When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. – Maya Angelou

Scrum Alliance: What is it?

The Scrum Alliance, whatever else it may be, is my preferred source for training in Scrum, and a good source of Scrum coaches, should you be in the market for those.

Pole Stars

Frequent readers will recall that I’ve been concerned recently about influencing the Scrum Alliance toward providing more help for everyone, especially developers, working under Scrum. This morning, between the time when Kitty tried to get me up and when I actually got up, I was thinking about the Scrum Alliance, what they are, and what they might be.

The quote above, from the wonderful Maya Angelou, comes to mind. Angelou used those words for a higher purpose than mine here, but they do apply. Whenever a person or organization shows us who they are, we should believe them. Note, in particular, Angelou didn’t say “tells you who they are”. That’s a whole other thing.

My thoughts this morning led me to think of two primary “pole stars” around which an organization like the Scrum Alliance might be formed. One of those pole stars would be idealistic and the other, more pragmatic. Something like this:

We are here to improve the lives of people, through provision of the body of knowledge and ideals that is uniquely ours. We see every individual within the sound of our voice as one of our constituents, and we provide common resources to serve them all, whether they are near to us or far.
We are an organization in support of a skilled cadre of independent companies and individuals who teach the knowledge and ideals that are uniquely shared among us. We provide common resources to help them, and their clients, to prosper from that knowledge and skills.

Probably no real organization sits at exactly one of these pole stars, with no aspect of the other. I’m certainly not suggesting that the Scrum Alliance is exactly one or the other of these. I am here to explore what kinds of things might be done, and not done, as guided by those two pole stars.

One common element from either pole star might be that the alliance would include, not just individual members, but members who focus on one or another aspect of bringing knowledge and ideals to others. These teaching and coaching members would, ideally, pass through some form of qualification gateway, to ensure that they are very capable of passing on the key ideas of the alliance.

Right away, we see that there are a couple of threads to this alliance. There would need to be a fairly standard administrative function, doing the usual accounting and infotech and such that lie at the basis of any large organization. And there would need to be a “knowledge center”, some kind of function for understanding and elaborating the knowledge and values upon which the alliance is founded. This knowledge center would, among other things, set up the qualification gates for members.

We might hope, and naively expect, that the admin part would exist solely to support the knowledge part. But it would turn out that the natural forces of business and humanity wouldn’t always work that way.

The admin function would, in essence, be a cost center. And, like any cost center, it would have more demands than it could fulfill at its present size, and it would have in it people with good ideas about how to do the functions better, if only they had more staff and money.

The knowledge function would produce the revenue that was needed to keep the admin function going. In the case in hand, the sources of funds would be fees charged to the members. Members high in the knowledge function would pay large fees, because they would be able to teach and coach, charging their clients for those services.

This is unlike, say, a “church”, whose teaching and coaching members are typically under fairly direct control of the church, and generally not supposed to be profiting from saving souls. In the case of an industry alliance, that isn’t the case, and I’m not here to say that it should be. In an industry alliance, the knowledge-providing members are almost always independent contractors or companies, and they are almost always “for profit”.

In a structure like we’re talking about now, the relationship between the knowledge providers and the admin providers changes over time, and not necessarily in a good direction. Let’s imagine what might happen in a made-up case.

WhizBang™, Inc

Suppose that I thought that I knew some great stuff, a knowledge base called “WhizBang™”, and that I wanted to spread that valued knowledge far and wide. And let’s imagine, assuming facts not in evidence, that I was completely altruistic, so that while I of course wanted to have a good living, my focus was almost entirely on providing good to others.

Because I am old, and because I can only reach so many individuals, I might wish to bring other skilled people on board to help spread the word. I’d find people of like mind, and we’d work together to decide what WhizBang™ really is, refining it so that all of us like-minded altruistic people could teach WhizBang™ in good faith.

It’s worth noting that we would almost certainly have to drop some elements of WhizBang™ that I hold but others do not, and that we’d almost certainly have to weaken some strong statements that I might make but that my colleagues might not. WhizBang™ would probably become weaker in some key regards. But wait, things will get worse.

As the WhizBang™ organization grew, we’d quickly see that we needed a better web site than ronjeffries.com. We’d need a way to keep track of customers and courses. So we’d hire an admin person, and rather quickly they’d grow from being a lot like an assistance into being an actual manager. They’d have web people and database people and billing people and accounting people. We’d really have no choice but to incorporate, probably as a not-for-profit. And to fund it, we would of course tax ourselves, the trainers and coaches.

We idealists would at first hold a pretty firm hand on the admin, ensuring that everything was done in accord with our high ideals. But the reality of business changes things. The not-for-profit entity has regulations to follow, and has to operate like a business. (Heck, even a church has to operate as a business.)

