I had dinner last Wednesday - the last night of the XP2012
conference-proper - with Nancy Van Schoodenvert, Charlie Poole and
James Greening. Steak, if you're interested. Nancy and James both
specialise in embedded Agile; James helped put together the Agile
Manifesto way back when; Charlie invented N-Unit. All three received
ScrumMaster training before I did. So the three of them have been
around for a while, I felt suitably humbled.
We talked briefly a lot about the Agile community's "Elephant in the
Room" which is the growing feeling among many agile experts that
Scrum, as most people learn it nowadays (by a 2 day certification
course), is dumbing down agile and – worse – giving Agile a bad name.
I over-heard many similar conversations at the Atlanta conference.
Let me explain the thinking (as I interpret it) a little before I
explain what I think we should do about it.
*** What follows are my opinions ... not necessarily the opinions of
those at the restaurant ***
Let me make this clear: this isn't bitterness, it's disappointment
mixed with frustration. The Agile experts I know love that more
people are doing Agile. They love that many of them are doing well.
They pay their mortgages helping those who want to SOAR and helping
those who've crashed-and-burned. None of the old-timers are bitter.
They are disappointed. Why? There are something like 120,000
certified scrum-masters in the world now. And many of them understand
the practices of Scrum very clearly, but they don't understand how to
make Scrum work.
This is not a reflection on the course content, scrum itself, the
people taking the courses, or those delivering the course. It's just
– in my opinion - that the people attending the CSM courses get taught
sooooooo much stuff - new, mind-boggling stuff - during the 2 day
course that many miss the core-principles – the important few bits of
Scrum which make it work. It's a forest and tree thing. Not everyone
suffers this problem, but it's very common. Very.
So what can we do about it?
I suggested, at dinner, part flippantly, that every scrum master
should be tattooed with the 3 underlying principles of Scrum.
That seemed like a good start.
But it left 2 questions: what are the 3 principles of Scrum and where
would the tattoo go?
I suggested the first two principles:
1. We produce Potentially Shippable, well-engineered, increments.
This is the how we build quality-in.
2. Our customers prioritise.
The others agreed - though they may have been being polite.
But what should the 3rd principle be? Someone tentatively suggested
"limit work in process" but after a minute or two we decide that might
be the 4th principle (which didn't need to be tattooed).
We settled on this:
3. Keep improving.
Improving is a vague word but we meant it in a broad sense, so it also
includes the idea of improving on basic Scrum. That means that in
addition to improving within your team (retrospectives,
obstacle-busting, etc) you use ideas and techniques from Kanban and
TDD and Lean and TOC and Six-Sigma and Marketing and Psychology and
... and ... and ... but you do so always keeping in mind the 3
principles which make scrum work.
And that, I suspect, brings us to the real issue many Agile people
have with Scrum as it is often adopted: Scrum also needs to be
[Did you see the thing I did with the words: Adopted AND Adapted.]
Scrum was never meant to be static. Ken Schwaber made it very clear
during the CSM course I attended way-back-when that the course was no
more than project management 101 compressed into 2 days. (It's more
than that, but I got his point). He also made it clear that we were
supposed to figure out how to do the 201 and then the 301 and then the
401. We should keep learning and improving.
At this stage, depending on your disposition, you might be getting nervous.
Have you heard of "Scrum-but"s? People say "We are doing Scrum but ...
we decided not to do this bit" usually followed by "because it doesn't
apply here, we are different". Sometimes that's true but more often
the real, yet never spoken, reason is "because it's too hard" or “we
don’t know how to do it here”. The bits scrum-butters drop are
usually principles 1 and 2 - potentially shippable bit of scrum, or
getting a product owner who can effectively prioritise.
[Paradoxically, Scrum makes your life easier by deliberately making it
harder. If you ignore the hard bits – for whatever reason - all it
achieves is making your life harder. Paradoxically.]
Here's a new rule I just made up: Learners shouldn't be allowed to
make "scrum-but" decisions without first have some very deep and
meaningful chats with an expert.
Racing car drivers drive differently to Learner drivers.
And many great artists, I’m sure, once upon a time, when they were
starting, learned to paint-by-numbers.
So you adopt and then, with expert guidance, you adapt.
This isn't meant to be easy.
But that leaves us with one more question: where should we put the tattoo?
This is a rhetorical question. But it should go somewhere where the
wearer can view it without hurting themselves ... which will also
prevent any scrum-butt puns.
Or, perhaps it's better if the Tattoo is a metaphor ...