In defense of the Scrum Alliance
Have you ever felt really let down by someone you respect? I guess the way the world is today we can all cite a long list of people that are famous and respected who let us down (as a golfer, the picture to the left is one that comes to mind for me) so maybe the question was kind of stupid. But the point isn’t. We’ve all been there. Last week I experienced it yet again. Tobias Mayer is someone who I have respected as a person and as an amazing Scrum Trainer for a long time. He is rather unique, interesting, creative and spontaneous. He’s also very intelligent. I’m pretty sure those qualities are things the Scrum Alliance considered when they hired him earlier this year as Creative Director. Unfortunately, he is also a bit too idealistic sometimes. That doesn’t usually bother me, but right now it does.
Tobias recently wrote this blog entry which has come to be known as “Tobias’ Rant” by those in the Scrum community. I won’t say he didn’t have the right to write it because he does. What disappointed me is the tone and some of his characterizations and generalizations. I recognize Tobias was/is frustrated by what occurred, but at the same time I believe he overreached in several areas of his blog post.
I don’t want to address his post point by point. Instead I want to give my view of the Scrum Alliance and the current state of the Scrum community. Before doing that I do need to give total disclosure: I am a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer. I pay the Scrum Alliance a handsome fee each year in order to maintain my certification status. I make money as both a Scrum coach and trainer. Obviously that makes me biased in many ways. However, I believe people who know me would agree that money is the last thing I worry or care about and that usually makes me a pretty fair judge of most situations. I also personally know at least two members of the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors. Now that you know all that you can decide whether to read on or not.
If I had to pick one word I’d pick… lost! But not nearly as lost as it was a year ago. Let me explain a bit. The organization got lost two years ago and is still lost, but it seems to be slowly finding it’s way back to civilization. It is now only “lost” rather than “LOST!!!” like it was two years ago. During the past two years the pace of change has often been painfully slow at best, but at other times the change has happened rather quickly. Tobias hoped he could help transform the organization and was distraught by the slow pace of change. I suggest anyone who has had experience trying to change a 100,000 person organization would say change would be rather slow, even if the change was the best thing which could occur.
The Scrum Alliance is HUGE in terms of membership. If you consider the community of Certified Scrum Coaches, Certified Scrum Trainers and Registered Education Providers there are 150 individuals who all could be considered high level stakeholders looking out for their own best interests. Have you ever tried to transform an organization with 150 VP’s? Or even 150 Director level people? We don’t usually look at it that way, but in reality this is what the Scrum Alliance is today. It is a very large organization and those that are at the upper levels all have their own best interests in mind. It is very difficult to steer a ship when there are 150 hands on the wheel.
The good news is the Scrum Alliance recently hired Donna Farmer as the new Managing Director. She has significant experience and so far seems to understand where the Scrum Alliance is really at today. She has already made some sweeping changes. Some of which I’m happy about and some of which make me a bit distressed. She apparently didn’t get the memo about change taking a long time – and that’s a good thing! She may not have all the answers, and she may very well make some mistakes, but she is moving forward swiftly and with conviction. If she can correctly discern when things aren’t working and make appropriate corrections I believe the long term future of the organization is in good hands. If yet more wrong paths are taken and not noticed, well, it won’t really be much worse than the past two years were. She is at least “failing well” which I mentioned in this blog post as something important for agile organizations to embrace and understand.
This is a group I can’t possibly hope to describe adequately. In various articles on the web they are either:
- greedy, money-hungry low-lifes
- great people trying to make the world a better place
- the ones that have all the power
- the ones that have no power
- great trainers
- lousy trainers
- people who willingly give back to the community
- people who take whatever they can get from the community
The list goes on and on and for every bad example there is another good example. Unfortunately, I can agree with all of the statements listed. They are all true, and they are all false at the same time. Like any sufficiently large organization there are people who fit in all those categories, many of them shift between categories constantly. From what I am exposed to as an “insider” I believe far more fall into the good side of each list rather than the bad side. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of even one CST that fits in the bad category far enough for me to be concerned about it, but if I were to just draw a good/bad line, some would be on the wrong side (in my opinion and no, I won’t name any names!). We don’t all share the same philosophy, we don’t all share the same teaching style, we don’t all share the same business strategy, but we do all teach Scrum and we all do it hoping people will leave our courses knowing more than when they arrived while feeling it was worth their investment.
So why don’t the CSTs do more to change things? Tobias is right in that area I think. The Board of Directors does have a lot of control over what can and can’t be done by the membership, including the CSTs. I have great respect for Ken Schwaber and what he did to get Scrum rolling, but I believe part of the current dysfunction is due to his style of organizational leadership. It seemed to be more about protecting the Scrum framework than it was about people. As an original signatory of the Agile Manifesto I would have expected Ken to put individuals and interactions over processes and tools, but it doesn’t seem to have happened that way. From the outside looking in (I was not an “insider” during those days) it seemed very command and control and rigid. As a result the power in the organization as a whole was very centralized to a chosen few. That is changing now, but it is slow change.
The biggest problem with the CSTs as a group is that they aren’t cohesive at all. They are from varied backgrounds and experiences and it seems like almost every time there is an issue it is 50.1% on one side and 49.9% on the other. No one feels comfortable claiming that as a majority and making a change. Because we are all busy people we tend to not collaborate as well as we should – and that is sad since we all teach about this stuff! Part of the problem is we have many who “abstain” or just don’t participate. When we have 50-50 and there are 70% who don’t make an opinion known, it really stinks. Other times it seems there may be a 90%-10% majority, but the minority is exceedingly vocal and don’t allow things to occur. Yes, we are bad examples in that regard. Consider it our dirty little secret and don’t tell anyone! We don’t currently seem to have a good way to reach any sort of consensus. If this doesn’t change the CST community may never be able to have a substantial voice. Considering the money we pay to the Scrum Alliance (funding the vast majority of everything else the organization does) this seems pretty silly on the part of the CSTs. I believe certain individuals will step forward and make some difference with this, I just don’t know when or how. I try to stay engaged with various conversations, but it is time consuming and often frustrating. I consider it a sacrifice I have to make to protect my investment. I wish others felt similarly.
