Scrums and Software Development: How to Adapt as a Team

Strategies for managing change in software development teams and rugby teams during major tournaments require flexibility and communication among team members.

Dean Spooner
October 9, 2023
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Whether you're a software developer adopting agile practices or a rugby squad prepping for the World Cup, succeeding as a team requires strategizing around change. Just as scrums and sprints bring flexibility to coding projects, fluid tactics and formations allow rugby teams to adapt on the fly. Both software development lifecycles and rugby group stage matches call for ongoing evaluation, communication, and evolution among team members.

During software sprints or rugby pools, new challenges inevitably arise. By frequently huddling and communicating, developers and players alike can troubleshoot bugs or breakdowns. Making incremental tweaks, rather than drastic changes, allows for measured responses. With collaboration and resilience, teams can refine strategies match-by-match or sprint-by-sprint.

The Software Development Cycle

For software teams, change comes in the form of evolving project requirements, emerging bugs, or new technologies. Adopting an agile approach with iterative sprints embraces flexibility. Daily scrums allow developers to touch base while reviewing working software after each 1-4 week sprint, enabling rapid adaptation. As priorities shift or issues emerge, the product backlog acts as a dynamic to-do list. By re-prioritizing and adding or removing items, the team can pivot based on learnings and new realities. Short stand-up meetings reinforce open communication and transparency around challenges.

When major changes do occur, such as adopting a new framework or architecture, they can be gradually rolled out across multiple sprints. This phased approach prevents disruption. For example, transitioning a monolith app to microservices could start with extracting one self-contained module.

Rugby World Cup Group Stage

In the Rugby World Cup, change management occurs during the opening group or pool stage. With teams varying wildly in play style and strengths, each match presents new threats. Blindly sticking to one game plan risks failure. Yet completely overhauling tactics every game is also ill-advised. Minor adjustments allow players to adapt while retaining familiarity. The coaches carefully review match footage to identify deficiencies in defense or attack. More structured teams may need to play more dynamically, while loose squads might require greater discipline.

Set pieces like scrums and lineouts also require flexibility. Each referee interprets the rules slightly differently, so seamless adjustments are crucial. Effective communication from captains and halfbacks (either a scrumhalf or flyhalf) helps synchronize all the players within the team. As such, building a repertoire of attacking plays and defensive formations empowers teams to toggle between them as needed.

During training sessions, coaches will tweak plays based on new opportunities or weaknesses they spot. However, sweeping changes could cause confusion and disrupt the chemistry of the team. Additionally, subtle shifts in spacing or angles sharpen execution, with the key being striking the right balance between sticking to strengths and expanding versatility.

Lessons for Software Teams

While software development and rugby may seem worlds apart, software teams can learn a lot from how rugby squads manage change during tournaments. Here are some key lessons:

  • Review and iterate frequently - Like rugby teams analyzing match footage and adjusting tactics, software teams should review working features after each sprint and regularly fine-tune approaches based on learnings and new needs.
  • Communicate constantly - Rugby players use clear communication and signals to synchronize under pressure. Software teams should over-communicate through daily standups, instant messaging, and status updates.
  • Distribute leadership - In rugby, leadership is shared between the captain and playmakers. Similarly, software teams should foster shared ownership and avoid centralized decision-making.
  • Embrace flexibility - Rugby teams tailor formations and plays to each opponent. Software teams should remain agile and willing to re-prioritize based on changing requirements.
  • Gradual change is best - Wholesale rugby tactics overhaul is destabilizing. Likewise, software changes like new frameworks should be incrementally introduced across multiple sprints.
  • Build skill diversity - Having multi-skilled rugby players aids adaptability. Software team members should expand their skills across coding languages and frameworks.
  • Stay resilient - In rugby, resilience and morale matter as much as pure skills. Software teams must also embody a resilient, solutions-focused mindset when facing challenges.

By incorporating lessons around fluidity, communication, and resilience from rugby, software teams can more effectively manage change and deliver value.


In fast-moving environments like software sprints or rugby tournaments, managing change is essential for teams. With frequent communication and incremental enhancements, development squads and sports teams can continuously improve. Flexibility, rather than rigidity, enables responsive strategy optimization over time. By reviewing performance, collaborating to solve problems, and evolving approaches sprint-to-sprint or match-to-match, teams can adapt smoothly. Whether in scrum meetings or rugby scrums, resilience and openness to change drive success.

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