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  • Andrew Shakespeare

A Tale of Two Rugbys

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

Is Agile really a single state and can we learn from teams who work differently to us?

Scrums and Code

Some time ago, I was having dinner with some colleagues and the conversation turned to sport, specifically rugby. Rugby meant different things to two separate halves of the group as some of us were exclusively followers of Rugby League and some of us exclusively Rugby Union.


Very quickly the conversation became a lecture on why Rugby Union, despite having stolen players from league purely because of the money, was slow and boring and it was beyond comprehension why anyone would want to watch such a dull game.


The Union followers responded with stories of watching games containing flair and drama. The attack on Union continued, presumably until we admitted that we were wrong and that Rugby League is the better game. We concluded the debate by agreeing that our perspectives were set by how the games we had watched made us feel and that we didn't get the same feeling from watching the other code. Our choice was driven by the experiences we had, what we had seen from our seat and what we had taken away at the end of these games.


I was reminded of this debate recently when seeing a discussion on Agile and Scrum on LinkedIn. One Scrum evangelist used phrases like 'waterfall mentality' and would not support anything other than total Scrum; no analysis should be done before a sprint and no testing should be done after a sprint even going so far as to attack the Agile experience and qualifications of contributors who suggested any variation.


To my mind, these discussions were very similar and reflect a binary nature of some perspectives and opinion leading to the divisive debates we see on social media.


Delivery can take many forms and what works in one arena may need to be tailored for another. An Agile culture has clearly been shown to be beneficial in many environments, but it doesn't mean that it must be applied everywhere. Scrum can deliver effectively but some teams can and do take elements of Scrum and apply them effectively.


Unlike Rugby, I feel that 'Total Waterfall' and 'Total Agile' are ends of a spectrum rather than two absolutes with a million shades of wrong between those points. Each point on this spectrum can include variations in delivery timelines, decision, and planning horizon, sharing of responsibility and responsiveness to change and surely that's fine if it works for them.


Some teams are on an Agile journey and don't deserve criticism for not having reached a specific destination or applying Agile in a particular culture and set of circumstances. It seems fairly obvious to recognise that people are rarely motivated to change by being told that they are wrong or stupid.


It's amazing what can be learned from listening to the experiences of others, even if you think they are wrong.

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