This article is based on a lot of thinking and consideration about the state of Scrum. The Scrum Alliance is changing management, which gives one to think. And I ran across two old articles from around the last time they changed management:

CSM Certification Thoughts
Scrum is OK. Let’s get to work!

When I stumbled across those articles, I felt they could have been written yesterday, not nearly five years ago. At first, I felt rather depressed, but now, on reflection, I think:

Scrum is OK, I guess

The title is based on a cartoon1 that I rather enjoy. Don’t go look at it yet, you might have to apply Godwin’s law to this article, and I do have a point to make. In fact, I do think that Scrum is OK. I guess. Please read on …

On the plus side …

Scrum’s numbers, and the Scrum Alliance’s numbers, are certainly up. There are more people being taught about Scrum than ever before. There are more Certified Scrum Trainers. There are more Certified Scrum Developers, and more Certified Scrum Professionals than ever before. There are more teams nominally doing Scrum. And there are even other software approaches, such as SAFe, that explicitly refer to Scrum as the basis for their approach.

Within the Scrum Trainers, there is a continuing effort to refresh and enhance the ability to deliver valuable training. There are trainer improvement events at each Gathering, and even some separate improvement events. There has been a fairly recent push to bring Training from the Back of the Room techniques to Scrum Training. There’s a solid core of trainers who are working to help everyone advance.

The Certified Scrum Coaches have done similarly, trying to improve their skills and increasing their ability to help Scrum teams.

The Scrum Alliance has tried to help, by supporting the Agile Atlas (which unfortunately did not take off), by supporting efforts to improve learning objectives and the ScrumMaster test, by beefing up the Certified Scrum Professional program, and so on.

This list probably only scratches the surface of things you could point to regarding how the Scrum Alliance has advanced the state of Scrum in the last five years.

On the other side of the balance …

We don’t have any solid numbers, but my sense of things is that Scrum is mostly bigger but not much better. I’d guess that about the same percentage of Scrum installations take hold and get benefit. If I had to guess higher or lower, I’d pick lower, mostly because Scrum’s popularity means that organizations say they’re doing it but never really try.

Compared to five years ago, I’d guess that about the same percentage of installations “stick”, lasting more than a few years, doing Scrum or better than Scrum, and about the same percentage fall away, going back to less effective practices. I believe that these organizations do so primarily due to management changing to managers who don’t believe in Scrum, or to the failure of Scrum to take root, so that the culture eventually squeezes Scrum out.

I’d guess that about the same percentage of organizations really go on to become really proficient and really productive in their use of Scrum. This percentage is very few, unfortunately, as far as I can tell.

And there are things that “could” have happened, that have not happened:

  • The CSP certification still has not replaced CSM as the one to have.
  • Although there’s a lot of agreement that it’s needed, there is still no prerequisite course that comes before CSM and CSPO.
  • There has been no official Scrum Alliance contribution to “scaling”.
  • There has been no push to provide Scrum team members with the knowledge and skills that they need to thrive.
  • There has been no systematic study of what is working in Scrum and what is not, no systematic look at the causes for Scrum sticking or failing to stick.

The Scrum Alliance could have done those things. Heck, you or I could have done those things. They have not happened. Maybe they’ll happen tomorrow, maybe they won’t.

Either way, it’s OK, I guess. Here’s an analogy:

The Green Oaks Ladies’ Walking Club

Every day when I come to the coffee shop at Green Oaks mall, I see a few ladies out walking around the mall. Usually they have a dog with them. I like to imagine that the dog, whose name, I think, might be Sandy, has formed the Green Oaks Ladies’ Walking club. They’re out there in weather so bad that I wish someone had driven me to the coffee shop so that I wouldn’t have to walk thirty feet outdoors. Around the mall they go, putting on some miles, getting air into their lungs, improving their health a bit every day.

I imagine that there is another dog, probably a Pit Bull named Tiger, who has opened a gymnasium in the mall. Tiger has filled the gym with treadmills, weight machines, lockers, showers, towels, the works. Tiger has brought in some of the world’s toughest dogs, who bark at the people working out, encouraging them to work harder and really get in shape.

Tiger likes to hassle Sandy about what he calls her “crap walking club”, where just a few ladies get just a little bit of exercise. Hell, Tiger says, in my gym, people can really get in shape.

You and I know, and I hope Sandy knows, that most people who join Tiger’s gym only go for a few weeks and then drop out, except right after holidays when they’re feeling fat. Meanwhile, Sandy’s ladies march on and on, good weather and bad. Now Tiger does have a few regulars, who can lift cars over their heads while running a marathon. And for all I know, one of Tiger’s clients will win at least the Silver in the upcoming Olympics. Yay, Tiger.

Still, Sandy is OK, I guess. Sandy is doing some good for the ladies in her walking club, and that’s just fine. There’s no reason why Sandy, or the ladies, should feel badly about what they’re doing. They’re doing some good, and that’s what counts. And once in a while, one of Sandy’s ladies even goes over to the gym and lifts a few weights.

Scrum is OK too, and it’s not just a guess.

Scrum is a simple framework. If you work within that framework, with an eye to improvement, you can improve. You can improve a lot. There’s no limit to how far you can go once you start.

There are other frameworks, some as simple as Scrum, some filled with weight machines and other instruments of torture. They’re good too. Using those frameworks, with an eye to improvement, you can improve a lot. There’s no limit to how far you can go, once you start. Different starting point: same no limit.

Scrum doesn’t need to be everything to everyone. The Scrum Alliance doesn’t need to support every person or every team who’s trying to improve. If all they do is plant some seeds, give some people a push on the road to improvement, they’re doing good work.

We could wish for more. Or we could stop bitching2 about what “they” should do, and do what we can. Sandy has the Green Oaks Ladies’ Walking Club. I’ve got You’ve got whatever you’re doing. It’s all good.

You’re OK, I guess, and so am I, and so is Scrum.

  1. Eat Meat.
  2. Pun intended? You decide.