ChatGPT / Agile Project Mgt — Part #4: Facts and Language — Scrum or Rolling Maul

This is Part 4 of an open-ended series on ChatGPT and how to use it in Agile Project Management. As I explore ChatGPT and how it works, I’m using tasks and use cases from Project Management, mostly agile but not exclusively. For other parts, check out the master index for this series.

The Topic

In this yarn, I’m exploring how well ChatGPT can provide factual answers on fairly low-level details of Scrum and using those results to explore how well ChatGPT handles the English language and some of its quirks.

For those of you who are Rugby Union fans, this might be appealing. But it isn’t really about Rugby — we’re just using rugby as a test framework.

The Dialogs

Firstly, an easy one about Scrum:

AOP: who invented Scrum?
GPT: Scrum is a project management framework that was originally developed for software development projects. It was not invented by any one person, but rather emerged from a collaboration of software developers who were looking for a better way to manage complex projects.

The term "scrum" was first used in a 1986 paper by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, who were studying the product development processes of several different companies. They used the term to describe a flexible and holistic approach to project management that emphasized teamwork, adaptability, and a focus on delivering value to the customer.

Later on, in the early 1990s, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber developed the Scrum framework as a specific methodology for managing software development projects. They drew on the ideas and principles of Takeuchi and Nonaka, as well as other management theories and practices, to create a set of rules and processes that would help teams work together more effectively.

Since then, Scrum has become a widely used framework for project management in software development and other industries. While it was not invented by any one person, the contributions of Takeuchi, Nonaka, Sutherland, and Schwaber have all been important in shaping its development and evolution.

You can check the above if you like (I’ve left it unformatted) or use ChatGPT to generate the answer yourself. It’s a fairly factual answer with no real surprises.

AOP: why is scrum called scrum?
GPT: The term "scrum" in the context of project management was first used by  
Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their 1986 Harvard Business Review
paper, "The New New Product Development Game." They used the term to describe
a flexible and holistic approach to project management that emphasized teamwork,
adaptability, and a focus on delivering value to the customer.

Later on, in the early 1990s, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber developed the
Scrum framework as a specific methodology for managing software development
projects. They drew on the ideas and principles of Takeuchi and Nonaka, as
well as other management theories and practices, to create a set of rules and
processes that would help teams work together more effectively.

The term "scrum" was chosen as a metaphor for the team-based approach to project
management because it reflects the idea of a group of people working together
closely and collaboratively, like a rugby scrum. In rugby, a scrum is a
tightly formed group of players who work together to gain possession of
the ball and move it forward. Similarly, in Scrum project management, the team
works closely together, with each member contributing to the overall success of
the project.

The term "scrum" has since become synonymous with the Scrum framework and is
widely used to describe the team-based, iterative approach to project
management that it represents.

Again, a relatively straightforward and accurate — or is it? On the Scrum framework, I think it is generally correct.

But on the Rugby scrum — perhaps, depending on your perspective. It is a metaphor for a group of people working together. My next-door neighbour Mark (ex Wallaby who coached in Japan for many years) said the Japanese call it “Eight men working together”.

But as my friend Topo (another ex Wallaby and ex-Puma and Scrum specialist) says, the scrum is about gaining possession, not about moving the ball downfield — Except in rare circumstances.

This may seem highly technical but is less about Rugby's nuances and more about ChatGPT and how well it understands the language.

So I challenged ChatGPT on this point:

AOP: but as you said in rugby a scrum is to gain possession - scrums do not move  
the ball forward (except in rare circumstances) - how do you explain this
paradox
GPT: You are correct that in rugby, the primary goal of a scrum is to gain  
possession of the ball, rather than to move it forward. However, the concept
of a scrum as a tightly formed group of people working together closely and
collaboratively is still relevant to the Scrum project management framework.

In Scrum, the team works together closely and collaboratively to move the project
forward, much like a rugby team working together to move the ball forward.
The scrum framework is built around the idea of iterative and incremental
progress, with the team working in short sprints to deliver working software
that meets the customer's needs. The emphasis on teamwork and collaboration,
as well as the close interaction between team members, is similar to the
dynamic of a rugby scrum.

