Every time these organizations stamp out a new ScrumMaster, there are programmers somewhere whose lives will be made worse.

As is well known, I was an active Certified Scrum Trainer for a number of years, and in that time, did my part1 to introduce a fair number of people to Scrum. In my courses, there was always solid coverage of the necessary technical practices for doing software inside Scrum.

The Scrum creators have always respected technical practice, and Jeff Sutherland, in particular, consistently says that for best results developing software using Scrum, you need to use XP practices. Scrum is an iterative and incremental approach to building a product, and it demands a working version of the product from day one right down to today. Right down to today, the best way I know to develop software in that fashion is using XP-style practices.

The last I had the figures, there were approximately 100 Certified ScrumMasters for every Certified Scrum Developer. Development training for Scrum never took off. I’m sure that the Scrum Industrial Complex2 would say that the market wouldn’t support it. I agree that it is difficult to sell developer training, especially the general kind of training you need for Scrum, but difficult or not, the result is all too often what Martin Fowler called “flaccid Scrum”.

It’s what I call Dark Scrum. I have written extensively about Dark Scrum. I’m doing it again, right here.

When a team does not have the necessary and less than obvious technical skills to produce a shippable Scrum Increment week in and week out, the Scrum process almost inevitably goes dark. The stakeholders aren’t seeing the smooth and rapid progress they feel they were promised. The only part of the effort that they don’t understand is the development. Therefore, they conclude, there must be something wrong with the developers. Furthermore, they conclude, the developers must not be working hard enough. One manager put it in this most odious fashion:

We’ll just have to whip the ponies harder.

And that’s what happens. Pressure increases. With pressure, defects and bad code increase. No one is happy. Dark Scrum.

But that’s not my point here, though it is one of the root causes of my point. Here is my point:

I’m Down on the Scrum Industrial Complex

Scrum is a success in the market, in that there are a million or more “certified” and “professional” ScrumMasters, and lots of trained Product Owners as well. It’s true that the market price of Scrum training has fallen, as more and more would-be trainers follow the money trail, and as on-line training has replaced in-person training over the past year.

Nonetheless, the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Scrum.inc, and tens if not hundreds of smaller Scrum sales organizations have been quite successful at spreading Scrum “knowledge” in the world. I expect that success to continue, though I expect to see gross revenues decline substantially. (This will not likely severely affect the top-level organizations, who take a fixed fee per certification.)

However, by my lights, every time these organizations stamp out a new ScrumMaster or Product Owner, there are a handful of programmers somewhere whose lives will not be improved, but instead quite likely made worse. They’ll be impacted by new expectations and new pressure, while they will not be given the opportunity to learn what they need to know in order to meet those expectations.

This is a bad thing. In my view, as a software developer before any of my other earned and unearned titles, it is a very bad thing.

Oh, it doesn’t rise to the level of evil of some of today’s truly serious social ills, but it’s harming people who need not be harmed, because the skills to do Scrum development well are able to be learned by any competent developer.

There are many things sold in this world that harm the people who buy them. You probably have your own list. There are fewer things sold that harm people who didn’t buy them.

Scrum is one of those things. Too often–almost always–Scrum harms people.

  1. Our part, to be fair. Almost all my Scrum training was done co-teaching with Chet Hendrickson. That said, the remarks here reflect my views, and not necessarily the views of anyone else. Except for right thinkers everywhere. That should go without saying. 

  2. I refer primarily here to Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Scrum.inc, and secondarily to other large orgs purveying Scrum.