Dave Snowden has just published a couple of short articles, Of Practical Wisdom and The Dangers of Compromise. In these articles, Dave is mostly referring to SAFe, but the ideas apply more broadly. He’s concerned about methods, like SAFe, that as defined, cannot handle complexity. Read those articles for his discussion of why. He points out two reasons why the purveyors of such approaches defend what they’re doing:
- The people will make it work anyway, by ignoring a lot of it;
- It’s a way to get C-level people to buy into good (Agile) ideas.
Dave is also concerned about the connection of theory and practice. He says that “Agile is sound practice, ill-informed by theory”. He associates this notion with the various “waves” of accreditation and certification, culminating just now in SAFe (and others).
This makes me think.
Ron Quartel recently tweeted:
I’m not renewing my #scrum certifications when they come due. I see no value in it and it would be hypocritical #SayNoToAgileCertification
Well, Ron Quartel is pushing his new “FAST Agile” process, so it makes sense that he might say and do that. This, too, made me think.
My general view on certification is that certification does help bring people in the door for courses, and that the courses have value. There are differences in certifications that may be important.
To be a Certified Scrum Trainer, you must have done Scrum (or something very like it) for at least three years. You have to be able to teach it well, you have to cover certain basics, and you can teach it any way you want beyond that.
Dave Snowden says:
Probably the success of SAFe is that [never fully applying it] is actively advocated. Given that you are allowed to train others once you have been trained sort of gives the game away. That type of “theory” should be condemned, teaching without practice in the application of a new skill is the province of snake oil sales people. We survive because good people can always make bad process work, despite itself. It is how companies survive sick stigma and the like.
Still, we see many cases where good people do not make bad process work. The “Scrum Should Die in a Fire” articles show that, and when I visit what purport to be Scrum teams, I often see them experiencing very little success and very little joy. I like to think that I leave them better equipped, and better motivated, to make improvements to their situations, but in the end it does come down to the team making things work.
There is no magic recipe for success. Scrum is not a magic recipe for success. SAFe is not a magic recipe for success. Your giant heavy SDLC process is not a magic recipe for success. In the end, it depends on folks making things work.
Well, then, what?
Theory isn’t enough.
Practicing some complex set of rules and rituals isn’t enough. Hell, practicing a simpler set of rules and rituals is probably better: at least it will waste less of your time.
Courses founded in real practice aren’t enough. Courses founded in the received wisdom of the course you took, and the slides they make you use, certainly aren’t enough.
Certificates aren’t enough. Burning your own or someone else’s certificates isn’t enough: in fact that probably doesn’t help at all. Maybe it makes you feel righteous. It’s good to feel good, so burn ‘em if ya got ‘em, I guess.
We’re all made up of theory, practice, received learning, and various symbols of that learning, whether it’s the gold star we got in kindergarten, the fake sheepskin we got in college, the fine PDF certificate we got from the Scrum Alliance, or the jail-house tattoo we got from that guy in Folsom.
Everyone’s trying to help, whether they’re pushing theory, demonstrating practice, rolling through 500 slides they didn’t create, offering the best course they can and marketing it in the best way they know how.
Even those guys ranting that this stuff can’t possibly work and even if it does work it hasn’t been proven, and besides that our mothers dress us funny – even those guys are trying to help.
So the plan is, pick up all the theory, knowledge, experience, and understanding that you can, and then sit down someplace and make things work.
In the end, it comes down to good people making things work.