Scrum Roots and Agile Practices

skrəm/: In rugby, an ordered formation of players, used to restart play, in which the forwards of a team form up with arms interlocked and heads down, and push forward against a similar group from the opposing side. The ball is thrown into the scrum and the players try to gain possession of it by kicking it backward toward their own side.

In addition to its rugby roots, Scrum can attribute its beginnings to two Japanese thought leaders. Scrum was modeled after “The New New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1986. Nonaka was hired by the Japanese government after World War II to help analyze why they lost the war. Takeuchi is considered to be one of the top ten business school professors in the world.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created by seventeen thought leaders who were discussing Scrum (fondly referred to as the mother of Agile) and Extreme Programming (the father of Agile). This was the result of years of research in industrial applications. Most project leaders do not realize that many years ago, the scientific research and process engineering communities had come to the conclusion that the traditional ways we build software are only suitable for work that has few changes. However, 65% is the worldwide average percent of changes in software requirements. The unhappy result: a lot of projects over budget, over time, and out of control. Furthermore, according to a study by The Standish Group conducted between 2011 and 2015, traditional projects only have an 11% success rate.

How did this slow, traditional waterfall process come about? In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the US Department of Defense (DoD) was funding most of the software development projects using the waterfall process, which was necessary in order to get funding. Today, that has been corrected by Congress and all DoD contracts must now be Agile.

So as to not confuse the two terms Scrum and Agile, Agile is NOT a methodology and NOT an implementation; it is a set of four values:

  • Focus on the interactions of the team
  • Produce a working product in short intervals
  • The customer directly is involved in the creation of the product
  • When customers come up with new ideas, we respond to change

Another way of explaining this is that Scrum and XP are the languages of Agile, just like Java and C++ are programming languages.

Excerpt from an interview with a leading Scrum expert conducted by Markitects for its client, International Institute for Leaning, Inc.