Is Scrum Evil?

This was a fascinating discussion facilitated by Jeffrey at CITCON Amsterdam. Much talking with him followed, so I think I finally understand why he introduced this topic, and why so many people seemed to dislike Scrum.

This was a typical discussion where antis are much more vocal that pros. When Jeffrey asked who thought Scrum was evil, maybe 12 raised their hands. Only 3 or 4 (including me) thought that Scrum was NOT evil. The majority stayed silent.

Most of the session was spent listing arguments pro and anti Scrum. You could say it was lively ;-)

Is Scrum Evil? session“Scrum is evil because…” (I am not saying that I agree with all of them…)

  • when it fails, all the people involved think that all of agile is no good (it poisons the well for agile)
  • it values process over people
  • it is pyramid scheme (Scrum Trainers are supposed to be certified)
  • it causes some pointless standups (not all are pointless, though)
  • it is iterative waterfall
  • of the term ‘ScrumMaster
  • some people limit their view of agile to Scrum (they do not look into agile engineering¬†practices)
  • some people feel it will solve all problems
  • it is sometimes used as a dogma (‘this is not Scrum!’)
  • Is Scrum Evil? session“Scrum is good because…” (I am generally OK with them)

  • it provides structure for engineers and product owners
  • it makes agile acceptable to managers
  • of the concept of a ‘Product Owner’
  • it makes self-organizing teams respectable
  • it makes people reponsible for their commitment
  • it is easy to adopt
  • it makes more people talk
  • it puts emphasis on delivery
  • it exposes problems earlier
  • it popularized short iterations
  • it is a foot in the door for agile
  • The first conclusion of the session to me was that the people against Scrum were mostly complaining about the fact that some projects were failing with Scrum.
    Further, I feel that this reveals that they are in a post-agile mindset, which could be more prevalent in the US/UK (maybe the Netherlands, too?) than in France where Agile still faces an uphill battle.
    Another thing is that, when you look at it, the people were really complaining about its success. After all, many of these arguments (pyramid scheme, some people feeling it solves all problems) were the very reasons Scrum was successful.

    Closing sessionAs Jeffrey pointed out during the session, it meant that, as per described in Crossing The Chasm, we are simply moving from the ‘enthusiasts’ stage to the ‘early adopters’. Many more people are now using Scrum, and its message is bound to be altered somewhat.
    Jeffrey further pointed that, since it seems that 80% of projects fail now that many are using Scrum, just as there were 80% of projects that failed before, it simply means that 80% of the population is just not very competent. It has little to do with the methodology. This is also what Alistair Cockburn meant when he mentioned that “Process is a second-order effect”.

    So, my undertanding is that Jeffrey’s goal is to change people and to use tools such as psychology to do so.

    I am more nuanced, maybe because I am living in a country were Agile is still not being widely accepted. After all, this is all a short-term vs. long-term thing. Having a manager doing Command & Control was very short term. Agile (and Scrum) is medium term: you are providing a tool for people to get better in the medium term, if they are competent enough. Changing people is much longer-term thing. It might take years, generations, or may not ever happen.

    For me, Scrum still seems to be providing those medium-term benefits, at least for now, in my environment. When it won’t be the case anymore, I might bash it like everyone else does.

    Update (07/10/08): changed title from “Scrum is evil!” to “Is Scrum Evil?”

    About Eric Lefevre-Ardant

    Independent technical consultant.
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    18 Responses to Is Scrum Evil?

    1. Thanks for the write-up Eric!

      Just to be clear the session was a question not a declaration: “Is Scrum Evil?”

      I found it really interesting to hear the people on both sides and I enjoyed our continued conversation over dinner as well.

      Reading the feedback forms it was on a few as their least favorite session and but many more as their favorite, so apparently we weren’t the only ones to enjoy the discussion.

    2. @Jeffrey well, I thought that a title that said “Scrum Is Evil!” might catch the eye better ;-) Still, since you pointed it out, I changed it to the original title of the session

    3. Oh I wasn’t worried about your title, I just didn’t want people to be confused about the session title and think I came with an axe to grind! :)

    4. The sessions was very polarizing and of course had a provoking title. As you said, most people stayed silent. Don’t think because they did’t have anything to say. There was one comment close to the end, which I think represented some of the silent group. I think many of the early adopters have moved on or are looking for new directions.

    5. We use Agile technology and reading all this makes me feel that I really missed attending the conference in general and this session in particular

    6. Hi Eric, Sounds like that was a very interesting discussion. One comment: Scrum isn’t “iterative waterfall” because it doesn’t prescribe any particular way for the team to work within each sprint; that is left up to the team to decide. Some teams run their sprints like little waterfalls, but there’s nothing in Scrum that requires it.

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    10. Gishu says:

      Thanks for taking the effort for this post. Nice summary.

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    15. phloid domino says:

      Scrum is definitely evil. It is nothing more than micromanagemnt run amok and hiding behind trendy terminology.

      Daily meetings, standup or not, gimme a break! Meetings are a waste of time. Period. No exceptions.

      A major flaw in Scrum, and most of the so-called Agile ‘methodologies’ is that they ignore the hard lessons of decades of experinece, by prentending that all problems can be fixed on the fly and nodoby needs to actually THINK about anything.

      But the worst thing about Scrum, et al, is that the same clueless management types who can’t and won’t see the value in archicture, design, and attention to quality, have seized on the ‘Agile’ methods promise of short timeframes, and they see nothing else.

      Haste make waste. Always and forever.

      Nothing replaces hard work and critical analysis. Good architecture and sound design are what is truly agile.

      All else is hacking.

    16. Greg says:

      phloid domino: Get a clue. It’s obvious you’ve never been part of a real Scrum team. Your posting speaks volumes of your ignorance…

    17. Norman says:

      Big up for Greg !
      My 83 years grand pa speaks like him. Come to XP days, CitCon in state of posting comment on blogs !

    18. Jojo says:

      Greg, Oh Greg. Scrum does have its shortcomings. Don’t stand behind something just to stand behind something.

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