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..but if the Scrum Alliance Can’t Do It, Who Will?

Jesse Fewell has written a blog post called Scrum Is Dead. Long Live Scrum. His viewpoint is that the old Scrum is dead, and that it is morphing into something new. In the comments, Jesse asked the following question in response to my call for the Scrum Alliance to focus on the Software Community:

Here’s my question though, if the SA isn’t going to be the one to apply agile thinking to lawyers, financial analysts, music producers, and managers, then who will? Are tech workers the only knowledge workers worthy of agile thinking?

Scrum Alliance Background

(If you don’t want all of the background, skip to Cory Gets to the Point)

It’s a good question. Let’s start with why the Scrum Alliance exists. On their web site it says:

The Scrum Alliance is a nonprofit organization committed to delivering articles, resources, courses, and events that will help Scrum users be successful.

But if you scroll down and look at the Form 990 filed for tax year 2008, it says:

Scrum Alliance’s mission is to promote increased awareness and understanding of Scrum, provide resources to individuals and organizations using Scrum, and support the iterative improvement of the software development professions

(Emphasis mine). Further, in section 4a it says:

Scrum Alliance is organized and operated exclusively for purposes of furthering the advancement of the “Scrum” software development process

(Again, emphasis mine). And while the board members aren’t compensated, the managing director made, in 2008, $240,000 USD. In fact, all told, the Scrum Alliance paid out three quarters of a million dollars in “independent contracting” fees.

Not bad for managing a 3-person staff of independent contractors. Full disclosure – I worked as an independent contractor for 6 months for the Scrum Alliance. I imagine my compensation should be available in the 2009 filing form. But, let’s just say, it was pennies compared to the above numbers.

Ok, so now that we see that the Scrum Alliance states their purpose is furthering software development, let’s look at the break down of staff:

  • Managing Director
  • Creative Director (new as of this year – Tobias’ position)
  • Accountant
  • Membership Coordinator / Website Coordinator
  • PR
  • 5-person board

And the heart of Jesse’s question becomes, what is the most effective use of a team like that?

SoftwareScrum < Scrum::BaseScrum

Well, let’s look at the existing programs:

  • Certified Scrum Master
  • Certified Scrum Coach
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner
  • Certified Scrum Trainer
  • Scrum Gatherings (4-5 per year held around the globe)
  • Community outreach (funding of User Groups, Welfare CSM, etc)

Which seems to be the right lineup for what Scrum is (3 roles – ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and “Other”). So, in fact, if one was going to set out to “Transform the World of Work”, then keeping the offerings and programs industry agnostic seems like a good thing. Except for one thing.

Magic - Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrpunto/117374484

Magic. Magic is the little dots in the Scrum diagram which shows what actually happens in those 2-4 weeks sprints, and those 24-hour increments. In software terms, Scrum is an abstract class, which doesn’t implement Do24Hours() and DoIteration(). You have to do that. Anyone implementing Scrum has to do that. It’s that magic which distinguishes the successful teams from the non-successful ones. It’s where Lean and Kanban and XP and all sorts of other things get put in. Or, in other industries, where the real work happens.

For example, if I’m a Lawyer, that 24-hour period, or that iteration, I’m going to be going to court, preparing cases, visiting my clients, bribing judges, etc, etc. Or if I’m a movie producer, I’m going to be coordinating shoots, editing previously filmed clips, pampering the actors and actresses, etc.

Which means that if we want Scrum to be successful, what happens during that 24-hour period, or that iteration, has to be successful. If it isn’t, then what happens outside of it – the product management, the demos, the daily stand-ups – doesn’t mean diddly.

new Scrum::BaseScrum() //raise NotImplementedException

(Also known as Cory Gets to the Point)

In fact, in a quote as famous as the Bill Gates “Nobody needs more than 640k” quote, Ken Schwaber says:

I estimate that 75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it.

Proof is in the pudding. If Scrum isn’t executed successfully, it doesn’t work. Which means that if we want Scrum to succeed, then we need to be helping those teams figure out what happens in the “magic” areas of the Scrum process.

So far, so good. Jesse’s question still stands – why not help everyone find the magic quadrant?

