Scrum is a poor man’s agile
I won’t lie. I’m in a fairly contrarian mood today, and that is likely to influence this post to be harsher than it would be if I’d written it on a day when all was well. But, nonetheless, even on a good day I think I would agree with the gist of what you’re about to read.
Scrum is, in my opinion, the least “Agile” of all the agile methodologies. It is also the easiest to learn, the easiest to try, the easiest to add to your bull-crap resume, and the easiest to completely fail at. More on that later.
I don’t like the branding association it has with agile
Scrum is the de-facto brand of the Agile Alliance. I don’t really have anything against AA, but it bothers me that the only agile training they offer is related to scrum. It feels to me like AA positions “Scrum” as “Agile”, when in fact it is really only one of many methodologies that was inspired by the Agile Manifesto. The net effect is that when scrum projects fail, it’s not just scrum that gets a black eye, but also agile. And I don’t like that, because scrum projects fail a lot.
I don’t like the training
I’ve never taken a scrum class, so you may conclude that I don’t have any business trashing it. You might be right.
That said, I know a lot of ‘scrummasters’, and I’ve debriefed a number of people after they’ve taken a certified scrum master course, and as a general rule the training they received has failed to
- Give them an adequate appreciation for the values and principles that make Agile agile
- Convince them of the importance of absolutely critical development practices such as test driven development
- Prepare them for the intense resistance they will face attempting to introduce agile in an environment where it is new
I don’t like the certification
I’ve written training curricula before, both for professionals and for college students. I’ve never offered to “certify” anyone. I don’t really place much value in certification as a hiring tool or as a job-seeking tool except in certain very special areas where I know the certification is a bonafide test of competence at some level (assuming the possessor did not cheat or somehow fake the certification). Some examples of such certifications:
- Diplomas from real colleges & universities (schools that don’t fail anyone are not “real”)
- A license to practice law
- A license to practice medicine
- Certification as a professional engineer
These certifications are difficult and expensive to obtain and therefore demonstrate a fairly significant level of dedication on the part of the obtainer. They are also very rigorous and they police their members – if you screw up in a big way they will kick you out.
CSM is about as far from this certification as you could possibly get. Anyone with $500 and two days to kill can become a certified scrum master. That’s not impressive – being the proud possessor of a scrummaster certification is only a differentiator in the stupidest of organizations. In fact, if I am interviewing you for a position and you have a CSM my skepticism toward you just went up.
The true value of scrummaster certification is to the companies that sell it. They benefit immensely from it. So far as I can tell, they are the only ones.
I don’t like the club
Because CSM is easy to get and because Scrum pays short shrift to the values and principles from which Agile was born, there is a community of scrummasters who evangelize the Scrum process without grasping why Agile works. Take this genius for example:
Every CSM class I teach, I emphasize the complete nature of Scrum as a single tool, not a collection of tools. Learning Scrum is about learning the tool, not learning how to pick and choose pieces of a tool. Let’s explore this metaphor of Scrum as a tool.
Consider a hammer. A hammer is ideally suited for pounding nails into wood. It has two parts: a head and a handle. If you take the parts and use them separately, they can still be used for pounding nails into wood… but they are very ineffective compared to the hammer (although better than using your bare fist). It is non-sensical to decompose the hammer and try to use the pieces separately. However, a hammer is not suited to other purposes such as driving screws or cutting wood. It’s perfection is not just in its form, but also in its proper application. A hammer works through a balanced combination of leverage and momentum.
Scrum is like a hammer. It has parts (daily Scrum, Sprints, ScrumMaster, etc.), but taking the parts and trying to use them separately is… you guessed it… non-sensical. The parts of Scrum combine to be an extremely effective tool for new product development. Just like a hammer, there are things you wouldn’t want to do with Scrum such as manufacturing or painting a wall. (We might not all agree on the limits of the use of Scrum… that’s something for another article.) Scrum works through a combination of pressure on the organization and “inspect and adapt” (continuous improvement).
Please. Don’t modify Scrum. If you must change things about Scrum, please stop calling it Scrum.
This is in direct opposition to a number of agile values and principles, most notably that individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools. It is also ludicrous to say you use “inspect and adapt” to obtain continuous improvement, but only so long as you don’t inspect and adapt scrum.
That’s just plain stupid.
Scrum is full of people who think like this, and it makes me sad. There is little point to scrum if you do not understand and embrace the values and principles from which it sprang. It’s just another flowchart.
I don’t like the methodology
Scrum is too rigid. It imposes a structure and process on an agile team that doesn’t always fit, and it puts pressure on teams to use that structure or else. It’s not true to the fundamentally critical cycle of experimentation and evaluation that is at the heart of agile.
I also think it puts too much emphasis on the scrummaster, and not enough emphasis on emergent planning, good design, and disciplined software development.
I don’t like the results
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed brand new certified scrummasters are failing to deliver working software all over the place, mostly because of the three things their training failed to give them. As a result, lots of organizations are back-pedaling from their scrum implementations, mistakenly blaming agile for the failure.
Well guess what? It’s not agile’s fault. If you just “do” scrum without understanding or appreciating the values behind it, you didn’t “do” agile. You just did a totally empty version of scrum.
Is there anything left?
Nope. I think that’s pretty much it. Scrum is the new waterfail.