Scrum, enough already


Stubborn: Having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, esp. in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so. (dictionary.com)

Okay, I’m stubborn, or maybe I’m simply a slow learner, or an impractical idealist, but from any angle it’s becoming clear that it’s time to get real, and to recognize a sad, yet blatant truth. Scrum is no longer interesting. The potential of Scrum as a pathway to release and freedom has been irreparably damaged by the certification zealots and its main governing body, the Scrum Alliance where the ideal is effectively held to ransom by profiteers.

The more I engage in conversation about a framework and a set of principles that I find profound and inspiring, the more I realize that in calling it Scrum I repel more people than I attract. It isn’t the ideas that turn people away—not the values, the principles, or even my passion—it is the brand, and what it has come to mean in our community (and beyond), i.e. a coercive, prescriptive, inflexible process governed by hard-core fanatics resistant to change or improvement.

This may or may not be the truth. It doesn’t matter. It is perceived as the truth by a vast and growing body of intelligent practitioners. Scrum has become tainted by its association with certification — and now that it’s about to become encoded by the Scrum Alliance in some sort of ScrumBOK or Scrum Taxonomy document its fate as an artifact of old thinking is sealed. Such a document will become its tombstone.

But the refreshing news is that few outside of the inner Scrum certification circles actually give a damn today. It’s just not on most forward-thinking people’s radar any longer. The world has moved on.

I reckon it was was my trip to LSSC11 in Long Beach, that caused this jolt in my thinking, this awakening. The experience acted as a catalyst, fusing my conflicting perspectives into a cohesive whole. To my delight I spent my two days of (let’s be honest) conference-freeloading engaged with inspired and inspiring groups of people, seeking new ways of thinking about the world, exploring, laughing, leaping paradigms and manifestos, and not wasting time talking about whether Kanban is better than Scrum, or visa-versa — in fact hardly talking about Scrum, or Kanban, or Lean at all… or even systems or software. The conversations were about people, and collaboration, and organizational structures, and complexity, and brain function, and starfish, and exploration, and improvement, and love, and kindness, and compassion… and even supplication.

Formal conference talks have a place, but it is the foyer conversations that herald the future. Judging by the buzz at LSSC11 we are moving on from prescriptions and recipes to embracing new, unknown alchemic concoctions, eschewing the safety of control and coerciveness and risking the danger of release and chaos. There isn’t much of a place for brand names or methodology wars any longer. There are better ways to spend our time now, so rather than continuing to defend and rescue a corrupted brand name I think I’ll spend my time living my values, and engaging others through example.

31 responses to “Scrum, enough already

  1. Funny, I was talking to an ‘older’ member of our community and she told me that once something good happened in the community it was always only a matter of time before the ‘process people’ took over.

    I just got back from a conference and scrum and agile seemed to be both dirty words, but at a customer of mine are using a backlogs, the iteration and they have an MT that is firing through impediments, so its – where some people would call it scrum – is working for them.

    Other people don’t have to move on, they can do what they like, but maybe it’s time you did. If there are more interesting things to talk about, then let’s talk about them. Or let’s constructivley critisice something for what they have done (and not what they might do).

  2. The AgileBOK is coming… just you wait and see. What then? The death of Agile?

  3. I’d have to agree with that. Many session at LSSC were focused on people and structures. I remember in Alan Shalloway’s talk where he showed a successful case study and he said “I don’t know what to call that process we used, but it worked. It’s not lean, agile, scrum….it just worked”.

    The second eye-opening part for me was Benjamin Mitchell’s comment during the “What do we mean by Lean?” panel. He said that he learned to think in his own context which made a world of sense to me. He did admit that “I learned to think in my own context” isn’t likely to be very marketable though.

  4. Looks like our invitation to LSSC11 did the expected effects. That was nice to meet you Tobias. Hope you succeed helping companies to do their best for the world.

  5. Pingback: Scrum, enough already | Agile Anarchy | Buzz Search Engine

  6. Hey Tobias

    Couple of quick comments on your post:

    1. It is about time we started talking about “supplication”. Thanks for bringing this concept to the forefront.

    2. I enjoyed having you at LSSC and know several attendees also loved chatting with you. You are the first attendee who made news while sleeping !!! Check this out:

    http://flic.kr/p/9FuH1C

    Finally, why linger on the past so much!! move on… let go and …lets go!

    C’mon,
    Siraj

  7. Hi Tobias,

    Inspiring post … idealistic maybe, but inspiring indeed.

    Maybe Scrum was just an instrument, and as with many other instruments, it has accomplished as much as it could accomplish and now has to be followed by newer, more effective ones. It maybe marketers that spoiled it, but it maybe also that it has just accomplished its mission and now has just become a method.

