At my work, we’re currently looking into adopting a project management / development methodology called Scrum.

Scrum, which involves breaking work into two-week segments called “sprints”, is an example of what are known as “agile” methodologies for software development. As the name suggests, agile methodologies are designed to be quick and responsive to customer and product needs.

Scrum all seems very good… except for the name.

Because if you were doing a word-association test with me, you could give me the word “scrum” a thousand times and not once would I come up with “agile”. It would be like deciding to name an agile methodology after an animal, but having worked through and rejected Cheetah, Greyhound and Gazelle, settling instead on Hippopotamus.

I was so confused by the name in fact, that I got on the net to try and find out why the hell its authors had given it such an inappropriate moniker. And I think I’ve figured out why.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the development (and naming) of Scrum:

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka described a new holistic approach that would increase speed and flexibility in commercial new product development.[2] They compared this new holistic approach, in which the phases strongly overlap and the whole process is performed by one cross-functional team across the different phases, to rugby, where the whole team “tries to go to the distance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth”. The case studies came from the automotive, photo machine, computer, and printer industries.

They invented it, but they didn’t give it a name. And I think that anyone who’s ever watched a game of rugby will know that when they used rugby as a metaphor of an quick, darting, sprinting, responsive, adapting, and agile method of software development, it was something like this they had in mind:

Then the story continues:

In 1991, DeGrace and Stahl, in “Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions”,[3] referred to this approach as Scrum, a rugby term mentioned in the article by Takeuchi and Nonaka. In the early 1990s, Ken Schwaber used an approach that led to Scrum at his company, Advanced Development Methods. At the same time, Jeff Sutherland, John Scumniotales, and Jeff McKenna developed a similar approach at Easel Corporation and were the first to call it Scrum.

Do you get the feeling that none of those people have ever seen a game of rugby? Because this is a scrum:

A huge amount of effort to produce about six inches of forward movement… and then it collapses.

And yes, I do know that within the methodology, the “scrum” is a daily morning meeting you have, but couldn’t they just called that a huddle or something? And the methodology itself, something, anything other than “scrum”?

After all, even hippos can manage to move more than a foot without collapsing, which is more than you can say for most scrums.