Rugby Losses and Software Development Failure Rates

Examining what rugby conversion and try rates suggest about assessing and learning from software development failures and setbacks to improve processes.

Dean Spooner
September 28, 2023
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In rugby, teams aim to score as many points as possible by getting the ball over the try line and converting kicks after tries. However, even the best teams do not score every time they’re in possession or convert every try.

The conversion rate and try rate provide metrics on a team's successes and failures that can be analyzed to improve future performance. Though seemingly unrelated, rugby scoring rates offer an apt analogy for how software developers can track, learn from, and seek to improve software development failure rates.

Try Rates Reflect Scoring Success

A team's try rate in rugby measures the number of times they successfully get the ball over the try line to score a try versus total entries into the opposition's 22-meter zone. For example, in the previous Rugby World Cup, 44% of all tries originated from inside the opposition's 22-meter zone, showing scoring is far from guaranteed even in good field position. 

For custom software development services, the try rate could represent the number of desired software features or components successfully developed compared to the total attempted. A low try rate indicates developers are often falling short of their goals.

However, some failures may be unavoidable, depending on the project's complexity. As in rugby, the key is analyzing why tries or successful feature implementations fall short of hopes of improving processes and skills.

Conversion Rates Quantify Follow-Up Success

After a try in rugby, a conversion kick offers a chance at additional points. The conversion rate measures successful kicks versus total kick attempts after tries are scored. Top teams may convert 75-80% of tries scored into extra points. In software development, the conversion rate could track the number of planned features that go on to be successfully integrated and implemented into the final software product versus those attempted.

Even if initial development goes smoothly, there may be failures in integrating components. Understanding conversion success levels can help identify weaknesses in integration testing, troubleshooting, quality assurance, and deployment. For example, analysis from the 2019 Rugby World Cup shows the critical role of lineouts in try-scoring. 49% of all tries came from lineout possession, making it the most fruitful source.

Just to give some context, scrums were considerably further down in second at 16%. Of the 138 lineout tries, nearly 40% originated from lineouts within 9 meters of the goal line. Overall, there was a conversion rate of one try from every eight lineouts.

Learning from Losses

Rugby teams analyze try and conversion rates to guide training and strategy improvements. Similarly, tracking development failure points and conversion rates provides software teams with crucial insights. Low try rates suggest weaknesses in creating initial software components. This may reflect skills gaps, insufficient testing and prototyping, or problems with product management processes.

Low conversion rates point to deficiencies in later stages like integration, user acceptance testing, and deployment. As a whole, software project failure is a common occurrence in the IT industry, with statistics showing that only roughly 14% of software projects are successful.

Like rugby players reviewing game footage, developers should study patterns of failure to continuously refine processes and avoid recurring pitfalls. Understanding where things go wrong is key to boosting overall success rates.

Just as rugby teams focus on training to sharpen the skills needed to improve try and conversion rates, software teams can develop expertise and processes to address failure points. For example, emphasizing modular, low-coupling designs and thorough integration testing could improve software conversion rates.

Failures are inevitable, but excellent software developers, like great rugby players, analyze and learn from losses to enhance skills and success rates over time. Understanding try rates and conversion rates provides tangible metrics to chart that improvement.


In rugby and software development, failure is common at various points, from initial attempts to final execution. However, as rugby try and conversion rates demonstrate, not all failures are created equal. By categorizing and tracking the rates of different types of failures, software teams can gain insights into where processes are weakest and focus training to incrementally improve.

Success is not merely minimizing failure but analyzing it. Just as championship rugby squads constantly examine try and conversion rates to guide growth, software developers can embrace failure rate metrics to perfect development processes and skills.

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