    You may ask, has Scrum accomplished anything at all? Look at you and many others like you: software guys once … and now talking about values in the workplace, conscious business, exploration, improvement … being a professional and ALSO a human being without the former compromising the latter!

    You ask me? Scrum has accomplished a lot! Maybe it’s just time to move on!

    Regards,
    Walter.

    PD: You may find Ken Wilber’s work quite interesting (http://www.kenwilber.com/home/landing/index.html).

  8. Tobias,
    Well said . I was so lucky to meet and learn from folks like you , Lyssa , Carlton, Alan Cyment, etc. who still believe in the core and essence of the Scrum framework. I have been struggling with Scrum the process as populairized by many and how to detach from the same. For now I am going to sit with the pain for some more time so that the answer to my internal conflicts surfaces.

  9. Beautiful. A portion of our community is climbing the rungs off the Dreyfus Model, as evidenced by the exploration happening at LSSC11.

  10. Tobias

    What you say about Scrum also applies to Agile. Most people I know who use Agile (rather than sell it) don’t give what they do a name. As soon as you give it a name, people tell you that you are not doing it right or even worse the anti-bodies have something to oppose. If its the “stuff that Tobias and his team are doing”, its much more personal and people do not like to criticise people (in public).

    Most people who use a tool don’t care about “using it right”. They care about the result. They care about the value it delivers. The great thing about the kanban community is that they work on real projects and have no sacred cows. They just have stuff they wanna get done. Hence they are looking at all sorts of stuff to solve their problems. Its allways important to check out the waste paper bin when you do that. 1

    Welcome to the community. Look forward to seeing your contributions to the kanbandev list.

    Chris

    1. http://decision-coach.com/problem-solving-2-0-meme-wombling-save-ideas-from-the-trash-bin/

    • Hi Chris, “The great thing about the kanban community… Welcome to the community…

      Thanks for reaching out, but I’d like to be clear that I have no more interest in promoting Kanban than I do Scrum. I think these names just get in the way, cause rifts and don’t add anything to the conversation. Also, my current understanding of (what is being called Kanban) doesn’t especially impress or inspire me. It all feels a little too safe and compliant.

      There are some key principles that underlie (what I understand as) Scrum that I still value greatly. I am not planning on throwing the baby out with the bath water :)

  11. I believe that the controversy around agile approaches is healthy, very healthy. Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean, whatever. Agile approaches are drawing attention and scrutiny. The current turmoil will make agile stronger and better.

    Those hoping for a pure and simple approach to software development will be disappointed. Those hoping for a better way to develop enterprise-level software will be pleased. How long will this shakeout take? No one can tell but be prepared for several years of shaking.

    • Who said anything about promoting Kanban? I’m referring to the community of practitioners who gathered around Kanban but use other stuff as well. I’m aware of similar practitioners in the Scrum Community as well. And even some who are in both.

      • Fair enough. I appreciate that people need causes, or names to identify with, but do find that these names mostly just get in the way. Even the broad term “Agile” does more harm than good these days.

  12. Silvana Wasitova

    Tobias, my dear friend, if I may call you that :),

    I hear you, and your pain, and tiredness at having travelled a road for so long, and experienced so many disappointments. In spite of that, and because of who you are, and the principles that you stand for, I call for your compassion – for even more of it. Not so much for the sources or causes of your pain, but for those others, those who are just beginning to see options for self-organization for working differently.

    With eyes trained on the future, it may feel that the destination is still elusive. However, look back, and see how far we’ve gone, and how many more are following, just beginning to learn the lessons you grappled with long ago. Those walking in your footsteps still need guidance. Please be a compassionate guide, whichever banner you choose to fly.

    Warmly,

    Silvana

    • Hi Silvana. Good to see you here. Please don’t worry, I have plenty of respect and compassion for those stepping out on this ambitious and courageous journey, and will do my utmost to support the effort. I don’t so much judge those who promote Scrum (although, yes, I do some of that) as choose not to continue doing it myself.

      I believe there is a new language we can create that embodies the same principles, fosters autonomy and mastery, creates awakenings, inspires hope and ultimately transforms both the workers and the workplace.

      It may still be Scrum (and Kanban, and Lean, and Agile) but reframed to include rather than exclude. These intersecting communities share a set of important and vital values. Creating openings for better conversation is where I’d like to focus. The journey continues.

  13. Well, I tend to disagree. It is not Scrum by itself, but what people “think” it is.

    Information is not freely available and – yes – the former evangelists turned to money-making. So people make up their own mind, what Scrum is or should be and come up with the wildest ideas.

