Tag Archives: scrum

Why the Name “Scrum?”

It almost never fails to get a laugh: “scrum.”

But there are some real reasons for that name — it’s a term from rugby, and it’s used as a metaphor to reflect the degree of cooperation needed to succeed.

A rugby team scores when the ball is advanced across the goal line and touched to the ground. The way the ball moves is (primarily) by being carried and being handed off or passed laterally/backwards. If the ball carrier is tackled, he must release the ball, and play doesn’t stop.

Because holding the ball leaves you very vulnerable to being tackled by the big lads on the opposing team, it’s imperative to keep the ball moving between teammates. And this means that the whole team is needed to score. There are no Montana-Rice combos in rugby, no solo stars–at least not to the degree that there are in American football.

Work as a Team

There are a lot of applicable statements on this page about playing rugby: http://www.rugby-sidestep-central.com/rugby-attack.html , but here’s one that might be the best:

Continually think of your alignment in relation to the ball carrier and any players in between. Work hard to be available when needed.

How about if I repeat that last sentence for effect: “Work hard to be available when needed.” If you are on an agile team, you should work hard to help your team succeed. Another one of those sure ways to make your team unhealthy is to look at the stories or tasks, shrug, and say “there’s nothing here for me to do.”

So . . . Scrum?

So what’s the term “scrum?” It’s the beginning of play (or the restart of play after an infraction): http://www.rugby-sidestep-central.com/basic-rugby-rules.html#Q20 . If you are familiar with American football, you’ll see a scrum and think of a scrimmage. But in the scrum the ball is loose, and each team is scrambling (clawing, fighting, kicking) to gain control. Just as when the ball is being handled by the backs, teamwork is required. (I’m not advocating for violence in your retrospective meetings, just describing rugby, now.)

scrum, where forwards from both teams pack together using their bulk, strength and ability to work together to get the ball.

How do I know all this? Well, I admit I’m not an expert. I just googled to find the site I’m referencing, and what it says matches what I remember (Thanks, Peter Dawson!). Because when I was in college, I played rugby for about a week, damn near broke my ankle in a practice and never played again. I got a good tough shirt out of the deal, but my ankle still hurts sometimes.

Jilles van Gurp’s “Scrum: Agile Madness”

There is some great stuff on Jiles van Gurp’s blog. Here are a few of my favorite thoughts from “Scrum: Agile Madness

  • “…you can’t substitute experience with process and that is exactly what agile followers end up doing. Take away the experienced people and you have a lot of people executing the rituals of scrum, kanban, or whatever without really understanding what they are doing.”
  • “…often scrum is introduced to fix what is already a dysfunctional organization.”
  • “Actually, if all of the above is true [referring to four assumptions about happy and productive teams], you will have little need for process. If that isn’t the case, no amount of process is going to fix things magically.”
  • “[ironically:] A two day pep talk about scrum is apparently all the training you need to become a product manager or scrum master.”
  • “[T]here are a lot of inexperienced people who get promoted to be a product owner or worse start their first or second job being one. Likewise, the scrum master role is not considered a job very high on the corporate ladder either.”
  • “Choosing and tuning the way in which you work is more important than having everybody mindlessly follow the same process.”

These quotations of course are all presented here without the context van Gurp provides. I strongly recommend you read the whole post: http://www.jillesvangurp.com/2011/12/03/scrum-agile-madness/ . Thank you, Jilles, for your blog!