication:
1) Selecting the Right People for the Project Teams
2) Creating Open Work Environment
3) Going Out and Listening to the Customers
4) Rewarding System on Group Performance
5) Managing Rhythm Differences
6) Tolerating and anticipating mistakes
7) Encouraging suppliers to become self-organizing

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6. Organizational transfer of learning

Create a culture of sharing knowledge among teammates. Encourage top managers to transfer their expertise to the employees. Pull out your company’s intellectual capital to work in a collaborative way. Create your corporate Scrum library, themes / technical library and stimulate individual growth.

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In 1995, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland published the book “Scrum Development Process”, with the basis of the Scrum approach.

It has a definition of this methodology: “Scrum is the systems development process as a flexible set of activities that combine known and workable tools and techniques with the best a development team can develop to build systems.”

Also according to Sutherland, Scrum is an agile method that specialists designed to add energy, focus, clarity, and transparency to project planning and implementation.

Small to large software enterprises use Scrum worldwide. It increases the development velocity, promotes corporate objectives alignment, helps companies to create a performance-driven culture, provides support on constant value creation, aids the achievement of efficient internal communication, and structures the balance of individual development and life quality.

The Easel Corporation had the first recognized group of software professionals who became agile enthusiasts by 1993. Then, soon the method rase as the world’s most popular workframe for development.

Companies realized that Scrum could release creative teamwork, form collaborative communities with stakeholders, and offer a better life for developers and everyone involved in the work process, making their lives better.

This framework is fully defined in the Scrum Guide at, by Schwaber and Sutherland.


This is an iterative, incremental framework for application or product development. It structures the process in Sprints cycles, which last less than one month, and managers can usually set in weeks, in a sequence.

The Sprints have a standard duration – they end on a specific date, no matter if the work is completed or not, and they are never extended.

They are useful for several things: setting the agile team’s goals, monitoring them, motivating the team to meet them, and even reward them with gamification strategies.

When the Sprint starts, the team leader selects and distributes the tasks (customer requirements) from a prioritized list. They set a deadline for the Sprint. Developers and all team members commit to complete the tasks and subtasks by the end of it. During the Sprint, the assigned items do not change.

The team monitors accomplishments daily to replan or make adjustments and optimize the probability of meeting the deadline. In the end, the team reviews the Sprint with the team leader or client(s) and shows what they have done. Professionals get feedback to be considered in the next Sprint.

Sprints are one of the most essential Scrum features. Besides their motivational aspect, they help monitor all the Scrum flow, daily and weekly.

Team leaders plan the monthly objectives by splitting them into weekly sprints, assessing the team’s overall performance since day one, and deciding whether they’ll make the goals less or more ambitious, willing to reach the highest results.

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