    Example 1: My last boss told me, Scrum was all about the “commitment”. So he forced the team to “commit” to the sprint goal at “whatever the cost” and expected them to work overtime on a regular basis, because … well: in his terms you HAVE to keep the commitment. Combined with our boss’ habit to attend the planning meetings to push up the work-load and punish the nay-sayers personally. He told me, this was exactly what Ken Schwaber would tell people to do. (I doubt that)

    So in the end I have been in some “Scrum” companies and none of them was doing Scrum. They all were doing what they believed it was. Thus many colleagues become allergic to the term.

    Solution: On the other hand we have a real problem in most companies that Scrum says little about. Most managements sell a product for a fixed price and time-frame without calculating the cost first – long before it enters the production process. And we as developers have to make up for the loss.
    Our problem is: Requirements engineering. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t say that I have a problem with Requirements engineering – it’s just … we don’t have any. In all companies I’ve been with there was no position for a Requirements engineer. The boss didn’t even know that something like this exists at all.

    Example 2: When I told them that proper requirements were the “product” of the product owner, that is “sold” to (and checked by) the development team and thus needed to be complete and exact, I was told that Scrum would say that there is no such thing. Instead requirements should be analyzed by the team during the planning meeting: “If they forget to ask for details, it’s their fault.”

    You just can’t do Scrum if someone comes into the room saying: “How many sprints do you need to implement this? Oh, and by the way: we already sold it for 6 weeks.”
    Now try to tell them 7 or 8 and they will tell you to better have it finished in 6.

    Example 3: When I was told I should build a new application suite within a year I asked for requirements. What a got was the sentence: “Like the last one, just better.” When I asked them for “formal” requirements, they hired a friend they knew from church service and who had no experience in requirements engineering or business process analysis at all. Instead of getting documentation and user stories, I had to teach her how to write them first. Only to be told that she is not getting it and doesn’t care at all: I was told she had “great experience” in the field and thus does not need to know how to write a user story.

    What I got (after 6 months) was a word-document containing some vague goals (like “fast”, “not too many resources” and “secure”) plus the list of buttons present in the legacy system as bullet points. (I was told that was far better than anything ever seen in the company – usually they would got hand-written one-liners.)
    So instead I had to do the job of the product owner and interview stakeholders myself – what was difficult since I was not allowed to speak to most of them.

    When I finally warned them that there is high risk, the requirements could not be met in time and we need to either: 1) hire more personnel 2) reduce work-load 3) increase time-frame. I was told to drink less coffee and work more. These people called themselves a “Scrum-company” too.

    Solution: It CAN be done. When I finally showed them they could not only model requirements as business processes but also simulate them and automatically check for problems, the boss loved it immediately. Saved them a fortune on the first attempt. So a proper requirements engineer can actually provide great user stories – if we had any.

    Thus I think the problem is that many companies tell people they were doing Scrum without knowing what it is. Plus they don’t even understand the perquisites to implement it.

    • Hi Tom. “Well, I tend to disagree. It is not Scrum by itself, but what people “think” it is.” I think that’s an agreement, not disagreement with what I am saying. Scrum itself is a set of very good ideas and sound principles. It is sold, via its certifications and “how to” documents as a prescriptive process and a quick fix. That is where is fails.

  14. Hi Tobias,

    I’m not sure what you really are aiming at. Is it to lash against SA, or to trainers, or who?

    Anyway, I don’t know any Scrum trainers who would say things like “Scrum is all you ever need”, “you need to use Scrum”, “the other [labeled] approaches are wrong”. Or that it is a “quick fix”. And in my view, it isn’t SA that is saying so either.

    I think there is a confusion between defining Scrum and that using Scrum is somehow valuable in itself. I think Scrum benefits from definition (although I’m not sure if an agreement could be made), as there is purity to its approach that somehow needs to be protected from the many who use the name to label their approach with it (of which there were many examples in Tom’s post). However, it would be against Agile values and principles to consider it any more than a template to start from and from which then to inspect and adapt towards your own framework / process. I don’t think SA subscribes to anything more than that, really.

    I’m part of the people of “sell certifications” to interested individuals, whose interest ranges anywhere from “just getting the certificate” to purely improving their own intellectual capital (and who couldn’t care less about the certificate itself). Yes, I agree there are things that would definitely benefit from improvement (but I’m rather powerless to change them, except by renouncing the Scrum Alliance). However, the whole certificate thing allows me to reach people I couldn’t otherwise get to and it also supports the desires of many who would never otherwise have gotten the budget to get to a course. I personally do remind participants in every course that the certificate only certifies that they’ve sat two days on a course taught by a verified trainer, and that it in now way gives them proficiency to be good ScrumMasters (or PO’s) or certifies that they are. People typically understand that very well.