The admin function would be budgeted based on the tax charged to members, primarily on the large tax charged to trainers and coaches. The admin function would therefore be pushing to increase the number of trainers and coaches. It might even create new forms of taxable entities. Perhaps there would be “representatives”, individuals or organizations who provided ancillary products or services, outside our core WhizBang™ competency. Maybe they provide training in related areas, or even provide a useful piece of software that our WhizBang™ clients might use.

Admin would vet these Representatives, perhaps with Knowledge-side assistance, and would contract with them and begin to collect tax fees from them. This would be good for everyone, because now the alliance can provide more benefit to users, and some kinds of work are now carried out that otherwise the Knowledge folks might have to do. And we get more revenue, which helps us deliver the good news to the world.


We’d all see early on that as we provide the wonderful WhizBang™ knowledge, we need to provide our students with some token of their learning, a token that they would value, and that would be valued at their workplace. A diploma … a degree … a certification.

And if we play our cards right, we could preclude any other competitive knowledge providers from offering the same thing. Maybe we could trademark the phrase “WhizBang™ Certified®”. That would be entirely honest, and yet would provide the uniqueness that one needs in marketing.


Initially, Knowledge may call for conferences, where we can all get together and attract would-be students to come and join us in discovery and learning. And the conference would provide exposure for our Knowledge people, resulting in more business outside the conference. Um, I mean, more opportunities to help people in return for our quite reasonable fees.

Running a conference is a big deal. Some are profitable, some are not. We can’t afford to have ours be unprofitable. So we turn over to Admin to run a profitable conference. If they’re good at it, there will be substantial profit, and we don’t mind, because then our fee-taxes to Admin remain low, and they can do more work for us. Soon enough, Admin’s largest or second-largest block of funding comes from the conference.


I believe that the formation of this kind of Admin::Knowledge divide is probably inevitable in any organization like the one we’re describing, where like-minded, even very idealistic Knowledge folks band together. And the divide will inevitably become larger and stronger, as the needs of Admin grow, and as the “net idealism” of the Knowledge side dissipates. And it will dissipate, if only because your ideals and mine are not identical, and so along those vectors we cancel out, and that reduces the impact of that line of ideals on Admin.

If we’re not careful, Admin will begin to think of itself as a separate company with separate vision, goals, and objectives from Knowledge. I believe that even if we are careful, that will happen: the two components really do have some disparate goals.


Soon enough, the organization may look a lot like the Scrum Alliance. It is a company, not for profit, with a board and a CxO of some kind. It has relationships with individuals and organizations who do training, coaching, and provide other services, under the umbrella of the alliance, but not as an actual part of it.

The alliance lives by its conferences, where the revenue comes mostly from ordinary members, and perhaps from vendors of related produces and services, who get “booths” or other exposure at the conference. And the alliance lives by the fees from its training and coaching organizations.

The alliance will be successful to the extent that people in the world value the training and coaching that come as part of the conference, and as part of the work of the alliances associated trainers and coaches. They might even decide to measure this. How do you measure this?

Very simple. You track Net Promoter Score, the percentage of those who would promote your services minus the number who would recommend against them.

This measure is well-known in business, and it’s a fairly decent way to assess whether people appreciate your work. It’s why so many of those surveys you get ask you whether you’d recommend the service or product to someone else. They’re assessing NPS.

Pole Stars

We started off thinking about two pole stars, one around the ideals of bringing valuable knowledge to the world, and one around a more pragmatic consortium of individuals and organizations who bring that valuable knowledge to the world.

In principle, if the providers were sufficiently idealistic, might these two poles operate the same? I believe that they would not, because the Admin side has real business needs, and cannot really be populated by idealists. It must, to a greater or lesser extent, pull away, toward the more pragmatic pole.

And in practice, the providers are not all equally idealistic even if they all have high ideals. Some may focus their idealism on the Increment, others on Product Planning, others on Team Building, and so on. These different directions of idealism will result in conflict over Admin resources, and will lead to gaps in service, and probably over-service in some areas. It’ll get messy, and most likely watered-down.

And in reality, many providers are not idealistic at all. They got into WhizBang™ because it was the hot thing, people were paying $2000 each for WhizBang™ training, and by golly no one here in New Ulm is providing that training. We gotta get into it. As the organization grows, the idealism will fade. This is the way of idealism.

Scrum Alliance: What is it?

The Scrum Alliance, whatever else it may be, is my preferred source for training in Scrum, and a good source of Scrum coaches, should you be in the market for those.

When they show you who they are, believe them the first time.

Here’s the main page of the Scrum Alliance as it appears this morning: