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How Scrum is like Soccer

Recently, I became certified by the Scrum Alliance as a Scrum Product Owner. During the course, Craig Larman gave many analogies of scrum behavior to different sport disciplines, like relay races. After all, scrum is a method in rugby.

Personally, I am some kind of football-geek. The European style, of course. To avoid confusion I will call it soccer from now on. I read tons of books and articles about soccer, how it works, how it is organized and how to be successful in it. During this course I began seeing the aspects that both things have in parallel: Scrum and modern soccer.

That was the motivation to write a little series of three blog posts, in which I want to discuss the similarities of team work in each discipline. I begin briefly with a discussion of the one exception (below). Tomorrow, I will publish a post that deals with efficiency and the day after that one about cross-functional teams.

This little Christmas series covers one new post per holiday. Make sure you follow the RSS feed of this blog, so you won’t miss the first part tomorrow.

Note that I concisely focus on modern soccer, as the game changed vastly even within the last decade. However, I will explain these aspects and what I mean with modern soccer regarding the two perspectives efficiency and cross-functional teams.

One Exception

I will not try to describe a soccer match as a time boxed sprint or the score as a product. That would take it too far. Plus, I actually think that’s ridiculous. However, there’s one thing I have to consider. Despite all similarities of teams in scrum and modern soccer, there is one major exception. A significant role in soccer does not fit into the analogy at all: The manager.

On first glance, the manager can be confused with the scrum master. They provide guidelines, help with systematic issues and are not part of the team. Not necessarily at least.

But a closer look reveals that the manager compares much better to the project manager in traditional software development. This is the person that orchestrates the team from the outside and the only authority able to make decisions with a larger impact. Both, project managers and soccer team managers tell their team members what to do. They are responsible for the result and try to influence and improve the activities of the team members in order to be successful. However, they are not directly involved in the matter of interest (i.e., winning a match or developing software). Therefore, the manager of a soccer team is the one argument that contradicts my argument, that scrum is like soccer.
That is then probably, why soccer is more like fake scrum than the plain practice… 😉

Tomorrow I will discuss the efficiency in modern soccer and how it is reflected in scrum. The day after that I will then focus on cross-functional teams in either discipline.
Until then: Merry Christmas to yourself and those who are close to you.

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