Scrum Origins

When Jeff Sutherland created the Scrum process in 1993, he borrowed the term “Scrum” from an analogy put forth in 1986 study by Takeuchi and Nonaka that is published in the Harvard Business Review. In that study, Takeuchi and Nonaka compared high-performing, cross-functional teams to the Scrum formation used by Rugby teams.   In the findings from their study, they drew comparisons between two approaches to Product development.  The old, less effective way they refer to is a “Relay Race” approach, where each team member was a specialist and the work progressed sequentially.  The athletes in a Relay Race take turns to pass on the baton to the next player in a sequence to win the game. Takeuchi and Nonaka suggest a more effective “Rugby-Style” approach, in which a cross-functional team with self-managed roles work together to create a Product. Rugby requires the team as a whole to work together to win the game as shown below.


There are several similarities between Rugby and the Scrum framework:

It is hard to see the ball, and looks like complete chaos. The score board indicates the points gained. It is hard to understand the process being an outsider. Delivery of business value indicates the score.
The score depends on how closely the team collaborates and makes decisions The quality of business value depends on how well the teams organize themselves
Players push the ball in the right direction by acting as a cohesive unit The team delivers potentially shippable increments after every iteration acting as a cohesive unit
The “Scrum half” coordinates the traffic between the team players for an effective game play Scrum Master mentors team members to empower them towards achieving common goals

During the period 1978-80 the two Japanese professors Takeuchi and Nonaka studied the structure of organizations which were highly successful in delivering complex Products consistently. They examined multinational companies such as as Fuji-Xerox, Canon, Honda, NEC, Epson, Brother, 3M, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard.

Their findings highlighted that leading companies exhibited six characteristics in managing their new Product development processes as mentioned below:

  1. Built-in instability
  2. Self-organizing project teams
  3. Overlapping development phases
  4. Multilearning
  5. Subtle control
  6. Organizational transfer of learning

Each of these characteristics by itself does not bring about speed and flexibility. But taken as a whole, the characteristics can produce a powerful set of dynamics that will make a difference that can create great teams that can build great Products.  They found that these successful organizations had cross functional teams and they worked in overlapping development phases and not sequential phases. These teams were given inspiring goals and management gave them authority and autonomy to figure out among themselves how to achieve these goals.

Subsequently Nonaka and Takeuchi wrote a paper called “New New Product Development Game – HBR”[1] based on their key findings and used metaphor Scrum to describe the team structure. Ken S and Jeff S used this paper and formalized Scrum Framework/Process for S/W development

[1]  Reference: