Scrum Lessons from World T20

Dream. Dare. Do – that is Suyati’s work principle in a nutshell.

  • Author:
  • Praveen Prakash

“Scrum and World T20” – I can already see questions flying! What does Scrum have to do with a sporting event like the recently concluded one in Bangladesh?

Before we move ahead, I would like to give a couple of pointers on the background of this write-up. First, my article is inspired by the chain of reactions that were evoked on India’s failure to win the cup, specifically on one person – Yuvraj Singh. Second, my opinions and thought processes of mapping Scrum is applicable only to the Indian team, and not on the tournament as a whole. With the context set, let us see how Scrum comes into the picture.

As we delve further, do note that every Scrum team should have defined roles such as Scrum Master and Product Owner. In my opinion, Captain Dhoni is the Scrum Master, the 11 players on the field are the Scrum Team, and Coach Duncan Fletcher is the Product Owner who represents the larger Product Management Team called BCCI.

India played 6 matches in total (including the finals) which I would equate as 6 sprints. Here, though the duration of the sprint is fixed, it is not necessary the entire duration was utilized (for example, India batted only 19 overs to chase the target as against the allotted 20), so we shall focus only the ability to deliver at the end of each sprint i.e. the match result.

In the first five sprints, it was clinical performance with each team member contributing towards a successful delivery. Like a true self organizing team, each member pulled his weight though there was the argument that some members were not contributing enough to the cause. Think Yuvraj Singh, Mohamad Shami and Shikar Dhawan.

Eventually, after couple of sprints, in retrospective, the non-contributing team members were replaced by a couple of other personnel, and the performance improved. Here, the point to note is that there were no drastic changes, and a majority of the team composition was still the same, which meant the stability was not affected. This is one of the key philosophies of Scrum and Agile in general – stability in the team is to be built over a period, and frequent, drastic changes which can disrupt the dynamics of the team are not undertaken.

So, what exactly are the lessons learnt?

  • Having a stable Scrum team is necessary to achieve your targets – it provides better alignment towards achieving your vision or goal. In this sense, I think the Indian team displayed a good trait of not disrupting their team dynamics which ensured that everybody was aware of their role.
  • The relationship between Product Owner and Team is critical – a good relationship will ensure better co-operation and this is where the role of the Scrum Master is critical – he can make or break the bridge. Dhoni has been largely successful in this endeavor to ensure that he has backed his team mates to the hilt, and is keeping the Product Owner and Product Management team happy. He has also shielded his team from undue criticism and pressure like a good Scrum Master does.
  • Scrum Teams have to be Agile – they should be in a position to adapt and make changes as they go along a sprint with a degree of flexibility to respond to changes. This is where Team India failed in the final sprint, by not recognizing the need to send in a more in-form batsmen ahead of Yuvraj considering the game situation. This is one of the key attributes to any Scrum (or Agile) team – how they respond to changes during the execution of a sprint.
  • Sprint Retrospectives are absolutely critical – this exercise is not just to identify what went wrong during a sprint execution, but is also about the challenges faced, and areas of improvement to be identified by the team. After the first three sprints (matches), India could have easily used the game against Australia as an opportunity to provide preparation to their lower order batsmen who did not have anything of note to offer in the previous games. This would have acted as an insurance policy during the knock-outs, in case one of the in-form players flopped. In my opinion, the retrospectives were under-utilized by the team unfortunately.

I understand that it is not practically possible to map every aspect of a practice like Scrum to a sport like cricket, considering that the dynamics of sport differ from the building of working software. At the same time, I believe from my personal experience that Scrum is derived from real life situations as is evident in the Agile manifesto.

I expect many readers to disagree with my opinions and as a final take away, a couple of questions to ponder:

  1. How would you manage a struggling team member (like Yuvraj) in your Scrum team? What would be your plan of action to set the order right in such a situation?
  2. Comparing the Indian cricket team to a Scrum team, do you think they were a successful Scrum team? Keep in mind they delivered successfully in 5 of the 6 sprints they took part in.

Drop your comments about what you feel, and let’s agree to disagree!

Comments (5)
Anoop George (3 years ago)

Wonderful article Praveen!!!.. Like you said, though we cannot discard the wonderful sprints they had, if they fail at the last delivery, it means they have failed right.. Especially being so close to the final release .. :) Hopefully communicating with the members should get us there next time!.. Nice thoughts KC &Arun!!.

Praveen Prakash (3 years ago)

Thanks Arunraj! Your appreciation is well received. I have a simple answer for both of your question - communicate with the member :) Scrum is no rocket science and one of the key principles of Agile says " Individuals and interactions over processes and tools". A good scrum master would place emphasis on the individuals and interactions aspect and sit down with the concerned team member - empathize with them. What ever you communicate, make sure it is strictly confidential and try to address his concerns without breaking his trust. For ex: the person may be worried about his sick son, which is not allowing him to concentrate on his work. As a scrum master you take it as your duty help him overcome his anxiety - may be arrange a work from home facility so that he can spend more time with his son. And more importantly, do not attribute his failures to the downfall of the team. If there is a genuine reason, I believe everybody is entitled to a second chance. If he is a habitual offender who is hell bent on causing damage to the team - Scrum will make that problem visible very quickly and he will be found out. Then you know how to deal with him ;)

Arunraj (3 years ago)

Great article Praveen. Good comparison of Scrum and Cricket. If this situation really comes in an organization what is the right way to deal it.. Considering the fact that Yuvi got India 2 world-cups, but in current situation he failed to perform. 1. So if in team if a member was good performer once and if he is failing continuously after giving many chances, What should a Scrum Master do ? 2. Because of one members bad performance, the whole team fails. How do a Scrum Master handles/reacts to such situation ?

Praveen Prakash (3 years ago)

Thanks Krishna, I wish to add on to your points, with your permission :) 1. While I agree that certain flexibility should be provided for team members based on their past performances, I think 5 sprints was more than enough time to change/give a break to a non performing member. Motivation should translate to performance and I am sure no professional wants to be bad on purpose. 2. In my opinion the team failed in spite of success in 5 sprints out of 6. Ultimately at the end of the day, we are looking for working software - which in this case was the Cup. P.S - I know I am being cruel by calling the team a failure. That is only from a Scrum Perspective, from a sports lover purview I consider them a success.

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