The People’s Scrum

This article has been removed. An edited version appears in the book, The People’s Scrum, published by Dymaxicon, May 2013.
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This is a mashup of different thoughts I’ve had over the past few days.

In the five-plus years I have been teaching and promoting Scrum I have rejected the idea that Scrum is a methodology, or a process, and promoted the concept of Scrum as a framework for unearthing organizational dysfunction and empowering individuals towards a new way of thinking about work: Scrum as a force for change.  More recently, and it seems to coincide with the rise of Kanban, I have heard increasing talk of both Kanban and Scrum being described as tools, e.g. Scrum vs Kanban, by Henrik Kniberg. [ref]  This concerns me.

When I facilitate training courses, or work inside organizations as a Scrum consultant, I often teach people the art of relative estimation, and in the process usually teach Planning Poker.  Planning Poker is a tool.  The story template [ref] designed by Mike Cohn is a tool.  Likewise, a talking stick in a stand up meeting, a timeline in a retrospective, and various other techniques we employ to do our work well can be considered tools of the trade.  But Scrum itself is not a tool.  Scrum is a way of thinking about how we do our work, it is an state of mind, a journey, an exploration of self and environment [ref].  To reduce it to “a tool” is to completely miss its magic, and to bring us back into a world of best practices and repeatable process.  No, this isn’t a big leap. Consider it.

It saddens me to see Henrik Kniberg (and others) reduce Scrum to “just another tool”, along with Kanban and XP.  Kanban seems to be a tool for process efficiency and value stream measurement and improvement, and is likely applicable within a Scrum organization in a situation of continuously changing requests.  XP is –potentially– a way of being, and not a tool in itself.  It has however been reduced by many (most?) to a set of engineering practices and tools (TDD, continuous integration, etc).  I believe, that just like Scrum, truly embracing XP is beyond most people’s comfort zone.

The other direction I see Scrum going in is towards a Best Practice.  I feel uneasy when I see Jeff Sutherland attempt to align Scrum with CMMi.  I am not opposed to this (not yet), and I am hoping to learn more about the direction Jeff is going in, but I feel it is movement towards hyper-productivity, big profits and ultra-efficiency, and thus away from the joy of work.  I am a strong believer in business value and profit growing from a sense of love and satisfaction for what we do, from care and passion, not from being streamlined and made hyper or ultra anything.  I want to see The People’s Scrum, not the VC’s Scrum or the CEO’s Scrum, or the super-consultant’s Scrum.  I believe only The People’s Scrum is sustainable and true.

The People’s Scrum is Scrum created by the people for the people, not Scrum as dictated by a book or a training course or a consultant. The People’s Scrum grows organically through education, practice, failure and reflection. I welcome the mixed messages the various Scrum practitioners send forth, all the disagreements and arguments on the lists and blogs.  The knowledge work industry is a quagmire, a tangled mess, and teams working in collaboration and accord need to find their own way through this.  People helping people.  It will take a while.  And we don’t give up.

Scrum is a framework for organizational change and personal freedom. It is not a methodology. It is not a process. It is much more than a tool.  Scrum dares us to think about the world in an utterly new and different way.  We must learn to stop mapping and to start drawing in wild colors and crazy patterns onto blank sheets of paper.  Then we might start to get this.

31 responses to “The People’s Scrum

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  2. For what it’s worth, my interest in scrum has been piqued by the idea that it’s NOT just another methodology. The idea that it might become a best practice is also a little disconcerting as I associate best practice with something that is imposed rather than accepted. Enough of my broad hazy generalisations – I need to read some more!

  3. Your use of the word “unearthing” triggered a thought. Archaeology isn’t a tool, but a process that uses many, many different tools to achieve its goal of learning about the past from evidence in the “here and now”.

    A quick Google search for “archaeology process” yielded this page:

    It resonates with me in terms of how, as an external coach, one discovers the culture in an organization, and can help expose the dysfunctions that impede progress. What also resonates is the amount of patience required in both cases!!

    Dave Rooney
    The Agile Consortium

  4. Interesting post Tobias, though I think there are a probably again some problems with “definition” 🙂

    Scrum is a lightweight process framework, designed with the sole purpose of effectively and efficiently deliver running software at regular interval.

    As we all know, to make that happen, teams need to break some barriers, challenge the status quo, exit their comfort zone, and sure… if you do that by having fun, even better (see

    Now those changes in behavior are happening to people and environment where the values, and principles underlying Scrum (and every other agile/lean approach) are well understood and committed. That is a fundamental mind-shift, if you want a cultural change, but I wouldn’t call that Scrum, that is a new approach to “work” that highly bases its roots on some older principles: “respect & empower people” for example.