Because we can’t. The one thing any coach will tell you is that every engagement is different. Some political game. Some quirk about the product. Some jursidictional rule. Some working hour filming requirement in Pago Pago. But, if the Scrum Alliance wants to help, there are at least two options:

  1. Build a Community of People to Implement Scrum In Specific Industries – Let’s recognize that each industry has specific needs, and therefore will need Scrum taught different ways. In fact, it was already recognized with the creation of the PMP CSM class held earlier in 2009 (I can’t find a link right now). But to expand, you need leaders, and to get leaders, you have to seed the community. The existing CSP/CST program isn’t setup for that at all. So drop it. Stop centralizing the certifications from CSMs all the way up to the CSTs and push that out to the industry-specific subgroups.
  2. Get Scrum Working Well in One Industry – Scrum started to help software teams, and its stated purpose is to help software teams. Yet 75% of the teams aren’t getting the benefit. Hello? Is anyone listening? Why don’t we find how to fix that problem before spreading out to lots of other industries?
Prism of Light - credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/epioles/3200544984

Here’s how I look at it. You have a board and directorship of software industry leaders. You have thousands of people in the software industry using Scrum. You have people begging for better ways to do software. And you have your founder saying that 75% of teams aren’t getting the benefit. You want to look at all that and say, “Let’s branch out?”

Look over to your right. That’s a laser going through a prism. Alright, that’s what happens when a laser goes through a prism. It gets split into lots of shiny objects. That are so very pretty to look at. And hear about. Now watch this video:

The Scrum Alliance can be a shiny object, pretty to look at, fun to talk about, neat for a demo or two. Or it can be a focused cost and quality-overrun killing machine by helping the software industry find out what is in those magic circles which is causing 3/4s of the users to not get the benefit. Or, to put it in real numbers, find out why of the members who paid collectively a tad over $2.6 million in 2008, three-quarters (or around $2 million dollars worth of fees) aren’t getting the benefit they should be getting.

So, Jesse, that’s why. The Scrum Alliance can’t hold the keys and want to open the doors at the same time. Either fix what is broken, or split off an industry specific group which has control over the certifications for that industry and can fix it for them.

Personally, I’d prefer to see the certifications dropped and the Scrum Alliance focus on fixing the industry-wide pandemic we call software development. But that’s just me.

Edit: William Pietri points out that lasers are monochomatic, and so when shot through prisms, they split into multiple beams as shown here. It’s still shiny objects with less power than the original – just better represented. Thanks William!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tom Gilb February 20, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Well put. Thanks for these comments. I have my own opinion that what we lack is focus on quantified top level project objectives. We will present ideas at scrum gathering Orlando 8 march. They are also in downloads gilb.com. Value Driven Agile is what we need. Not use case function code driven agile.

  • William Pietri February 20, 2010, 3:47 pm

    Great post, Cory. Although I am not very optimistic, that’s what I’d love to see the Scrum Alliance do as well.

    As a long-time San Francisco resident, I’ve followed the development of Burning Man, which I think has some lessons for the Agile movement.

    Both are movements started by people whose different ideas led to different experiences, the lessons of which they wanted to share more widely. Both started out as bottom-up, peer-to-peer efforts. Both ended up with organizations with well-paid, full-time professionals. Both face questions from early participants about whether the organizations are really serving the purpose and fulfilling the promise of the early days.

    I think part of the problem faced in both worlds is the ease with which an organization’s primary purpose shifts from doing the work to making sure the organization survives and thrives. That shift always seems very reasonable at the time; survival is immediate, while the work is vaguer, and can be pushed off to the future. And the shift is especially reasonable to the people whose salaries depend on the organization. As Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    I wish the Scrum community the best of luck in sorting all this out.

  • Zac Thompson February 20, 2010, 6:21 pm

    “Personally, I’d prefer to see the certifications dropped and the Scrum Alliance focus on fixing the industry-wide pandemic we call software development. But that’s just me.”

    It’s not just you.

  • Bob Cravens February 20, 2010, 8:52 pm

    Well written. I agree that an organization needs both project management (scrum, lean, waterfall…etc) and engineering best practices. Project management tends to be implemented early on in many organizations because every one (developers and non-developers) understands the need. Small organizations can get away with sloppy engineering practices. Once organization reaches a certain size they begin to recognize the need for engineering best practices. Many times these engineering best practices are implemented in response to symptoms in quality and / or productivity. Mature companies will have good project management and engineering best practices.

    Scrum is a great project management technique. Very flexible and engineering agnostic. Anyone can use it in their organization. I think that is why it has become so popular.

    I too would like to see coaching of engineering best practices. I don’t think that all engineering practices are for everyone. However, there must be a certain subset that everyone can agree on.

  • Jesse Fewell February 26, 2010, 5:00 pm

    Cory, I like where this conversation is going; it’s helping me get a better sense of the agile industry’s issues. Your latest post crafts a very good description of the execution problems of the Scrum Alliance. HOWEVER, I don’t think that means their mission is fragmented. See my response post here: http://www.jessefewell.com/2010/02/26/scrum-is-dead-long-live-scrum-part-2/

  • Thomas Steinkamp March 1, 2010, 9:30 am

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