I’ve been a bit disappointed lately by the state of Scrum in companies, and rightly so. But there’s another way to look at things.

As I look back over more than fifteen years working in the “Agile” space, I observe that Scrum gained much of the mind share, mostly through superior marketing and perhaps due to the relative simplicity of its approach, which I much admire. What has not happened is to “transform of the world of work”, the motto of the Scrum Alliance.

On the contrary, we see a large uptake of the word “Scrum”, a little bit of application of what Scrum really says, a small improvement for teams that really give it a try, and not much real transformation at all. That has been bugging me. I am certainly not the first Manifesto author to feel disappointed at how our ideas have been watered down, misinterpreted, and transformed into something quite different from what we had in mind. Perhaps I’m just a slow learner.

A bit of chatting with Chet and Bill and others has me thinking a bit differently, if not exactly more optimistically. As is my way, I’ll share my thinking here, in hope that it will help me understand what the heck I’m thinking, and give you something useful to consider as well. It goes like this:

While it is really quite rare to encounter an organization that’s doing Scrum very well at all, much less transforming itself, we all encounter individuals who tell us that their own work, or even their life, has been improved by what they’ve learned from us (or because of us, or in spite of us).

The Agile Manifesto starts right off mentioning “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” And remember, Scrum isn’t exactly a process: it’s better thought of as a framework in which individuals interact in a somewhat choreographed way. On the ground, however, Scrum is often treated as a defined and even imposed process, to the detriment of all the individuals involved. And, often, only the ScrumMaster has any Scrum training at all, with the Product Owner being trained perhaps 10% as often. It’s quite rare for Dev Team members to have any Dev Team training, though sometimes they do get run through the ScrumMaster car wash.

It’s hard to help an organization become more Agile or do better Scrum, in a situation where “Scrum Is Our Defined Process”, or where they’re heavily invested in non-Agile approaches. People untrained in Agile or Scrum ideas have little chance to influence such an outfit: often they don’t have enough knowledge or ability to make it happen. Even with training and experience, it’s still difficult to bring the company around. The result is that many organizations really don’t get the benefit from Scrum and Agile that they should. But that’s not the end of the story.

Individuals can and do benefit from Scrum and Agile understanding, even in organizations that are far less than Agile. People’s own work can go better, and they can become happier when they have improved their skills in the Agile style.

Their interactions with those on their team can go better, because their own results are better and they learn new ways of collaborating and helping others. And their own interactions, and the team’s interactions, with people outside and above the team, are often improved as individuals and teams get better at deciding what to do, and at doing it.

These are very good things, and they are exactly what “Individuals and interactions” is all about.

I am in no sense delighted with the flaccid uptake of Scrum and Agile in the bulk of so-called Scrum/Agile organizations. Certainly I’m glad when organizations do well with the ideas, because it’s good for them and for their people.

I am, however, proud and delighted to have occasionally helped individual real people improve their lives. I’m trying very hard to remember that. Perhaps thinking that way will help you as well. I hope so.