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A Brief History: The Origins of Scrum

Updated: Mar 7

Scrum game

In this fast-paced world of agility and digital services delivery, “Scrum" stands out as a powerful and widely adopted framework. Have you ever wondered how this distinctive name became associated with Agile practices? Yes? Well, let's take a journey backwards through time to unravel the fascinating origins of the term "Scrum".

Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka's 1986 Harvard Business Review Article

Our story begins at Harvard University, one of the world's most prestigious and renowned Ivy League institutions based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka are celebrated Japanese organisational and management theorists with strong ties to the University. Hirotaka Takeuchi earned his MBA from Harvard Business School (part of the University) where he later became a professor and Ikujiro Nonaka received his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the same institution.

Now, let us fast forward a little to 1986 with a groundbreaking Harvard Business Review article written by Takeuchi and Nonaka. Entitled "The New New Product Development Game," this influential review article laid the foundation for what would later evolve into the Scrum framework. Takeuchi and Nonaka explored the need for a move away from traditional sequential product development to a more flexible holistic approach, advocating for a more adaptive and collaborative methodology.

The authors drew inspiration from rugby (the game) where a "scrum" is a powerful and cohesive team formation. This metaphor became a key element in shaping the future of Agile methodologies. The idea of a cross-functional, self-managing team working together resonated with the essence of scrum in the game.

Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber: The Fathers Of Scrum

Fast forward again, this time to the early 1990s: As the Agile movement gained momentum, two figures emerged as pioneers in implementing the Scrum framework: Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. Their collaboration and dedication played a crucial role in bringing the concepts presented by Takeuchi and Nonaka to life as their interests independently converged on the principles outlined in the review.

Jeff Sutherland, drawing on his experiences as a former fighter pilot in high-pressure environments became the driving force behind Scrum's development. Sutherland worked to refine and expand the Scrum framework, emphasising its applicability across various industries.

Ken Schwaber, a prominent IT industry expert who was also refining his approach to project management collaborated with Sutherland to further develop Scrum's principles and practices. Together, they co-authored the "SCRUM Development Process" and in 1995 formally presented Scrum as a methodology that prioritises adaptability, collaboration and iterative progress at the annual OOPSLA (Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications) Conference in Austin Texas.

Scrum Takes Root In The United Kingdom

The adoption of Scrum quickly transcended geographical boundaries, making its way to the shores of our United Kingdom in the early 2000s. From innovative start-ups disrupting traditional models to established enterprises seeking a competitive edge, it was akin to a powerful dynamo lighting innovation and efficiency across all sectors in its wake. It found a natural home and was duly embraced as a transformative approach to project management.

Agile and Scrum communities flourished with businesses recognising the potential for increased efficiency and better, more cost-effective project outcomes. Workshops, conferences and training sessions proliferated, forever solidifying Scrum's presence in the British professional sphere.

The Enduring Legacy of Scrum

As we approach the end of our brief exploration into the history of the term "Scrum," it becomes clear that its narrative is a captivating mix of collaboration, innovation and a dedication to agile principles. Starting with Takeuchi and Nonaka's visionary article and progressing through the groundbreaking initiatives of Sutherland and Schwaber, the Scrum framework has transformed into a dynamic influence shaping project management on a global scale.

In the UK, Scrum has become synonymous with adaptability and success, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of project management practices. As we continue to navigate the ever-changing business terrain, the legacy of Scrum serves as a beacon, guiding teams towards collaborative excellence and iterative innovation.

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