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Scrum is not an acronym

Scrum is a framework for Agile software development. Let’s have a look at the origins of the term ‘Scrum’. And, as a result, understand that it is not an acronym.

The term ‘Scrum’ was first used in the context of product development by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their ground-breaking 1986 paper “The New New Product Development Game“. They borrowed the name from the game of rugby to stress the importance of teams (and working as a team) in complex product development. This was about complex product development in general, not only software products. Their research showed that outstanding performance is achieved when teams are small and self-organizing units of people that are given challenges and objectives, not executable tasks. With management refraining from interfering on a daily base and managing from the outset. Teams can only achieve greatness when given room to devise their own tactics to best head towards shared objectives.

Rugby (as in)

Peter DeGrace and Leslie Hulet Stahl initially pointed out the potential of applying the “Scrum” practices from that paper to software development in their book “Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions” (1990). However, they didn’t go into much detail on how the result would look like. Inspired by them, the pioneers of the way of working that we now know as “Scrum” inherited the name from that paper as their way of working thrived on the same principles for developing and sustaining complex software products. They additionally framed the core idea of self-organization with the boundaries of empiricism, i.e. the process of regularly inspecting in order to adapt.

The Japanese authors of the paper consider the concept that they named ‘Scrum’ as the necessary core of any system that pretends to be like the Toyota Production System (TPS), now often better known as Lean. But they never promoted copying TPS. And they never started using the term ‘Lean’ because it is typically synonymous to an outside interpretation and copy of the management practices of the Toyota Production System. The TPS management practices are not the core of the system. That core was named ‘Scrum’ by the authors and the six main characteristics of ‘Scrum’ were described in The New New Product Development Game. The management practices should be complementary to it. There can’t be Lean if the heart of it, Scrum, is overlooked, which in general is the case. The authors therefore always stress the need for the heart and soul of the system and take away the sole focus on the surrounding management practices. They never talk of Lean, but always speak about Scrum.

As Scrum is no acronym, there is no reason to write “SCRUM”.