For over seven years I have been active in the Scrum community as a developer, scrummaster, trainer, coach and business consultant, as a list participant, a conference attendee, a workshop facilitator and a blogger. I have made some strong and fast friendships in this community, engaged in passionate dialog and debate with some of the software industry’s brightest people, and been privileged to share the journeys of discovery with many individuals and organizations. And now it is time to move on.
At the end of August I renounced my SA certifications of CSM, CSP and CST, and at the end of September I resigned from my SA staff role as creative director. The role was meaningless; the SA is not a creative organization.
I had joined the SA staff full of hope for change, but over the course of this year I began to recognize that my desired future was very different to many others active in the Scrum community, where certification, tests, and definitions (one true Scrum) are valued over exploration and risk, where keeping Scrum bound to the world of software is more important that harnessing its values and principles for the betterment of all business, and where competing for the “best” certification program becomes more important than collaboration towards a common goal.
And then there is the failure of the Scrum Alliance itself to rise to the leadership challenge, and live up to its own mission to “Transform the World of Work”.
The Scrum Alliance, the organization that Ken Schwaber started five years ago to manage the CSM program, and spread the word of Scrum has become the epitome of the dysfunctional organization that Scrum practitioners are committed to transforming. The irony is quite poetic. The SA is the archetypical unScrum organization, a big lumbering machine, intent on maintaining its status quo, valuing profit over service, control over trust, and engaging in operating practices that are opaque, undemocratic and lacking in integrity.
The Scrum Alliance: Complying with the World of Work.
Watching the decline from within has been a very painful experience, and one that raises the question: who (or what) is the Scrum Alliance? There is no leadership, no guidance. There is no purpose, no vision, no direction. The SA appears to exist to certify new trainers who will teach more CSM classes so the membership grows, and the demand for more CSM classes grows, so more trainers can be certified, and so on ad infinitum. Each trainer, each certification adds more money to the SA bank account. And I don’t see where anything is being given back to the community. Even Gatherings are run on a for-profit basis, causing distress to the board if a “loss” is incurred.
So what is the Scrum Alliance? Maybe it is the CSTs, the ones effectively supporting the organization financially. No CSTs, no income. The CSTs effectively hold all the power, but can never exercise it as there is no mechanism in place to allow influence. It is an oddly castrated form of power; it is an illusion. So maybe the SA is its wider membership of CSMs and CSPs. But with little in the way of meaningful services offered, and no real voice for that group of people in any matters of governance, this seems unlikely.
It seems more accurate to say that the SA is the board of directors. The members of the board run the show. But who are these people, and how did they get to be in those roles? Many were selected by one another, and two came in through a somewhat elitist and undemocratic election process. The by-laws this group crafted for themselves with legal expertise enable the status quo to continue. To quote my good friend and colleague Alan Cyment (a CST) in a recent email to the SA trainers and coaches group:
“[the SA bylaws] seem to be crafted in order for an a priori chosen group to remain in absolute control of an non-profit organization [...] The members of this community have absolutely no voice nor vote in this organization. Augusto Boal defined oppression as monologue where there should be dialog. My soul implodes whenever I consider the idea of the SA being an oppressive institution. The only people entitled to change the bylaws, restructure and even shut down the organization are those on the board. To me this autocratic structure goes directly against the vision of the organization. How can a non-profit pretend to change the world of work if its very own structure and internal rules resemble those of an old-fashioned, industrial-age corporation?” (reproduced with permission)
There was a recent glimmer of hope. Scrum Alliance board of directors met in Denver, in early September 2010, in a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss the future of the organization. The situation had perhaps reached its lowest ebb, with much in-fighting, members calling for each other’s resignation, and an overall failure to agree on anything, or set any strategy or vision. Individual board members seemed ready for change.
My own hope for the meeting was that the current board would voluntarily resign en masse, and call for a member-wide election to vote seven new members (including a new chairman). I also hoped a decision would be made in Denver that Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs) could not be accepted on the board. I believe the motivation for CSTs to keep the CSM money-making machine alive would outweigh any desire for change, and would block innovation and new thinking. Having members of the board of directors making money from the decisions the board of directors makes… well, you decide how that sits with you.
Sadly, but predictably, these changes didn’t happen, and the decisions made at the Denver meeting rooted the SA firmly in what can only be described as more of the same. The SA reestablished itself as an organization of certification, with no change to the board structure. No member of the board had the courage or integrity to step down and call for a fair election. No mention was made of running the board on the principles and values of Scrum. I believe there was even talk of creating the ultimate anti-Scrum artifact: a Scrum BOK.
But being ever the naive optimist, I’ll make a last plea for action to the wider Scrum community. Stand up for your principles. Shape your own future. Scrum needs an organization run by its members, for its members, and not by some randomly selected group of individuals, some with monetary interest and others with little or no commitment to the Scrum community, and in some cases a dubious understanding of Scrum. And such an organization should be pushing the constraints of traditional non-profit orthodoxy, certainly not complying to the status quo.
The SA, as the leading representative of Scrum is at a critical juncture. It can reinvent itself as a truly community-centric alliance, living the values it espouses, or it can remain as a certification factory, defending the right of an elite few to make a lot of money from the ignorant masses by selling software snake oil. The SA still has a choice: it can rise above the fray, and lift the industry with it, or it can tough it out in a Scrum fight club, slowly getting its head kicked in by the tougher scrum.org, the slicker ICAgile, and all the other new-kids-on-the-block who will soon join the barroom brawl.
Equilibrium is the precursor to death, and certification has had its day. If the SA doesn’t reinvent itself at this time it will fast become irrelevant to its members, who will look elsewhere for new inspiration.
Which is exactly what I plan to do. There is a big wide world of hope, love and passion, a world of inspiring people and outlandish ideas. Oh, the places we’ll go!