There are signs and portents. What are they telling us? Is this death–or is it perhaps a rebirth?
I’m pretty sure that my Twitter and Slack streams are seeing an increase in the “Scrum should die in a fire” community. Certainly the “ScrumsAllegiance” Twitter account is part of what I’m seeing, but there does seem to me to be more anti-Scrum fervor lately. I suppose it could just be part of the general irritation we are all feeling after a couple of years of covid, political idiocy, and truly fascinating weather, but even if those causes are triggering the fervor, the movement is still there.
The anger isn’t just directed at “Scrum”, of course. “Agile” takes its turn in the barrel, as do the other less well known methods, such as the perfectly named “SAFe”.1
My brother GeePaw Hill recently said this:
Realizing few will agree, I’ll still point out that this is how extractive capitalism works and how it has to work. If the community’s value is extracted from the community, the community’s devotion drops dramatically, and must be monitored and enforced.
Now I am not here to tout a new economic model to replace the one we have, but in a world where CEOs make over 350 times the pay of the average worker, I think it’s pretty clear there’s something wrong. However, the only way I see of fixing that bug quickly involves the fall of society as we know it, and I’m not ready for that. I’m far from the top of society’s pile, but I’m high enough up to see that there’s a long fall below me and honestly I don’t want to go there.
Even so, over 90 percent of the money going to the Scrum Alliance is surely corporate fees for training and conferences, not the money of individuals who are out there clamoring to become ScrumMasters. What do those corporations think that they are buying with the money they dump into courses? It’s easy to figure out.
The bulk of the fees go to ScrumMaster training. I think it’s about 75 or 80 percent. The next large tranche goes to Product Owners. Perhaps one percent goes to developer training. I think we don’t have to squint very hard to see that what the corporation is buying is the management aspect of Scrum, as advertised in Sutherland’s horridly-named book Twice the Work in Half the Time. The company wants more “productivity” while spending less.
This pretty much fits the “extractive capitalism” notion that Hill talks about.
When we look at what Scrum’s most successful agents want, the Scrum Alliance (and perhaps Scrum.org), they presumably want to sell more of what they sell, namely certifications. Maybe a little coaching, a little training that leads to higher certifications.
One more little piece of evidence has arisen, which is that the former “Chief Product Owner” of the Scrum Alliance has been forced out by the board, with no public explanation. We could speculate on the explanation, but one way or another it’ll come down to the organization not meeting some key goals. And that’s what’s important here:
- There is a growing backlash against the current form of “Agile”, namely Scrum and its relatives;
- The main focus of Scrum and “Agile” buyers seems clearly to be extracting value from dev teams, with little or no regard for their welfare.
- There is some evidence that things are also not going as well as they might for those selling Scrum.
We do not know–no one knows–how well Scrum installations deliver higher productivity, how often they make the lives of their teams better. I am sure that my estimates are lower than those of the typical Scrum purveyor. This could be because I encounter more people well after the original sheep-dipping, or because I am simply more negative2. I think it’s because Scrum very commonly does not deliver much productivity; because corporate managers don’t know how to use Scrum, much less measure it; and because their approach to using Scrum in fact makes people’s lives worse rather than better.
Could this be the beginning of the end for Scrum and the faux-Agile that is so common in the world? If so, what does that say about real-Agile, the kind we wrote about in the Agile Manifesto? Is it the beginning of the end? Or could it be a new beginning?
In my article Developers Should Abandon Agile, I suggest that dev team members should “detach” from the popular named “methods”, and instead focus on these ideas:
- Produce running, tested, working, integrated software every two weeks, every week. Build your skills until you can create a new fully operational version every day, twice a day, multiple times a day.
- Keep the design of that software clean. As it grows, the design will tend to become complex and crufty. Resist and reverse this tendency consciously, refactoring in tiny continuous steps, all the time, so that your rate of progress is as steady and consistent as possible.
- Use the current increment of software as the foundation for all your conversations with your product leadership and management. Speak in terms of what’s ready to go, and in terms of what they’d like you to do next.
This is, of course, just another expression of what needs to happen at the center of a truly Agile team effort. It’s what I would ask my team to do no matter what popular or unpopular method or management style they were working under. It’s the best way that I know to turn the attention of the organization to what matters, planning for real value and producing it.
Another article with similar observations is How to Impose Agile.
It’s too soon to say whether in fact Scrum and similar methods are failing in the market. I can’t decide whether I hope that they are, or that they are not: I know that most of the trainers are coaches are doing their best to help people. However, I think that the means used are subject to misuse so often as to be questionable. Slippery slope, razor blades to babies kind of thing.
I don’t feel the need to write another screed about how much of Scrum and “Agile” has been unlike what we had in mind when we wrote the manifesto. Reread about Dark Scrum if you need it. I will say that if the fall of Scrum could lead to the rise of the real values of the Agile Manifesto, holding people and working together over processes and tools, focusing on working software and collaboration, responding to change rather than comparing estimate to actuals … if the fall of Scrum could lead to those things, it can’t come soon enough for me.
The rebirth of Agile? That would be nice.
No one ever went wrong buying IBM, they used to say, and no one ever goes wrong buying SAFe. Neither IBM nor SAFe were necessarily the right thing to buy, but they were … safe. ↩
Perhaps due to having at one time purchased a Lamborghini and losing 90 percent of its value by the time I disposed of it. ↩