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Test Engineer - Red Gate Software

Scrum: Keeping Kosher doesn’t make you Jewish

Published 8 December 2008 10:10 am

Our development team has started using Scrum.  We’re only 4 weeks in, so it would be premature to make a judgement on whether it’s working for us.  I’ve investigated how it’s practised elsewhere, and there seems to be a worrying trend…

 

Let’s say I want to become a Christian.  I could go to church on Sundays; receive communion; marry in a Church; sing hymns; celebrate Christmas.  But none of these would make me a Christian.  These are just extrinsic procedures – not core beliefs.  To really be a Christian, you have to ‘live-for-God’; believe in the divinity of Christ; and so on.  The point of Christianity is these core beliefs, not the extraneous rituals.

 

When it comes to Scrum, I always see teams faithfully having daily stand-up meetings, having retrospective meetings, calling someone a Scrummaster, etc.  But they fail to implement the core principles of Scrum: ‘Done-is-done’, etc.  It’s easy to practise the irrelevant rituals, yet these should not be confused with what Scrum is really about.

 

Many people tell me that no one implements Scrum properly – it’s a matter of compromise and seeing what works.  I don’t accept this.  It’s remarkable how readily people compromise on the core-beliefs, yet retain all the extraneous procedures.  They give up believing Jesus is the son of God, but keep Easter.

 

This is not to say there isn’t value in some of Scrum.  Daily stand-up meetings are useful; but this hardly amounts to a vindication of Scrum.  In the same way, some hymns are great (‘Autumn Days’ and ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ are two of my favourites) but this is not sufficient to justify becoming a Christian.   If you like hymns but don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, then don’t become a Christian.   Start a choir instead.

One Response to “Scrum: Keeping Kosher doesn’t make you Jewish”

  1. Sam Stokes says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I suspect that software development methodologies have an element of cargo cult in them. Collaboratively developing good software on time is a hard problem, so when certain teams achieve a track record of success, there’s a temptation to observe the rituals they perform (and write books about), and conclude that if my team performs those rituals too, then my team will be just as successful. We’re hard-wired to infer causation from correlation.

    We also like to categorise. All that uproar during the last census over the question “What is your religion?” (with the national movement to make Jedi a state-recognised faith) was, IMHO, because of the assumption inherent in the question – that everyone’s belief system fits into one of a few predefined boxes. To some people “I’m Jewish” or even “I’m a secular humanist” is somehow a *better* answer than “I have a strongly held but implicit moral code and use reasoning and critical thinking to make decisions”. The label gives people a set of preconceptions to attach to you, where in the absence of a label they have to wing it.

    On the other hand, maybe in a business environment this empty ritual and prejudice is actually useful to some degree! It’s more acceptable to say “we practise Scrum” than “we use a combination of skill, judgment and ad-hoc heuristics”, because in the former case other parts of the business have some idea of how your team works and how best to work with it. And religion is pretty good at encouraging a common mode of behaviour, even in the absence of true belief, which can also be handy in a team of diverse people.

    I found this blog post a good summary which touches on this issue:
    http://onproductmanagement.wordpress.com/2008/09/28/agilescrum-reality-check/

    And this one has more of an axe-grinding quality but is good food for thought.
    http://crankypm.com/2008/09/agile-software-development-is-no-silver-bullet/

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