Our session “Is Scrum Evil?” at XP Day Paris this year went well. Attendance was good (50 people or so). One participant called it an “eye opener“. Two recorded the discussion (one of the records is available, in French, here; look for the podcast published on May 30th 2009). Nicolas Martignole even did a transcript of the session (in French — you might want to check out the Google translation).
I thought I would give more details here.
We didn’t exactly manipulate the participants, but we certainly did not reveal, on purpose, what our goals were:
- help dissenting voices come out of the closet — very few people are vocally criticizing Scrum today in France, and I have found no blogs. I wanted to show the pro-Scrum side that they do not have the final word.
- let people vent — both pros and antis
- make participants think — one later came to me and suggested that I should have offered “alternative solutions”. Well, I have none (though I do have some starting points, see below)
We had prepare additional materials, in case the discussion died out. Fortunately, it was so lively that we couldnt use them at all. You’ll find all three of them below.
You are not alone
The first thing I wanted to highlight is that, though dissenting voices on Scrum (or Agile) are not currently heard in France, they do exist in the rest of the world:
- James Shore has blogged that “when people say “Agile,” they usually mean Scrum” and that “it’s very easy for teams using Scrum to throw out design“. Finally, he points out that the “Scrum makes it worse by ignoring important (but hard) agile engineering practices, and the Scrum Alliance makes it worse still with their armies of trainers [...] issuing dubious “ScrumMaster” certificates to people“. There is more in today’s article on InfoQ.
- David Anderson lobbyied hard for an ‘Agile Fringe’ stage at Agile 2009 Conference, feeling that the vocal agile community is too mainstream. I agree with him, and I feel that the Agile 2009 program could have given more room to dissenting voices. The Agile Frontier stage is not bad, but it should have gone further.
- Naresh Jain says that Agile (as practices today) is the new waterfall.
- which reminds us directly of Steve Freeman‘s aphorism, uttered during CITCON Amsterdam: “Scrum is the new RUP”
- some people did manage to get controversial sessions accepted to Agile 2009. Not all are directly related to Scrum:
- JB Rainsberger: Integration Tests are a scam
- Bas Vodde & Steven Mak: Let’s Stop Calling It Agile
- Paul Hodgetts: ScrumMasters considered harmful – Where did it go wrong?
- Brian Foote & Joseph Yoder: Big Balls of Mud: Is this the best Agile can do?
- also, there might be good content at Linda Rising’s Agile: placebo or real solution?
- last but not least, Alistair Cockburn, author of the Crystal family of methodologies, signatory of the Agile Manifesto and Certified ScrumMaster Trainer, will host a keynote at Agile 2009 entitled “I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It”
Scrum has Crossed The Chasm
In short, it appears that many of the arguments against Scrum do not just mean that it is poorly explained, nor just that it is poorly understood, but rather that it is now being adopted by a large number of people. Or, to rephrase this, that it has been (consciously or not) packaged in order to be palatable to the mainstream. This implies trainings, books, consulting services, explanations, case studies, success stories. In short, packaging the approach just like a marketing team would do. That the people behind Scrum did it on purpose (as I believe) is beyond the point: the Agile approach that wins the hearts and minds of IT professionals everywhere is necessarily the one that comes with such as package, a whole product, in the words of Moore.
That is a reality that people that are blindly against Scrum must acknowledge.
Finally, I would like to point any aspiring Scrum-evil-ist to Brian Marick‘s writing on Agile roots. His argument is that “Agile” (and, I guess, the names of pretty much all Agile methodologies) is too easy a term to adopt. In other words, many people will look at the name, glance at the practices, and quickly come to the conclusion that “hey, this is exactly what we’ve been doing all along! Let’s avoid asking ourselves hard questions and let’s not change the way we work.” Which is, obviously, missing the whole point.
Brian has came up with a new name for the roots of Agile: “Artisanal Retro-Futurism, crossed with Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism.” The name is cryptic (and even slightly repulsing) on purpose, so that people will have to ask, and will have to have a conversation.