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Scrum! It's a trap!

The Scrum business is meant only as a way to bring money and ego boosts to the creators and to the followers of the system. Implementing Scrum is a trap for companies because it is creating a fake need that ends up costing them.

Tya Lost, Blogger

February 22, 2016

9 Min Read

Scrum! It's a trap!

The story is simple. We were working by our own set of rules, things were going pretty good. Then some changes to the game came from upstairs. In this case the game has a very complicated backend structure so naturally changing the direction triggered a 'great disturbance in the Force' where systems that were working had to be re-written, design that was coherent started to look broken and the game vision faded. To add some salt to the wound, several events helped in lowering overall morale.

The project started to shake as it was balancing on a very thin and unstable foundation. At this moment, Scrum comes in to save the project. Obviously, because of some constraints we end up with what is called ScrumBut (I only learned about this later on when I did some research on the whole issue), and of course even though I read everywhere that "Scrum is no silver bullet" I get this strong feeling that the management sees it as one.

So...fast forward to the time of writing this. I read the agile manifesto and the scrum guide and also followed different discussions and comments about this topic. I am still pretty much a newbie in this topic but I’m going at it from an Occam’s razor angle. I am going to go with the gut feeling on this one. So the gut feeling on this is: “The Scrum business is meant only as a way to bring money and ego boosts to the creators and to the followers of the system”. It feels pretty much like a pyramidal scheme. It also has a smell of cult going on. If the ego part is unclear, look at the Scrum Guide, first pages (the guys that created Scrum are really really proud of it) and then also think about your Scrum Master. Ego boosts are good - it’s easier to get attracted into something that looks important and makes you feel important.

At this moment, you are probably a bit confused - ‘hey I thought this article is about an instance of Scrum implementation and how the author is hating it and rants about it… but now it’s going all meta…not fun anymore”. But hold on. I will make some sense and bring arguments soon.

Whenever you read a post about scrum it’s always the same pattern: the author complains about various aspects of their Scrum implementations and ends up with something like ‘omg scrum is evil, it kills puppies.’ And always in the first 5 replies you see the classic answer: ‘that is not Scrum that you have there, that is ScrumBut’. Well isn’t that convenient? This is pretty much saying - ‘we gave you a good thing but you broke it’. Well maybe the thing is not so good if it breaks easily.

Let’s look at the official Scrum Guide. They actually go there and say it from the start: “Scrum is:  Lightweight, Simple to understand, Difficult to master” This is the candy that they threw into the world and manager all over are drooling over it because it has some keywords in there.

Lightweight. The actual definition of this word (that ironically fits the context) is: “someone or something that has little importance or power”. I guess however that definition they were aiming here is: “someone or something that does not weigh as much as others” which is pretty much saying - hey our system to help with production and project management is light as in easy as in fast to adopt as in small overhead and so on (think about what lightweight triggers when you hear the word).

Simple to understand. This is pretty much a reiteration of the Lightweight buzz word. It enforces in your mind the idea that Scrum is easy to use.

Difficult to master. This is the bomb. For pragmatic and sceptical people this already feels a bit in conflict to the first 2 points. For the rest this is the added challenge, this is the moment when a stimulus is planted in their mind and they go like: “This is a test of skill! I will master this!” (Ego Boost)

(As a funny side note - what is also lightweight, simple to understand and yet difficult to master? Candy Crush. Similar to Scrum, Candy Crush attracts a specific category of people and there is also a high amount of polarization around the subject: you either love it or you hate it. Coincidentally, Candy Crush is exactly the sort of project for which Scrum works like a charm)

So Scrum sells itself as something that is very simple. Something that you just put in your production process and it fixes everything. Yes, when you get a bit into it you see that it’s no silver bullet. But damn it is so appealing. Everybody is using it. It all starts with let’s give it a try…

You implement it and obviously you fail to respect its principles. If you read the guide and really try to understand it you will see that depending on some interpretations some stuff conflicts. I will not go for an in-depth analysis of everything because it would be too long. The guide feels like it’s making sense but leaves you with some open questions. Also it’s not actually giving a clear idea on how you need to proceed and how to apply it to your structure. Everything shouts ‘well it’s agile so customize it to your needs. Agile! Agile! AGILEEE!’ So you fall for it aaaand suddenly you have a ScrumBut. What to do now?

Here comes the Scrum Master. The scrum masters are those people who read ‘Difficult to master’ part and went like: ‘Yes! I will collect them all. My life suddenly has meaning’. Joke aside, it’s because of that polarization that I mentioned that I feel that scrum masters are ‘silly’ and they probably feel the same about me. The thing about the Scrum Masters is that they really believe in it and it’s a very serious thing to them. (A bit too serious actually)

So the scrum master comes in (usually you hire somebody who is certified) and then you start training other people in the stuff and so on. At this point the story has multiple endings. Your company really rejects Scrum so no matter how hard you try and how many Scrum Masters you train or bring in you still end up with ScrumBut. Or there is the other ending where you actually master the process and your company changes and you are actually releasing Scum Projects. Yes I am that biased that I think that even if properly implemented Scrum is still Scum but that would be another discussion. Let’s assume for now that the thing works and you get your nice release and everything works fine. Your company is now an example. Look, it works! This helps market the Scrum business. 

The funny part is that it does not matter how the story ends. What matters is that out of nowhere, a new type of job appeared. The Scrum Master. And there are companies out there that are looking for Scrum Masters to fix their issues. Their issues that were usually artificially created when they decided to adopt Scrum. It’s a nice vicious circle. 

This is the moment where pragmatic people go like: ‘Waaaait a second. So we have some new guys around the office that actually don’t do any work but are just coaching everyone about everything?’ Well they do help in planning. Except they don’t because in the end it’s up to the Product Owner and the Team. But they are servant-leaders. (whaaaat?) Like they really help. In different areas. They are just managing the process. They don’t care if we do a game or if we are growing potatoes.This is the sort of discussions I hear all over.This is also the moment where you wonder - maybe instead of paying these guys we should just hire some new developers. How about doing the work instead of filling back logs? And of course, for Scrum Masters reading this it is obvious that I don’t understand what Scrum Masters are about.

The Scrum business is meant only as a way to bring money and ego boosts to the creators and to the followers of the system. Why is it all about the money? Because in the end someone is selling the courses to train the Scam Masters. Someone is creating consulting agencies to help implement Scrum in organizations. Being Scrum seems to be an end purpose by itself. Since it’s very hard to actually measure performance before and after, there is somehow this idea that being Scrum is better and it’s the thing to do. And this is in reality just the sustained marketing from the people that really believe in it - and how can you not believe in it when you are making so much money from this thing that didn’t even exist until recently? How much money can you make from teaching Scrum? I was randomly looking online for a scrum group class and it’s somewhere around 1000 euros (per person!) And then you have to take some other classes. And buy and read some books.Sounds a bit like a pyramidal scheme? And then you pay some more and you get the SUPER degree. And then you can be the one keeping those insanely expensive classes.

In conclusion I just naturally feel that the scrum business model is evil and implementing what the scrum business model sells (the Scrum methodology) is pretty much a waste of time since it's designed to create a false need. In the end, every company had it’s own ways of doing things. And that was based on the quality of the people employed. That is again something that is too simple not to be true. If you have good developers and you have smart managers with good people skills and if you motivate everyone you make great products. 

Dear companies,

Use your money to train your staff. Stay away from Scrum Masters.

Thank you :)

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