On my really bad days I sometimes almost believe that the answer is yes. Then I’ll get an email from someone who was in one of my Certified ScrumMaster Workshops saying how the class completely changed them and the way they do things and their company is now being more successful because of it. Are we certifying that people are masters of Scrum? No, we aren’t. Are we certifying that they were exposed to Scrum concepts and techniques that successful ScrumMasters can and should use? Yes, we are. Do I wish they hadn’t used Certified ScrumMaster because it could be considered misleading by some? Yes, I wish we could roll back the clock many years and change that, but that horse left the barn a long time ago. The goal now should be educating people that CSM is the beginning of the journey, not the end. Certified Scrum Professional should be what people in HR departments look for, not CSM. CSM is great for an entry level position as a ScrumMaster, but if you want someone experienced in Scrum you need a CSP. That message has not yet been heard. Thankfully, the Scrum Alliance has been moving that way for the past year and I hope will continue to move that way.
I believe certified courses come with certain assumptions and chief among them is that the trainer is skilled and experienced enough to have a great class. A Certified ScrumMaster course goes both ways: the participants get a certification, but it is also taught by someone who is certified to teach the material. That should mean something, and I believe it does.
At the end of the day isn’t it all about the money?
I wish I knew the answer to that. For me it definitely is not. I truly love what I do every day. I believe I’m passionate about it and do it well. I also make a good living at it, by working hard to deliver exceptional value every day. Gone are the days when someone could show up to teach a CSM class once per month and make $20,000 per month (if those days even existed for the majority of Certified Scrum Trainers). OK, maybe those days aren’t gone for some of the more famous people, but that is nowhere near my experience so far. Most CSTs do it as a full-time job and they love it. They make good money, but none I know are going to buy their own tropical island based on their income from teaching CSM courses.
Now, for the Scrum Alliance the answer may be different. In general the finances have been opaque to the membership. That is just plain wrong. There is no excuse for this. I also know based on recent messages that it is going to change. Once the finances of the organization are available for us to look at then maybe we’ll all have a better idea of where the money goes. I think we’ll find way too much money spent on things we believe are overpriced, but I don’t expect to find gross malfeasance in any way. At least not for the past year. Too many good people have been involved. When it was a command and control environment things could have been different, but even then I would consider it a stretch. I’m sure I’ll disagree with amounts and types of things they spent money on, but I’d be shocked if I found something truly disturbing like paying million dollar salaries or stadium naming rights being purchased. On the other hand it is disappointing that some influencial magazines and other venues have not had significant advertising dollars spent on them.
I know this has been a really long, and for many of you, a really boring, blog post, but I needed to get this out in the open. It seems too many people have just read Tobias’ side of the story and are now overly concerned. Tobias is a great person. I still consider him a friend and colleague. I also know his view of the world often doesn’t match mine. That’s ok and I think we can both respect that we have differences of opinion. Given his personality and his passion I completely understand how he came to some of his conclusions. Fortunately, I think the Scrum Alliance recognizes that some of his points have validity (while some others are somewhat incorrect) and they are trying to make improvements in those areas. I don’t see the situation as dire as Tobias does. I might also be wrong. I have been trying to work to make a difference within the boundaries that have been set up. Toward that end I have:
- Been a member of one of the Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) application review teams. One goal of the Scrum Alliance is to grow the number of CSCs in the community while maintaining the highest standards. CSC is probably the hardest certification to get at this point. I always learn from others as we look at applications and consider this a good investment of my time. My role in this may change in positives ways in the coming few months and I’m excited about that too.
- Worked on the CST application improvement committe and the CSP improvement committee. The CSP-IC didn’t do a lot, but the CST application group did a ton of work. At the end of the process something was put in place which was perhaps too idealistic, but if the goal was to only allow qualified candidates then I think it did well. It just wasn’t terribly efficient and relied on CSTs to do too much without guidance. I hope to be able to help give feedback on any new process the Board of Directors may consider approving.
- I have offered to co-train with any CST candidates at any of my public courses. It is my way to give back to the community and to help grow the next generation of CSTs.
I do lots of speaking about Scrum to user groups, conferences, etc, but the items above are more specific to the Scrum Alliance itself (if you want me to speak at a local user group, email me – I may be in your area!).
Hopefully people take Tobias’ blog post as a call to action, not a sign of defeat. He did his best and feels it wasn’t enough. I’m not nearly at that point yet. I believe we have something special which is worth working for and saving. I would believe that even if I wasn’t a CSC and CST and the proof is that I was successful doing coaching and training for 2 years before becoming a CSC. I was not convinced I should support the Scrum Alliance by becoming a CSC (and later a CST), but in the end I decided to do it. I’d make the same decision today. I challenge those of you that are currently CSMs to show your passion for Scrum by becoming CSPs and spreading the word that CSP is the “right” certification to be looking for in the future!
Until next time I’ll be Making Agile a Reality® by helping the Scrum Alliance become the organization it should be. If you have something you plan to do to help, please post a comment here. I’d love to see a hundred people all say they now have a goal of becoming a CSP or a CSC or a CST (I’ll co-train with you!). Our community can use you!