    I see Scrum as one of the “tools” to help today world of work make a substantial move ahead in understanding the value of people, in seeing them as tree in the forest, individual with their own richness and talent, and why not their weaknesses. These might be seen as a step toward building “learning organizations” that make of individual creativity and will to exceed expectation by facing new challenges the greatest possible asset. In these companies the understanding that today world of work claims collaboration and sharing more than scapegoats, and that managing – as controlling, staffing and commanding – has to be replaced by leadership where the tenants are: respect, direction, support and modeling.

    So I agree with your empathy in putting more on people, and sustain their pace, their discovery and their commitment, but that is not Scrum, Scrum is a way to see what inside our organizations is not working, and by doing that, allowing the organization to understand that every dysfunction might have a systemic cause. Managers becomes leaders and start to realize mistakes and errors, and use them as opportunity for improvement, rather than punishment… this is what we need to change, and this might happen with Scrum, with Kanban, with Lean with whatever else that put the people at the center, and structure everything else around them 😉

    Thanks for sharing

    • > …but that is not Scrum
      Andrea, I agree. Scrum is the framework, the infrastructure that will create utter transparency, and the people (just people) will need to make decisions and take action based on the new information. To change or not to change. I believe Scrum has an extraordinary and uncanny ability to make this happen, to hold up a miror to the organization. Much is due to its seemingly contradictory qualities of having tight boundaries while remaining utterly agnostic to craftsmanship practices. I am not convinced that Lean or Kanban has the same power as Scrum to truly create a mindshift, due in each case to their key focus on process improvement and measurement. I am not convinced XP could do it either, due to its focus on software development. Scrum is not a tool for change. It is the foundation and the awakening.

      • Andrea Tomasini

        Right Tobias, Scrum among all the approaches is the one that focuses in unearthing – great word selection BTW – dysfunctions by making “impediments” first class recognized citizens 😉

        The risk that many people won’t see what is behind those impediments and start by implementing symptomatic solutions that in the long term will undermine the success, the health and the purpose of an organization is bot only high, it actually happens pretty often 😦

        Root cause analysis is key for a real longlasting sustainable pace, as well as for keeping the systemic view over an organization, and for that Lean and Kanban offer valuable tools 😉

        it is getting interesting 😉


  5. Andrea, smart people use the right tools for the job and are not particularly concerned with the origin of those tools. I use ‘The 5 Whys’ for root cause analysis. I don’t even know where that tool comes from, but I know it works. My point is not that Lean and Kanban and XP ideas/tools aren’t valid. Many are. My point is that Scrum itself is not a tool.

    To blame Scrum for raising impediments that people don’t know how to fix, is like shooting the mesenger. Anything that prevents people being happy and businesses being successful should be removed in a way appropriate to the context. Surface-level solutions and quick fixes are rarely appropriate.

  6. Hi Tobias – you must have been expecting me 🙂

    I love the way you describe Scrum. I would say that the rise in popularity of Kanban is partly due to the problem you raise – its use as a tool. The Kanban community has partly grown out of a reaction to “Ceremonial Scrum”. Kanban itself is more than a tool. The full name is a Kanban System. Its the System that’s important for improving economic outcomes and individual fulfillment. A key theme of a recent Lean and Kanban Exchange in London was “letting people think for themselves”.

    The irony of course is that its easy to focus on the Kanban tool.


  7. Interesting thoughts, I still think that there are some problems with definitions, and I consider them important as for the basic understanding…

    So Kanban is a System and Scrum is not a tool, so if a System is:

    “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole, in particular
    • a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network”

    Than the “things” can include the tools, but not only, so what is left… infrastructure, environment… ah people!

    So “empower people” (as “letting people think for themselves”) is something common to Lean, Kanban and also Scrum… it is a Principle, that promotes values as: Openness, Commitment, Courage, Focus and Respect, that are Scrum Values if you want, but can be shared by Kanban and by any Agile approach on the planet… are again related to people.

    So where does the tool end and the system begin, and how much of these different approaches – that shares many principles and values – is a the cause of people behavior and how much is the effect?

    Tools are practical, immediate to understand, this is why people remind them better, but what is the goal of tools? They should help in doing things better and faster, in general more efficiently, better reaching “ones” goal faster, as everyone straining to reach a goal is motivated, committed, empowered, focused…

    I just try to be agnostic about the “tools” and focus on the “goal” and how to make it happen better, and faster 🙂


  8. Is it a recipe for fun than? 😀

  9. Your article is very valuable for further thinking. I totaly agree with you.


  10. …and then let the people lead the CEOs and the super consultants (they always did, anyway).

    Thank you, Tobias, for fueling my love of seeing the world through Scrum glasses. Bravo!