While there may be some differences between the way that a rugby scrum and a
Scrum team work together, the metaphor of a scrum is still useful in highlighting
the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and adaptability in achieving a
common goal. The term "scrum" has become synonymous with the Scrum project
management framework, and it is widely recognized and used in the software
development industry.

Some interesting points to note about this response:

  1. Again, generally factually correct.
  2. GPT is not letting go of the metaphor interpretation about moving the ball downfield — I read today someone calling GPT “stubborn”, and I suppose this might be an example

Let’s try a different way:

AOP: I think scrum is actually more like a rolling maul in rugby - can you  
explain the difference between scrum and a rolling maul?
GPT: You are correct that a rolling maul in rugby is more similar to the Scrum  
framework than a standard scrum. While both a scrum and a rolling maul involve
a group of players working together to achieve a common goal, there are some
key differences between the two concepts.

A scrum is a set piece of the game where eight players from each team come
together to contest possession of the ball. The scrum half of the attacking
team rolls the ball into the scrum, and the two teams push against each other
to try to gain possession of the ball. The aim of a scrum is to gain possession
of the ball and create an opportunity to move it forward.

A rolling maul, on the other hand, is a tactic used by a team to gain ground
with the ball by keeping it in the hands of their forwards and moving forward
as a cohesive unit. In a rolling maul, the ball carrier is surrounded by a
group of forwards from their own team, who bind together and drive the ball
forward. The opposition team will try to stop the maul by pulling it down or
slowing it down, while the attacking team will try to maintain the momentum
and drive forward.

In the context of project management, the Scrum framework is similar to a
rolling maul in that it involves a group of people working together to move
forward towards a common goal. The team works collaboratively and iteratively
to achieve a series of goals, much like a rugby team driving the ball forward
in a rolling maul.

In summary, while a scrum and a rolling maul are both concepts from the game
of rugby that involve a group of people working together to achieve a common
goal, there are some key differences between the two. The Scrum framework,
however, is more similar to a rolling maul in rugby, in that it involves a
group of people working together collaboratively to achieve a series of goals
and move forward towards a common objective.

This response is the most interesting so far.

  1. It has given up its previous attachment to the Scrum moving the ball downfield. it now describes the rugby scrum as a contest for possession and “create an opportunity to move it forward”.
  2. The description of the rolling mall is good.
  3. ChatGPT, having previously defended the scrum = scrum association, now embraces “scrum = rolling maul” enthusiastically. the last couple of sentences states this new metaphor in an authoritative tone.

What is interesting about this topic is not the Rugby; it’s the ability of ChatGPT to deal intelligently with synonyms and keep them separate in a context where they could be confused. I’m impressed with not only the factual knowledge but also the ability to analyse my statements and create an association between the two concepts.

The other thing that is impressive about this is that this association — this alternate metaphor of the Scrum framework and the rugby rolling maul is not one that has been widely written about. Try Googling (or Binging) and see what you come up with. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in a forum and an email, and I’ve been writing a post about it that’s been sitting in draft mode for a while, but it’s not something that is broadly available on the internet (at least it wasn’t).

The Bottom Line

Whilst this post may seem a bit abstract, it’s more fundamental than it appears. We’ve established ChatGPT’s ability to keep separate quite different concepts with the same English language “handle” (in this case, the word “scrum”).

The way ChatGPT responded to my queries about metaphors shows a powerful language and concept manipulation capability, even though it doesn’t understand anything deep about the concepts themselves, it understands (from its data set and training) how humans use language to describe the concepts.

The upshot is that ChatGPT is doing more than just regurgitating blocks of text that it thinks are relevant. It means that ChatGPT is manipulating concepts to which text fragments are attached, and assembling them on the fly, based on my prompts.

The next post will explore some more specific project management concepts.

Stay tuned.

And don’t forget to check out the master index for this open-ended series.

Postscript: a confession: I realise I’d been misspelling the name “ChatGPT” as “ChatGTP” in several early yarns. My bad. I’ve corrected this where I can, but parts of those stories (e.g. URLs and SEO) will live on forever and proclaim my shame.

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Where people think and work naturally together, projects succeed. http://www.adamonprojects.com

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