Ambling Madly: #2 Amsterdam, January 2009

Ambling Madly — The Travels of a Certified Scrum Trainer
#2: Amsterdam, January 2009

Shortly before midnight, sleep deprived and head buzzing as it always is after running a training course I kitted up and headed for the hotel gym to run off some of the excess energy. It was closed. All dressed up with nowhere to go, I pulled on an extra layer and headed out into the icy drizzle to run the canals of Amsterdam, and absorb the local sights and smells of the city… you know, hookers and hemp, essentially.

I like this city. It may be a little lacking in imaginative architecture and artistic beauty, but it has this crazy energy, and a street plan that likely emerged from a random scribble or an ink spill on some drunk architect’s desk pad. Running involved a lot of leaping and dodging of police cars, road bollards, bikes, and cobblestone puddles. And of course, all those red light voyeurs.

While I ran I wound down with all the head activity. I had been stressing somewhat about how the expectations of CSM participants seem to get further and further away from what I actually deliver. Now a few people love that surprise, and are willing to keep an open mind and actually learn something, but many others leave with grumpy resentments, and feel frustrated that I haven’t fixed their problems for them. Scrum is not prescriptive, I tell them. “Yes, but…” they say.

Many practitioners these days understand the roles, meetings and artifacts aspect of Scrum, and may even be nominally doing iterative development, but they are sadly misunderstanding, or ignoring the principles and values which provide the foundation for this way of working. In so many cases, Scrum has become little more than a veneer over some existing dysfunction. A new coat of paint.

People see this Scrum-facade failing them, so come to the CSM to get answers. Most of the problems are centered around trying to make Scrum work for people stuck in a mechanistic mind set, as if this thing named “Scrum” will do all the work for them.

But here’s the thing: Scrum doesn’t do anything — people do things. Putting on my running clothes doesn’t make me a runner. Giving up because the gym is closed won’t make me a runner. Running makes me a runner, and I have to run no matter what.

Scrum isn’t roles and meetings, it is a massive and total shift in thinking and behaving. Unless you practice the principles of empiricism, self-organization, collaboration, prioritization and rhythm, and work tirelessly to create a courageous, trustful and transparent work environment then you are not doing Scrum. You are just wearing the clothes. This is the message I try to put across in my training classes. This is the message that many people do not want to hear. For all the “no silver bullet” talk in the software industry, many are still searching for that self-same thing.

Tobias Mayer
CST

Download the PDF version: Ambling Madly Part Two_blog

Posted in Agile
2 comments on “Ambling Madly: #2 Amsterdam, January 2009
  1. Phil R says:

    Sometimes I think my company are trying for an unholy alliance between iterative development methods & their beloved waterfall approach. The “veneer over some existing dysfunction” certainly rang a bell. I suppose I should be grateful they’re trying?

  2. Victor Szalvay says:

    Tobias,
    I sympathize with your plight and encourage you to keep your head up. You and few others are a beacon keeping a shining light on what Scrum is really about: a hard and often painful road that ultimately leads to better organizational health.

    It reminds me a lot of what’s going on in today’s economy. Many (most, actually) people are looking for a painless way out, when in reality band-aids will only make things far worse in the future.

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