The origins of Scrum

Photo of Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

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Scrum is not an acronym, but is derived from the crowd (english: Scrum) in rugby. The origin of Scrum as a framework goes back to an article in the Harvard Business Review in 1986. “The New New Product Development Game” by Takeuchi and Nonaka, using companies such as Honda, Canon and Fuji-Xerox, described how first-class and innovative products are developed in cross-functional teams with an ‘all-simultaneous approach’. The article emphasized the importance of self-organized teams and also described the role of management in the development process.

Takeuchi and Nonaka used metaphors from the world of sports to describe the product development process. They compared the classic development process with a relay race. Each runner was on his own and at the end of his run passed the baton to the next runner. This approach does not necessarily lead to maximum speed and above all flexibility. As an alternative, they presented a holistic or rugby approach, in which the team covers the entire distance together, with the ball passing back and forth flexibly. In today’s competitive world, this approach promises more success.

Scrum for software development

Jeff Sutherland and his team at Easel Corporation adapted the Scrum process for software development in 1993. They combined ideas from the article by Takeuchi and Nonaka with concepts of object-oriented programming, empirical process control, iterative and incremental development, and results of productivity research.

Two years later Ken Schwaber published the first paper on Scrum after intensive discussions with Sutherland. Since then Sutherland and Schwaber have published several books on Scrum. They also regularly revise “The Scrum Guide“, a 20-page document explaining the basics of Scrum.

Nowadays Scrum is primarily used in the development of software. However, many companies have also come to appreciate the advantages of Scrum in other areas such as hardware development, marketing, sales or human resources. Scrum is suitable wherever teams are working on new things – products or services. Scrum helps to better coordinate team work, accelerate product development and validate hypotheses early on.

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