The Japanese Origins of Scrum

Don is an entrepreneur and business leader with over 15 years experience specializing in aligning management-driven technologies and initiatives together with business and project strategies resulting in thoroughly planned and comprehensive business solutions. His expertise as a project manager, developer, tester, analyst, trainer, consultant, and business owner has spanned across diverse industries such as finance, retail, health care and information technology

One of the first books to describe the Scrum method in detail (Agile Software Development with Scrum) begins with a quote:

“In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of commercial new development, speed and flexibility are essential. Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t get the job done. Instead, companies in Japan and the United States are using a holistic method; as in rugby, the ball gets passed within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.”

This quote was from the 1986 Harvard Business Review article titled “The New New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka that was largely responsible for providing the roots for the Scrum project method.

Though the article mentions these techniques as being applicable to both U.S. and Japanese companies, they are really rooted in Japanese culture and management philosophy--one that has both obvious and subtle differences with U.S. management style and culture and is both interesting and intellectually enriching to understand.

But more importantly, these Japanese origins for Scrum highlight a way of managing project leadership that has not been talked about enough within the Scrum and project management community. It is vital for understanding how to manage and lead self-…

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