It is common knowledge in the Agile community now that Ken Schwaber stepped down as chairman of the Scrum Alliance under strained and unfriendly circumstances, leaving confusion, bewilderment and sadness in his wake. This is my take on the situation, written from an emotional rather than a sensible perspective.
I have great respect, and above that, a great personal liking for Ken Schwaber. I believe his passion for Scrum, for challenging ingrained, destructive habits, for opening our eyes to better ways of working, and for transforming the world of work, has helped move the entire Agile movement forward in leaps and bounds. It is quite possible Ken has single-handedly contributed more to Agile growth than any other individual in this community — perhaps more than the rest of the community combined. The forming of the controversial CSM program, and the subsequent, wildfire adoption of Scrum by the software community is a force to be reckoned with. Ken made himself an iconic leader of a movement, a man personally admired by many and despised by more than a select few; Ken is not a man of half-measures.
But for all his good work —and this is the irony— I believe Ken got lost in the same power he was seeking to overthrow; the same power that, despite all the best intentions, seems to underlie all great movements of change [ref]. His need to control this thing called Scrum, in the guise of protecting it, was his downfall. The Scrum Alliance became yet another example of a monolithic organization that could not sustain itself. Attempting to run a movement like Scrum from an opaque, command and control position, was not only ridiculous and hypocritical, but doomed to failure. The Scrum Alliance became the thing the Scrum Alliance railed against so furiously. If there is blame to cast, (in the Agile world we like to call this “responsibility”) then I’ll cast it at the board, who should have stood up for the principles of Scrum long, long ago. And I’ll cast it at the Certified Scrum Trainers, frozen into silent compliance. Ken, well I can forgive him; a man lost in passion and belief —a man in love— is not the best person to make calm, informed decisions. And a man surrounded by yes-men, with few voices of dissent, will always believe he is right.
Ken needed a foil within the community, someone to challenge him, someone with guts and integrity, someone not operating on self-interest, or on fear, as the majority of the Certified Scrum Trainers were apt to do, keeping their heads down, and raking in the profits from CSM training during the years of abundance. Me too, of course, except my head wasn’t quite so far down. It is possible my own early experience with the SA was part of the reason for the silent compliance. Being fired as a CST by Ken in January 2007, was likely to have stirred up the already simmering fear in the rest of the fledgling trainer community. Tow the line, or get out. That was the message. And with so much money to be made as Scrum burgeoned beyond all expectations, honestly, what would you have done?
It is a testament to Ken’s open heart that, ten months later, he invited me back into the trainer community, with humility and a recognition that he valued my big, confrontational mouth. Few could do that. Few would. At around that same time, Ken wrote these words to me, and I treasure them as an illustration of the warmth and vulnerability of a man whose public persona is so often seen to be the opposite: “Tobias… at the end of my life, I will remember some people for their essence. I really appreciate your essence, your passion, and your determination. […] The more our paths cross, the better, and the more in person, the better.”
And yet still, Ken continued to operate as if Scrum was his personal property, rather than his gift to the world. For a time Jim Cundiff, the SA managing director, became the required foil to Ken, and did much to involve the members in community activity, and to advance Scrum in new ways, but I guess one man wasn’t enough, when an entire board and membership operated on a foundation of compliance and fear — or simply on disinterested, or perhaps more accurately self-interested silence.
Ken is not responsible for making the Scrum Alliance the oppressive, opaque organization it became. We are, the members and the board, all of us, and perhaps especially the CSTs. We created the organization that was of most personal benefit to us, without thought for the greater good. We are guilty of letting down the Agile community and it is time to make amends. Nothing less than a fully transparent organization, with an elected board and public accounting and decision making will suffice.
This is the time for our own organizational transformation; I hope we learn from the lessons of the past, and more importantly, I hope we learn from the lessons we teach others. It is time to put principles above personalities, integrity above compliance, and courage above fear. And as to Ken, I wish him well with his new endeavor, and I hope our paths cross soon — and yes, all the better if it is in person.