Explaining Scrum Roles using Football (Soccer)

In a recent consulting engagement at a software development company, I met with their CEO to address the issue of explaining the roles in Scrum to the entire organization to avoid misunderstandings, given that their company had tried Scrum three years ago, and some individuals were clinging to some misconceptions.

He explained to me that he has been using inside their company a football metaphor (Soccer for Americans), which I found to be very helpful in several occasions, given it surfaces key questions about the roles in Scrum into the open.  I am going to outline the similarities of the metaphor to help you explain the roles within your organization.

Roles in Scrum

In Scrum 2011 (scrum.org) there are three roles

Roles in Football


Parallels between the Scrum and Football roles

The Scrum Product Owner and Football Coach

Coach is responsible for ROI of Team

The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.  The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog. During the Sprint, the Product Owner does not add any new work to the Sprint backlog.

The Football Coach is responsible for maximizing the value of the game and the output of the Team.  He is the proxy between the club owners and the football team. He sets up the plan and focuses the team on the goal, and lets them execute it.  He is focused on ROI, and studies the competition to decide on which play to plan for the upcoming game. During the game the coach does not interfere and trusts that the team is able to score the goal.

The Scrum Master and Football Referee

Scrum Master enforces the Scrum Rules

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team. Scrum Master is authorized by management to resolve and remove impediments.

The Football Referee is responsible for ensuring that the Football rules are enacted and respected one the field. The Referee does this by ensuring that the team adheres to the practices and rules of the game.  The referee does not tell the team how to play the game, nor does he critique the game.  If there is an issue between the players, he clarifies and gets the team back in the game.  The Referee is authorized to make decisions and remove ambiguity to get the game back in play.

The Development Team and Football Team

Team Deliver the Increment in Sprint

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment. Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes the Development Team’s overall efficiency and effectiveness. Without the Team their is no work increment produced.

The Football Team consists of professional who do work of delivering the ball to their opponents' goal every match.  Only the member of the Football team can score. The football team is structured and empowered by the organization to self organize and manage their play during the game. Without the team, there are no goals to be scored.


The metaphor between the roles in football and Scrum is a good tool to get the conversation started. It is definitely not the same, but it does bring a lot of questions to the open for example you will have to ask the following questions.

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