Scrum Lessons from the Rugby World Cup for Software Teams

As the Rugby World Cup kicks off, learn how teamwork, leadership, and fluid gameplay in rugby can provide valuable lessons for agile software teams using scrum.

Vuyo Goocin
September 11, 2023
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The Rugby World Cup unites the top rugby talent worldwide as nations compete for the title. Similarly, software teams "scrum" together, pooling their skills to create valuable products. Rugby and software seem unrelated, but surprising parallels exist. The teamwork and collaboration rugby demands can provide lessons for software teams seeking to work better together. Like a rugby team, software teams need a cohesive unit mentality to achieve their goals. The parallels are clear for those who have experienced both worlds.

Aligning on Shared Goals

Before a rugby match, the team gathers in a close huddle. The captain rallies the players to give their all for each other and focus on their objectives. Software teams can adopt this mindset by clearly defining goals for the product and users at sprint kickoffs and releases. Establishing a shared purpose binds the team together and motivates them to put in their best effort.

Developing Trust

During lineouts in rugby, players will fling their teammates high into the air to catch the thrown ball, trusting their teammates will support them on the way down. Software teams must have similar confidence and trust in each other to take smart risks and handle uncertainties during development. Short daily standups, retrospectives, and social events build the familiarity and psychological safety for teams to rely on each other.

Adapting with Agility

The scrum half and fly half in rugby orchestrate elaborate plays, calling audibles at the line of scrimmage to change tactics based on the defense's formation. Likewise, software teams must continually adapt requirements, architecture, and design based on new user data, market conditions, and testing results. The inspect-and-adapt nature of agile methods like Scrum enables teams to quickly pivot based on feedback.

Advancing Together

The rolling maul in rugby moves the ball downfield through coordinated footwork, precise timing, and constant communication between players. Agile practices like pair programming, code reviews, user story mapping, and continuous integration similarly advance software from idea to user in an iterative choreography. By working together, software teams can go further than individual efforts alone.

Resetting after Setbacks

After bone-jarring tackles in rugby, players immediately pop back up, shake it off, and quickly rejoin the action. The "reset mindset" on each new play also applies when software teams encounter bugs, changing priorities, or other setbacks. Stay positive, learn from failures, realign your goals, and get back to it. Persistence and cohesion ultimately win.

Uniting Diverse Skills

Like massive rugby forwards bound tightly together, heads down, driving ahead in a scrum, software teams unite their diverse skills to move towards the try line of delighted users. Designers, developers, testers, and product owners combine their strengths, compensating for each other's weaknesses. With shared purpose, trust, communication, and agility, software teams accomplish more together than they could alone.

Aggressive Defense

Rugby teams field both unstoppable offenses and punishing defenses. Likewise, software teams must play "both sides of the ball." Developers write quality, robust code, while testers aggressively try to break software in order to identify users. Great end-user experiences emerge from this creative tension.

Constant Communication

Rugby players are in constant communication during matches, calling out formations, plays, and encouragement. Software teams thrive on similar open communication channels via user stories, standups, chat tools, and always-on video pairing. Quiet teams that don't interact will fumble.

Embracing Uncertainty

Rugby matches are played in all types of weather on muddy, slick grass under ever-changing conditions. Software teams operate amidst similarly dynamic circumstances, changing technologies, ambiguities, and unknowns. Incremental agile methods allow progress despite uncertainty. Adapt along the way.

Crossing the Try Line

Great rugby teams are united by purpose, trust each other, adapt to dynamic situations, and embrace uncertainty together. Similarly, excellent software teams support each other, communicate constantly, and improvise their way to crossing the try line of delighted users. Rugby provides powerful metaphors for software groups to thrive in the scrum.

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