The origin of Scrum: Insights from a Scrum Master

March 28, 2024
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Tech Insights
Kateryna Barabash
The origin of Scrum: Insights from a Scrum Master

Scrum is a lightweight framework that is a subset of Agile based upon iterative software development used to manage complex software and product development.

It’s a rigid, plan-orientated process within the flexible Agile methodology that follows a defined set of rules outlining roles and responsibilities that remain constant throughout the project lifecycle.

But where does the term ‘Scrum’ originate?

Why ‘Scrum’?

When I introduce myself as a Scrum Master to people outside of the IT world, they almost always ask me, “What does the word Scrum even mean? And what do you do at work as a Scrum Master?”.

To be honest, I already knew quite a lot about the Scrum methodology before I found myself asking what the word means and where it comes from. But after repeatedly being asked this question I decided to find out so I don’t fumble the ball trying to explain in ‘regular person’ language.

In a 1997 paper, Ken Schwaber coined the term Scrum and explicitly called out the connection to Takeuchi and Nonaka. He wrote, “We call the approach the Scrum methodology (see Takeuchi and Nonaka, 1986), after the scrum in the sport rugby — a tight formation of 8 strong men who bind together in specific positions when a scrumdown is called by the referee.”

So, the word ‘scrum’ is originally a term from the rugby world. In rugby, a scrum is a set piece of play that will see each team’s eight forwards (the biggest and strongest players on the field) bind together as a cohesive unit to push against the opposition’s eight forwards to retrieve the ball.

The individual players are therefore positioned strategically based on their strengths to maximise the combined force and output of the group.

Returning to the Scrum methodology in the IT world, the Scrum team typically consists of 10 or so people. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on one objective at a time, with all the skills necessary to create value.

It’s amazing to see how strong they are, each in their own way – both the athletes in the rugby world (trust me, I have watched many rugby matches as my boyfriend follows the game passionately) and the developers in the Scrum teams. In both cases, it’s not the individuals who create the power, but the strength of their bond.

Both rugby and Scrum teams in IT are required to work as a unit, be coherent, and have all the necessary skills required for the team to achieve its goals. Without these, there is no way for the team to strive.

This is my goal as a Scrum Master, to support the team on their journey to strive, improve, and grow as a unit, strengthening their bond.

A Scrum Master’s guide to building a Scrum team

Just like in rugby, a Scrum team’s ability is a result of the sum of its parts – each member plays a crucial role in the delivery of important elements. So, it’s important to bring out their best abilities.

Here are my personal insights into building a strong Scrum team:

1. Collaboration

Encourage the team to collaborate as much as they can. There’s nothing worse than a team member who feels uncomfortable asking for help when stuck, sharing an idea, or asking a ‘silly’ question. Team members should be able to chat freely with one another, support each other, brainstorm, and disagree. A healthy argument is often the best way to find the optimal solution.

2. Swarming

It’s important to help the team understand the benefits of swarming. In Scrum methodology, swarming is where multiple team members set their attention to work together on one feature or user story, essentially ‘swarming’ the task until it is complete.

Without clear communication, transparency, and trust among the Scrum team, swarming is ineffective and will result in the project failing. When each team member is communicating effectively, it makes the task of rapid collaboration in tight timeframes easier and more impactful.

3. Active listening

I suggest starting with yourself first. Practice deep active listening, don’t think about your thoughts on the topic, try to understand, feel and hear your discussion partners’ train of thought and the reasoning that is informing their opinion.

Lead by example by highlighting the importance of practising active listening during Scrum events and other team communication moments. Allow everyone to be heard as it fosters a deep sense of understanding, mutual respect, and collaboration within your team.

Full disclosure: this is definitely not easy at first but it certainly makes a huge difference to the overall success of your team.

4. Learning

Do away with any idea of hierarchy and learn from one another. Each team member has different strengths, so it is critical for the success of the project to share them with each other. Share knowledge and expertise freely and provide advice if appropriate.

The whole team benefits when everyone is learning and broadening their skills and understanding. Even if one team member becomes stronger and more knowledgeable, the entire team wins.

Be curious from the bottom of your heart, and you’ll be surprised at what the team will teach you as a person and as a professional.

5. Growing maturity

The more maturity the team gains is a direct result of the more freedom you provide them. Together with your support and trust, your team will feel free to adapt and grow. Make room for small failures, and don’t judge any mistakes but rather give them your total support.

Encourage them to learn from their mistakes and support them along the way in making their own conclusions. The goal is to create an environment where individuality flourishes, adding more dynamism to the team.

Bind, set, engage

As a Scrum Master, it is important to remember that your role is to help each member be the best version of themselves to perform to the best of their ability. This means encouraging them to be bold and fearless in their approach and not to be discouraged by challenges, but rather rise to meet them.

It also means listening to their challenges and helping them find the right solutions that benefit not only themselves but the team too. Remember to be part of your Scrum team – not just as the leader but as a member, too. Stay connected with them always to create a powerful scrum team – both on the field and off it.

Kateryna Barabash

Kate is one of our talented Scrum Masters. Originally from Ukraine, she now resides in the Netherlands and works in close collaboration with our long-standing client, Maxeda.

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