Monday 2 May 2011

Applying SCRUM in the real world

Cross posted from my business website blog 'Digital Susurrus'

For the last few years Agile has pretty much been the only software engineering methodology in town, which in my opinion is great news. Of all the different flavours, SCRUM seems to be most in vogue with a constant stream of contract ScrumMaster roles popping up around Cambridgeshire. The interesting point to notice is that these roles all have a mandatory requirement for ScrumMaster certification, though you can pretty much guarantee that most of them will not be anywhere close to following a full SCRUM process.

Now I'm not a great fan of IT certifications. People collect these far to easily in my opinion - most are open book with multi-guess exams which are taken after a week away, at considerable expense, listening to someone pontificate about the work they did a decade ago. Certifications such as PRINCE2 bear no correlation with whether you're a good project manager, they certainly don't make you a good project manager, and in fact help to make poor project managers by allowing people to hide their lack of skill behind process and busywork. Give me someone who is just anal retentive about detail and is borderline OCD any day to get a project in on time and to budget.

I had the joy of going through ScrumMaster accreditation a couple of weeks ago, and it did nothing to improve my view of such courses. If anything SCRUM is even less suited to this kind of training as there isn't the focus on process and artifacts. This results in a two day course which was more a patchwork of tips and tricks then suitable preparation for revolutionising the way you build software.

My key gripe with the training though, was that although SCRUM has seemingly come of age and is clearly becoming acceptable with the mainstream, it is still expounded with this dogmatic fervour which essentially makes it unimplementable in almost all business environments. Unlike PRINCE2 or ITIL, which state that they are just collections of best practice, which you can take or leave as appropriate to make something that works for you, SCRUM says this is how things must be done. If you don't do it the SCRUM way from day one, then its not SCRUM - we wash our hands of you and you're doomed.

This is not particularly helpful in the real world, and certainly makes it easy to trumpet the perfection of SCRUM when its only SCRUM if its implemented in a perfect environment. The reality is if I'm selling to government I need to work out how to wrap my Agile process in a PRINCE2 approach because its mandated, I also will probably be working to a hard deadline, and there'll probably be performance management clauses in there. These things are not insurmountable, and shouldn't mean that I have to abandon hope of improving my development process by making it as Agile as I can. Personally I think broad brush Agile practices such as an iterative approach, release often, keeping the customer close, and many others, improve the development process at most organisations if taken on board.

I am particularly alienated by those who espouse the perfection of developers if only they weren't dragged down by the rest of the business. At it's heart the message is: if you don't code you don't have anything useful to add. It's a very conflict driven polemic which preaches a misanthropic attitude to everyone who isn't a developer, the complete opposite of a healthy team based business. Evidence does show that freeing up developers to make choices and including their views makes better products, however this doesn't mean all developers are always responsible with freedom, or that all developers are suitably equipped to make the right decisions on all topics. I've seen too many products designed by techies with no appreciate of the business realities to be in doubt about that.

Now I'm sure there are useful Agile courses out there that teach techniques that can be applied in the real world, sending people back to their organisations with an improved toolbox and an ability to give it a go without the fear that they have to turn the whole business on its head from day one to achieve anything. However, people aren't attending those courses because they don't provide certification, and more importantly they're seeking certification because recruiters are being lazy and are requiring it as a measure of suitability when hiring, even though their organisation most likely isn't compliant with SCRUM anyway!

I am not arguing that ScrumMasters can't be dogmatic about the purity of their methodology, my issue is with the evils of certification and sloppy recruitment. If you're looking to recruit someone in an Agile role, please don't ask for certification, ask for experience. If you must, ask for training which gives people a wide range of software engineering approaches which are applicable in different business environments. If you're looking for external help to become Agile, think carefully before you make the important decision to be a SCRUM organisation by writing it into a job description! And be very careful of hiring the fanatical ScrumMaster who may turn your business inside out to meet the requirements of their methodology, rather than listening to what you have to say about your business and find an Agile approach that will help you improve.

Image courtesy of jensjeppe


sashastri said...

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Scrum Process

Unknown said...

If you are saying that ITIL states that they are just collections of best practice, what business continuity plan can you recommend? Thanks!