There is one thing that has started to make me just a little bit uneasy about Agile and Scrum. It’s an issue that has come up in different projects, time and time again, and while I am an avid Agile proponent it makes me frown and even fume a bit on occasion.
It’s about how Agile teams perform and the correlation to the way people and organizations are transferred from working with a waterfall, ad hoc or other development process to Agile in general and Scrum in particular. In my experience, this metamorphosis is often not done in an adequate fashion and sets up the whole organization for confusion and nasty problems later on.
Sometimes the management gives a green light to start the transformation, but doesn’t bother to learn what is required of it and lays the responsibility on the development organization. Sometimes the new Scrum Masters are old project managers, molded into a new role and forced to think in a way that is quite different from their previous experience of PMI and the like. Sometimes the new Scrum Masters are skilled senior developers, brilliant architects, or simply unmotivated developers or test managers that have no other place in the project. Yes, that last one is more common than anyone wants to admit. On occasion, someone gets the honorable Scrum Master hat but agrees to also fulfill his other one or two full-time roles… A few times I’ve worked with developers that had such little training in Scrum that they didn’t know how to behave in the daily standup, or how and why to unit test, nor how to…. you get the idea.
Actually, none of the above are rare incidents. In my geographical region of work, they are instead commonplace and not exceptions. My question is simply: Can a person really go from knowing little about Agile to being proficient enough for it to work, in the twinkle of an eye, or say… two days’ worth of simple training? Of course they can’t, I just like using rhetorical questions!
Martin Fowler and Ken Schwaber have both acknowledged these issues that Agile is struggling with.
Fowler writes in his blog (http://martinfowler.com/bliki/FlaccidScrum.html) that although teams adopt the processes and practices of Scrum, Scrum doesn’t mandate any particular technical practices. After a few iterations, the code starts to hurt internally due to lack of technical attention. However, he also points out that many teams fail because the team itself fails, and most likely would have failed regardless of development process. I agree with this, but it certainly doesn’t help that many teams aren’t even getting the Agile processes right…
Schwaber mentions flaccid scrum in his letter (http://www.scrum.org/originsofscrumorg/) on the inception of his new Scrum organization http://www.scrum.org. He singles out the need of better and more thorough education of all participants of Scrum via new course assessments and better instructors. Of course, according to Schwaber, he wasn’t allowed to do this at http://www.scrumalliance.org, and promptly started the new organization. Regardless of the intentions of each party I’m happy to see some competition in the field of educating Scrum recruits.
I believe that further improvements could be made if managers improved in their “Agile management” role. They can’t just drop Scrum onto the development team and hope for the best while old office divisions, roles and processes remain. An even bigger responsibility falls on the Scrum Masters and Product Owners. The collaboration between these and the team are almost always lacking in some regard; communication often being the aspect that isn’t working as well as Agile wants it too! In any case, this is a pressing matter that I would very much like to see improve quickly, before Agile gets the didn’t-work-stamp.
I’m very interested in hearing what the situation is in other geographical regions, and also what remedies or cures of these symptoms exist, be it an iterative introduction of Agile or perhaps a Kanban approach. Feel free to share your thoughts below.
Finally, I am very pleased that my suggestion to bring the topic to my company’s public live forum was accepted. So, if you’re in the area of southern Sweden, you are more than welcome to join us in a heated fishbowl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishbowl_(conversation)) discussion http://avegagroup.se/Franadhoctillagilitet on 11/16 (that was 2011, this is a re-post)!