Satire? Idiocy? Monkeys? Why not all three?

I believe it was Flip Wilson who first told this famous joke:

So I was watching this lady on the train, the other day. She was carrying a baby, minding her own business, you know, but in the seat in front of her, there’s this drunk guy. And the drunk kept turning around and looking back, and every time, he said: ‘Thas’ th’ uglies’ baby I evah saaaw.’

The lady tried to ignore him. ‘Thas’ th’ uglies’ baby I evah saaaw.’ She’d turn aside holding her baby closer, but the drunk got louder. ‘Thas’ th’ uglies’ baby I evah saaaw.’

Finally, the lady had to call the conductor – and the conductor shows up and takes charge. He hustles the drunk out of the car, and then comes back to apologize.

On behalf of the B&O Railroad, I want to extend to you our sincere apologies. You paid for your ticket, and you have every right to a safe and pleasant journey. With our compliments, I’ll be bringing you a cold drink now. ‘ He smiled and took off his conductor’s cap. ‘And maybe while I’m back there, I can find a banana for your monkey.’

It turns out that someone has called the Scrum Alliance ugly. The site, (note the s after “scrum”) is bitterly sarcastic about Scrum, the Alliance, and the Alliance’s customers. I think it’s most sarcastic about its customers, with lines like this:

Your business has been ignoring the challenges of making significant improvements for years. Maybe even decades. Now your bosses have learned about the word Agile and you need to act…NOW. We can help. The fastest way to seem Agile without the risk of improvement is the Scrums Alliance certification ladder. Legitimize your people.

No one I know who’s part of the Scrum Alliance is amused by this site. Nigel Baker, an excellent Scrum trainer, has posted his own thoughts on the subject: “Idiots gotta idiot: Badmouthing the ScrumAlliance”

I think Nigel missed some of the targeting of the site’s bitter sarcasm, but I suspect his blog reflects the reaction of many if not most of the Scrum trainers and coaches, or at least the ones who noticed: they feel like someone has called their baby ugly.

And in fact, someone did. I don’t know who is behind the site, but it is pretty vicious. I think it’s fair satirical use and would defend their right to say it, but my own thoughts are really not anywhere near that cynical.

What are my thoughts? Let’s find out.

Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

We are told that the above phrase is in Polish, that it translates as “not my circus, not my monkeys”, and that its metaphorical meaning is roughly “not my problem”, or perhaps even “not my place to judge”. My point here, however, as elsewhere, is that it is their circus and monkeys.

I know many of the key players in the Scrum Alliance, and almost without exception, I find them to be dedicated to teaching and coaching individuals and teams to find success using Scrum ideas. I find them to be sincere, and can see that they work hard to improve their materials and their presentation.

Yes, true, they charge money for doing that, as did I, and as did the people who painted my deck this week, and the people who detailed my car. Most of us work for a living, and it is no more cynical to teach Scrum than it is to paint decks or remove bird droppings from cars. (It is easier work than either of those, but that doesn’t make it wrong.)

I sincerely think that Scrum, done as I understand and teach it, and as, say, Nigel understands and teaches it, is a sensible and useful way to try to work. Done even reasonably well, it provides a focus on most of the right things and forms a basis for improving results, and for making the lives of the workers both more productive and happier.

Done well, Scrum is just fine.

So the people are good. Scrum is good enough. What is the problem?

The fundamental problem arises with almost any body of knowledge and practice. In the center, where most of the thinking goes on, things are good. Around the center, where most of the learning takes place, things are rather good. But as one gets away from the center, things tend not to be so good. Somehow people don’t get the whole story, and they don’t reach out to take a course or read a book, they just run with what they’ve got.

As a professional Scrum trainer, I can only train the people who show up. As a coach, I can only coach the people who hire me. As an author, I can only reach the people who buy, borrow, or steal my book. If people don’t show up to take advantage of what I offer, surely they can’t blame me for what happens to them.

I agree entirely with that thinking, and what we have here is not about blame. There is no blame to be had, at least not enough to worry about.

We have a systems problem. The way systems of human communication work, there is always a central area who “get it” and a periphery who do not. But the thing is this:

It IS Their Circus, Those ARE Their Monkeys

When we take action in the world, or when we take no action, we are the cause of all the effects that action or inaction has. Yes, the butterfly in South America really did cause that storm in Idaho. Of course, the butterfly’s effect was amplified by the prevailing winds, moved around the earth by the trade winds or the Coriolis effect, or whatever all makes weather so chaotic, but if the butterfly flexed its antennae and said “I did that”, we’d have to say that yes, it did.

And if the butterfly instead said “nothing to do with me”, well, that’s just not the case.

There’s no value to pointing to a specific butterfly here. But we need to observe that the Scrum Industrial Complex, with its most impactful component being the Scrum Alliance, its excellent trainers and outstanding coaches, is, as a whole, a major cause of everything that happens in the Scrum world.

It is their circus, those are their monkeys.

That’s what I have been trying to get across to them, and what I have so far failed at, to the point where I’ve pretty much given up. (That won’t make me be quiet, it just keeps me away that I’m shaking my fist at a cloud, not changing the weather.)

As I put it in another article:

Scrum, seen as the whole system, is very much anti-maker and anti-making, despite the good will of everyone I know inside that system.

The same is true for all the bad or poor results of Scrumk even at the hands of people who can’t spell Scrum but still try to do things they’ve heard about. It’s our circus and if our monkeys start flying about causing trouble, we are the root causes of that.

As individuals, we can’t do much about it. But as the very large and powerful Scrum Alliance, we have millions of dollars and hundreds of representatives, and we could do some things, at very low cost, that would surely help, if only a bit.

What are those things? Let me list them yet again, in a more generic form than last time.

  1. Embrace the fact that all the effects of Scrum, not just the good ones, are in part our responsibility, and that we are in a unique position to do something about it.
  2. Bear down on communicating our ideas, the better to reach and help those whom we can’t reach with training or coaching.
  3. Provide ways for people we can’t reach with training and coaching to undertake self-training, and to become certified, so as to bring them into a place of better understanding.
  4. Support external providers of Scrum-related ideas and information, the better to reach into the corners where the ideas are needed.

But What About That Site?

Is that site fair or unfair? Depends how you look at it. It’s certainly vicious, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. Even in my most evil youth, I don’t think I’d have been that vicious.

But unfair? If you’re far enough out on the periphery, Scrum can be pretty dark. Looking at things from that viewpoint, maybe it isn’t far off.

I hope the Scrum Alliance, and Nigel, will get to the point of a rueful yet irritated grumbling chuckle at the site, and be adult enough to say “Ouch. Not quite fair, but a good shot”. And then, I hope, they’ll begin to see that they are the biggest butterfly on the Scrum planet, and that the storms that are out there really are, in large part, due to them flapping their wings.

And I hope that they’ll start embracing their responsibility, because I’m sure there are reasonable inexpensive things they could be doing to make the world a better place.

I know they want to make the world a better place. I just want them to recognize that there’s a lot of world beyond the small fraction who sign up for a course, or even read a book.

Those, too, are part of the Scrum circus, and those, too, are some of the Scrum monkeys.