Dear Bob Lambert, my esteemed friend and colleague, I read your article regarding your opinion that rugby is not a good analogy for agile software development. I respectfully disagree. Like you, I'm also a fan and former player. (Go James River Women!!). As a certified Scrum Master, I strongly believe that Agile is a great way to deliver software. In fact, so does Billy Tilson, another CapTech Rugger. Here's my take on why our favorite sport is a great analogy for Agile:


Agile Software Development


As a rugby spectator, sometimes it's hard to see the ball. You may also not be entirely sure what's going on and it looks like complete chaos. You watch the rucks and mauls to determine where the ball is going, but you know by looking at the scoreboard if the team is scoring trys or not.

Those who are watching Agile teams without being involved may not understand exactly how it's happening, but observers will see Agile teams score points by delivering business value in a short amount of time.

What's going on?

Yeah, Rugby looks like chaos to the newcomer, but there are many laws. Players are making split second decisions and well-played games move very quickly.

Agile critics say there is a lack of structure or documentation. The structure exists and the process is defined, but it Agile doesn't need the rigidity of Waterfall because by its nature, it is allowed to be flexible and respond to the changing needs of the business.

What is a Scrum?

Scrum: 5 or 8 players who act as a tightly cohesive unit that pushes together in same direction in order to put the ball into play.

The Scrum team: a collaborative, intimate team that is delivering business value in a tightly coordinated fashion.

The Scrum Half or the Scrum Master

The Scrum Half (#9) directs traffic between the forwards in the scrum, rucks, or mauls, and back line.

The Scrum Master coaches and coordinates between the team members to foster communication and collaboration.

The Referee

The Referee is meant to be an impartial witness of the match and blows the whistle for the infractions made by the teams. As Billy Tilson puts it: "If a referee called every infringement then the game would be a painfully slow and static. Good referees try to lead the participants to a good balance for optimum velocity." I've also witnessed referees stop the match to provide a bit of coaching and guidance to new players.

In addition to the above analogy, a Scrum Master will let the team know when they've stepped out of bounds from the methodology and tell them what consequences may follow. An excellent Scrum Master will not be involved in the work and serves to "referee" by asking the team about what they can and can't do. Scrum Masters will guide a team towards what works for them so that the team can become more efficient. A Scrum Master also has to allow a team to fail, so that they can learn from the experience.

The Team Member

As a rugby player, you fulfill certain duties according to what's being called for at a specific point in time, based on your current location on the pitch. You do whatever is needed. It's never about one person being the star; It's about the whole team. In certain plays, anywhere from two to five people will cooperate to make advancements down the field.

Agile Teams thrive when they are cross-functional, with a variety of skills and expertise. In a team of about seven people, the commitment to seeing the whole team do well is driven by the fact that team members get the job done according to what is needed at a given moment regardless of what job title any one person has.

Owners and Managers

Owners and Managers of any sports team provide the tools, resources, sponsorship, funding coaching, and cheerleading needed by teams. Owners set the goals (to win), and Managers help them get there.

The Product Owner and Agile Manager are two roles supporting Agile Teams. The Product Owner helps sets priorities and is the voice of the organization to the team. The Agile Manager supports those team members and embraces the methodology and supports the efforts within the organization.

Self-Organizing Teamwork

As a player, you don't carry the ball the whole time, and you can't be a play maker all the time. There's a place and time for demonstrating leadership and a time to be in support, or pass the ball.

Rugby players on the pitch will read the play happening before them and will act appropriately, be it to go into the ruck or fall into the backline.

Agile team members never carry the workload alone. The Scrum Master isn't the leader of the team, but should strive to be an aide to the team. The work involved in building software is estimated, built, and tested as a team and no one team member will be the hero for a given story.

Empowered agile teams are not told how to do their work. They are self-organizing and determine what needs to be done, when, and how.

Speed – Faster Results

The better a team is, the faster they play.

The better a team is, the faster they begin to deliver business value; team velocity will increase over time.

Sprints and Iterations

Offensive open rugby play repeats itself through phase after phase of play. The ruck or maul is created, the ball is retained, and the ball is carried forward for the next phase. The ruck or maul is set, again. Some phases are longer than others. The end goal is to make a try.

Within a fixed amount of time, the team will plan, work, and review on a regular basis. The cyclical nature of the development is best captured in this diagram.

Commitment, Respect, Focus, Openness, and Courage

Watch some inspiring movie about a sports team and you'll see the values that tend to exist are those of commitment to one another, respect for the work that goes into being a player, focus on the sport and while playing, openness to grow, and courage to overcome obstacles as a team or individual.

These are the values present in high performing Agile teams. Commitment to deliver as a team, respect of everyone's capabilities, focus on the highest priority stories, openness to discuss approaches and techniques, and the courage to push back when necessary.

Growth for the individual and for the team

I earnestly believe that joining James River Women's rugby helped me grow as an individual and develop my leadership skills for the team on and off the pitch. As an inaugural member of the team, I have watched that team grow and change. All rugby teams go through growth to learn and improve, be it within a match or over the course of a season.

In my path to being a Certified Scrum Master, I found that I had to challenge my ways of thinking about software development that have helped me grow as an IT professional. It's not just another certification, but a transformed way of thinking about building teams, and even life in general. Just ask Lyssa Adkins.

The Fans

They are avid fanatics who will paint their faces, adorn themselves in team colors and probably used to play at one point in their lives.

They are avid fanatics who passionately believe in different ways to deliver value to a business and empowering software teams, not just building software on time, on budget, and within scope.