  11. “Scrum is a lightweight process framework, designed with the sole purpose of effectively and efficiently deliver running software at regular interval.” [Andrea, above]

    I certainly hope not, because my next 20 years is devoted to bringing Agile (especially Scrum) to the legal profession! :o))

    The legal profession is experiencing a LOT of pain and corrections that will take a long time to sort themselves out. But, this is how ecosystems work, so the only question is how will we adapt? In my mind, we have been given a great opportunity to examine models that work in similar professions. as we struggle to redefine our own. This is the perfect time for forward-thinking lawyers to acquire an understanding of the Agile principles, practices and processes which will hold them in good stead as we move towards becoming a profession that values self-organizing legal teams *more* than dramatic heroism by lone ranger attorneys, who chase windmills or slay real dragons with equal ferocity, rescuing maidens and large corporations from the ravishes of Constitutional impingements and market forces.

    How’s THAT for an obnoxiously long legal-style sentence?! Wouldn’t it have read better in a series of 7-word sprints? :o))

    Seriously, though: Tobias’ brilliant design of WelfareCSM means that non-technical folks can easily and experientially absorb new ways of working within the ecosystems in which they now operate.

    For my part, I urge the technical community NOT to clasp Agile and Scrum too tightly, but to open it up for inspection by the wider community. Tobias has made it possible for more legal professionals to get Scrum training,and I look forward to bringing as many folks along as possible in 2010. So, I encourage the Scrum Alliance and the trainers to broaden their courses (or maybe to add another type of course to their catalogs).

    BTW, what do you think the effect would be, if tech companies added principles from the “Agile Manifesto” to their checklists for law firm suitability? My bet is, it would get faster adoption than anything having to do with “diversity.”

    • Andrea Tomasini

      Hi Regina,
      the fact that Scrum has been designed for developing Software faster is not a mistery as well as the fact that the Scrum Alliance “improving the world of work” – with the contribution of Tobias among many others – is bringing Scrum to other contexts.

      Scrum is great to lead organizational change, someone is using it to build houses, so I am sure you’ll find plenty of benefits in applying it to your legal context 🙂


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  13. It is quite an interesting post from the view that it resonates my thoughts a lot. Having seen the CMMI process and transitioned to agile as quite an early adopter, I always felt scrum was a way of bringing us back to common sense.

    Common sense is people define either the success or the failure of systems and scrum keeps reiterating to keep people first in all aspects of development to drive the success.

    Most people are curious about the scrum tools even before they have really understood what scrum is about. This disheartens me. A simple excel sheet or a drawing board with post-it is all you would need if you have understood and adopted the philosophy of scrum.

    Scrum/Lean for me is a philosophy that you adopt to instill more common sense in the way we think and work to drive success with people.

  14. For me Scrum is a tool, same as XP or Kanban or any other method which helps you to organize things better.

    I agree with you that fully embracing XP is outside of people comfort zone but that means some practices XP groups aren’t natural for us or we just didn’t get use to them, pair programming being the first example. Either way that’s still just a method, a tool, not a way of work or life.

    Seasoned professionals should find themselves easily in any well-organized company, no matter whether it embraces Scrum, RUP or waterfall. And if the team works as well-oiled machinery there’s no real reason to change all things around just because one person believes in Scrum-as-a-way-to-be thing.

    • Pawel, if all you are looking for is a well-oiled machine, then you are probably right to see and treat Scrum as a process tool. Me, I am seeking something greater: a humane business world, where people go to work because it is a joy, not because it is a job.

  15. “I am seeking something greater: a humane business world, where people go to work because it is a joy, not because it is a job.”

    Interesting. When I coach new teams I do the usual “Agile Manifesto” thing, discussing the Values that are presented. I then have the team I’m coaching talk about what values are important to them. In almost every case, “Fun” is one of them – people want to have fun while at work.

    Dave Rooney
    The Agile Consortium

    • Yes. Paternalistic companies try to solve this problem by putting in foosball, table tennis, etc. They miss the point. We shouldn’t have to escape work to have fun, the work itself should be fun.

  16. yes, and being able to transform your world of work is part of the fun.

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  18. 100% agree. In my understanding, the key to success is when people in a team respect each other, understand what a “commitment” is and have fun doing whatever they do. It’s not about using a framework or process or methodology to organize or control their work, if they are not happy, if they have no fun; their will be failure sooner or later.

  19. Tobias, thanks for this post and the discussion it generated. It´s been awesome to read.

    I agree with you that there is more to Scrum than a simple Tool. I also believe in a more humane business, where people enjoy their jobs.

    I think that the discussion is about philosophy, values and principles, and the agile manifesto is all about that. It is about changing the current way of work that treats people as assets and that “think” chaos is controllable.

    SCRUM was born to achieve Agile principles for software development, but it exceeded this goal.

    So, we could say that SCRUM is the best way, so far, to realize, pursue and embrace the principles and values of Agile and a more humane way of work.

    “Curiously”, despite being from the people and for the people, SCRUM brings all sorts of benefits for the Companies and CEOs. The smart ones (the ones that are really living it), are seeing this clearly and enjoying.

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  23. Well Jeff Sutherland is consulting for Fund Ventures so it’s not astonishing.

    There are 2 kind of socialisms either : fabian socialism from the elittes and people socialism there can also be 2 scrums 🙂

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