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In Defense of Scrum (Please Stop Pissing on It)

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In Defense of Scrum (Please Stop Pissing on It)

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Last week Uncle Bob Martin wrote about seven “serious flaws” in Scrum. I usually agree with Bob, but not this time. Actually, I might even feel a bit sad about all the <method>-bashing I see happening in the Agile world, where all too often <method> = Scrum and the bashing comes from either the XP side or the Kanban side.

Here’s my take on the matter…

“Scrum has no technical practices”
The lack of technical practices in Scrum is a strength, not a flaw. It means Scrum can be (and has been) applied successfully not only in software development, but also in design, marketing, and several other creative domains. As far as I know Scrum has always been presented as a framework, meaning that it must be augmented with domain-specific practices. True, some software teams forget about the technical practices, and they are idiots! But is it a “flaw” of the script writer when the director forgets to use stunt doubles when filming the dangerous scenes? Or is that a failure of the craftsman who apparently doesn’t know how to do his job? If you call it a “flaw” that Scrum has no technical practices, then you can only conclude that Lean and Kanban are seriously flawed as well! Obviously this is a bit silly. To me this flawed reasoning seems like a bad case of tunnel vision. There’s more happening in the world than TDD, Continuous Integration, and Pair Programming. Really! (BTW, it is interesting to see praise on the Lean side for Bob's criticism of Scrum, while Lean and Kanban have no technical practices whatsoever! The few described in Lean books are simply copied from XP…)

“The Scrum Master arrogates project management powers”
Maybe, but it’s a risk worth taking. A much bigger problem I see with teams without a Scrum Master is that they are usually an undisciplined bunch of mandrills. XP requires and assumes that teams consist of self-disciplined, competent, and communicative people. Unfortunately, many software developers don’t fit this description. Scrum at least acknowledges that most teams need some help and assistance in getting their processes and communication in order. I find it particularly strange that people who call for craftsmanship on the technical side should point out the dangers of positioning a master on the process side! Honestly, I would rather run the risk of a Scrum Master taking up PM powers than a dev team completely ignoring their responsibilities. What is worse? (And yes, the sooner a team can do without a Scrum Master, the better. I don’t have one in my own team right now. For us there's no need.)

“Scrum provides insufficient guidance regarding the backlog”
See the first issue above. A backlog for graphic designers probably looks quite different from a backlog for developers. And marketers print their backlog horizontally and call it a road map. What’s wrong with keeping all the options open? Scrum is a framework, not a by-the-minute recipe!

“Scrum carries an anti-management undercurrent”
I don’t get it. How is that different from XP? Management has always been underrated in the Agile world. True, management has done badly before Agile. And we should be glad for the Agile movement and its self-organizing teams. But self-organization without governance is anarchy. This is not a flaw in Scrum, it is a flaw that began with the Agile Manifesto itself, which completely disregarded the role of management. And guess who co-wrote that? :-)

“Scrum doesn’t say anything about multiple teams”
True, and again: how is that different from XP, or any other agile methods? Allow me to quote John Gall here:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. – The Systems Bible, John Gall

Scrum is a small system. That’s why it works. It is specifically designed not to cover technical practices, complicated backlogs, multi-team projects, etc. They tried that with RUP, and they failed. Because a complex system designed from scratch won’t work. A big working system has to start as a small working system. This is not a flaw. It is common sense. And now that we know that (small) Scrum can work, we can learn how to make it grow...

And that's what I had to say in defense of Scrum. I really hope that people would stop pissing on it. No agile method is perfect. But I think there’s a world of difference between imperfect and "flawed".

Please note that I am not a CSM, and will never be one. I like XP and Kanban just as much as I like Scrum, because I believe no single model or framework is enough when managing complex systems. Anyone who favors one method and pisses on another is just showing off his ignorance of complexity thinking.

That's it. I hope to have entertained or annoyed you.

I will be speaking at the Scrum Gathering in Orlando. Hope to see you there!

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