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Author: Alison Grimme

Rugby vs. Development: What Is SCRUM?

In the game of rugby, after an infringement or out-of-play ball, both teams engage in a formation called Scrum (short for scrummage) in order to compete for possession. The nature of the play is quite dangerous and has resulted in injuries and a couple of deaths1.

The type of scrum focused on in this article is, fortunately, not life threatening.

In American football, the coach calls each play prior to its implementation by the players – a play that has been practiced and drilled before the game so that each player knows exactly where to go and what his role is. After that play is over, the coach will call another. This process works by using a “defined steps” approach.

In rugby, however, plays don’t usually work out as planned and become chaotic and frenzied. Predefined steps in the play will be abandoned, because they do not work in the random nature of the sport. Instead, the rugby coach must teach his players how to be spontaneous, self-organizing, and able to act on the fly. The coach will teach basic rugby patterns that the team will adjust as needed when in action, while making periodic assessments of the patterns and changing them based on success or failure.

The scrum approach to IT project management works in a similar manner to the way a rugby coach organizes his plays. The customer, or product owner, provides a set of objectives he or she desires to reach. The project manager, or ScrumMaster, will create a self-organizing team, but give them no specific steps for achieving the objective(s)2. This allows the team to decide what to do and how to do it as they encounter surprises, problems, or difficulties. At the end of each iteration, or Sprint, of the project, the team presents its work, allowing the product owner to assess what’s been done and make changes to the requirements, priorities, and release plans. At the same time, the scrummaster coaches the team as they adapt their project plans and processes.


Just as a rugby team has various players in different positions (like Fly-Half, Number 8, and Prop), so too does the scrum process team3. According to the Scrum Alliance, there are three:

The Team

  • Is cross-functional, with seven (plus or minus two) members
  • Selects the sprint goal and specifies work results
  • Has the right to do everything within the boundaries of the project guidelines to reach the sprint goal
  • Organizes itself and its work
  • Demos work results to the product owner

The Product Owner

  • Defines the features of the product
  • Decides on release date and content
  • Is responsible for the profitability of the product (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features according to market value
  • Adjusts features and priority every 30 days, or as needed
  • Accepts or rejects work results

The ScrumMaster

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
  • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
  • Removes barriers
  • Shields the team from external interferences
  • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Planning meetings4

Process Overview

The scrum process has several steps:

  1. The product owner creates of list of requirements, called the Product Backlog, listed in order of business value.
  2. During a sprint planning meeting, the product owner and team choose the top items from product backlog that can be completed during a 2 – 4 week “Sprint” session.
  3. The scrummaster helps the team break down the tasks necessary to complete the items chosen for the sprint.
  4. During each day of the sprint, a 15-minute meeting is held to discuss the status of the project – this is the Daily Scrum Meeting
  5. When the sprint is finished, a Sprint Review Meeting is held so the team can present its work to the product owner, who assesses whether the items are complete or not, and guides the team as they select the items for their next sprint.
  6. After the team and scrummaster discuss the failures and successes of the sprint, the process begins all over again5.


Key terms

Scrum – Scrum is an agile project management process that allows you to deliver usable results during your project lifecycle, absorbing changes as you go along.

Product Owner – Establishes and prioritizes the product backlog, or requirements, based on the interest of all stakeholders and the goals of the project.

Team – Small team possessing cross-functioning skills that manages and develops the product or project

ScrumMaster – Helps guide the team through the scrum process, but because the team is supposed to self-organize, he or she may not necessarily be perceived as the “leader.”

Product Backlog – Documented, prioritized requirements for the project.

Sprint – 2 – 4 week period where the team works to finish predetermined deliverables from the product backlog.

Daily Scrum– In a meeting limited to no more than 15 minutes, each team member must address three items aloud to the rest of the group: what they have done since yesterday; what they plan to do by tomorrow; and what impediments to progress they are experiencing.

Sprint Review Meeting – Held at the end of the sprint, this meeting usually does not exceed a four-hour time limit. The team presents the part of the project they completed during the sprint to the product owner and any related stakeholders and establishes which items from the product backlog they wish to work on next. The team also meets on their own to reflect upon the performance and performance of the last sprint.

Why It’s Useful

Scrum is quickly growing to be one of the most popular project management techniques for both large and small companies – and for good reason! The scrum process allows for continual project change and adaptation, innovation, and self-organization as the team assesses what is working and what’s not, during the sprint. Not only does this flexibility boost team moral and productivity, it also improves product quality and increases the chances the company will reach (or exceed) its goals by eliminating and prioritizing project issues. Scrum also prevents unnecessary product requirements from being developed because the most valuable items are delivered first6.

References 1. Justin Corry, comment on “Scrum is excellently named,” the Lean Software Development Blog, comment posted May 1, 2007, 2. Ken Schwaber, “What is Scrum,” The Scrum Alliance, 3. “Rugby Union Positions,” Wikipedia, 4. “Scrum Roles,” Scrum Alliance, 5. “Scrum Ceremonies,” Scrum Alliance, 6. “Benefit

Alison Grimme is a product marketing manager at Global Knowledge, where she devotes her energies to its Project Management and ITIL training classes. Previously she worked in the market research industry and also has experience in public relations and television news broadcasting. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has degrees in Journalism and Spanish. Outside of work, Alison enjoys dancing and volunteers as a wedding coordinator for her church.