    It may be that words like “Agile” and “Scrum” are transitionary, but at the moment I feel they serve a purpose by clearly differentiating what we are doing from the traditional way of doing things. The more I see of this world, the more I feel the traditional way is hurting, damaging, and distorting the world we live in. That’s not a jibe at individual people, but at the values, principles, processes and most practices in that approach.

    That is the “enemy”, not other Agilists.

    Tobias, I feel you are hurting what you are trying to achieve by downplaying individual people or organizations, rather than ignoring the minor intellectual disagreements we have (and will have), and focusing on changing the world away from the traditional mindset together as a community of Agilists.

  15. Hi Petri. I’m really past caring what the SA, PMI or any other organization does to define/prescribe/sell Scrum or other name brands. This post is my statement that I will no longer be part of that game. I have come to believe that the focus on all these names in not helpful. It creates cliques, antagonism, and generates opportunities for cash rewards and quick fixes rather than deep, meaningful change.

    In arguing for Scrum, I have found I waste a lot of time and create confusion rather than clarity. It’s time for me to explore new ways of having conversations that emphasize commonalities rather than differences. Brand names (and there is no denying that Scrum is the biggest of these) just get in the way.

    And… I have no problem with you or anyone else continuing to sell Scrum. Go for it. But don’t deny there is a downside, as well as an upside to your choice, as indeed there is to mine. In the end our own sense of integrity needs to be what guides us.

    • > But don’t deny there is a downside, as well as an upside
      > to your choice, as indeed there is to mine.

      True, there are downsides in certificates (starting from the fact the very, very rarely they measure competence, whereas quite often they are expected to convey proficiency), there’s no denying them. I feel there are upsides that are greater than the downsides, at least as of yet. And I would hope that SA would better represent all the values I have, but generally I’m still more in agreement with the official policies than in disagreement.

      But yes, I also agree that our future isn’t in any particular organizations, or in any particular brands. We do need a broader mindset than fixating on any single framework would ever provide.

      PS. I feel I don’t sell Scrum, any more than it being a stepping stone to “selling” Agile and the bigger change away from traditional management mindset in everything we do.

  16. The Scrum principles of empiricism, self-organization, collaboration, prioritization & rhythm are still beautiful, even without the wrapper. Please don’t think I am throwing away the gift, I am only discarding the stained packaging.

  17. Tobias, if scrum is (working) in some companies… does it matter if it’s “interesting?”

  18. Agile Scout: I think it matters greatly. Uninteresting work becomes drudgery very quickly, and becomes the new status quo that people are afraid of changing. Boring Scrum becomes its own death knell.

  19. Tobias – thank you for being inspirational and provocative yet again – great post. It made me wish I were there in those very living conversations that went beyond process marketing labels. Your post made me think of this fable about an artesian well that apparently was a favorite of Carl Jung’s documented in the book “Owning Your Own Shadow” by Robert A. Johnson that I thought might resonate:

    The water of life, wishing to make itself known on the face of the earth, bubbled up in an artesian well and flowed without effort or limit. People came to drink of the magic water and were nourished by it, since it was so clean and pure and invigorating. But humankind was not content to leave things in this Edenic state. Gradually they began to fence the well, charge admission, claim ownership of the property around it, make elaborate laws as to who could come to the well, put locks on the gates. Soon the well was the property of the powerful and the elite. The water was angry and offended; it stopped flowing and began to bubble up in another place. The people who owned the property around the first well were so engrossed in their power systems and ownership that they did not notice that the water had vanished. They continued selling the nonexistent water, and few people noticed that the true power was gone. But some dissatisfied people searched with great courage and found the new artesian well. Soon that well was under the control of the property owners, and the same fate overtook it. The spring took itself to yet another place-and this has been going on throughout recorded history.

  20. Thanks Harold, that’s a great fable — and one filled with hope .

  21. You are welcome. And thanks to Andy Laken (@alaken) for sharing that story with me at a meeting of a men’s circle I attend in Montana.

  22. Hi Tobias,

    I have done agile successfully for over 10 years including at Yahoo. Most of that time I did not even know it was called Agile.

    I freely borrowed from various methodologies including RUP, SCRUM, XP , Lean and Kanban etc. Took what worked for me and discarded or adapted what did not work.

    Methodology is not goal in itself, delivering value in best possible way is.

    Only time I had really hard time was when I tried to do pure scrum. Not because there is anything wrong with Scrum but because environments vary so much it is rare to have a perfect Goldilock environment to do something pure. As professionals we make compromises to reach the most optimum result. Sometime changing our environment is under our control some times we adapt.

    Names like Scrum and Lean are important because they convey concepts which make it easy to communicate (just like design patterns).

  23. Pingback: Scrum is dead – Long live Scrum! » Room for Sk3pticism

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