Scrum: good but not that good

Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of the Scrum development methodology, gave a talk at QCon on Agile Project Management: Lessons learned at Google. The session was packed; I’m realising that this is as much an Agile crowd as it is a Java crowd.

This was a fascinating session though not in the way that I’d expected. There was a fair amount about Google but not that much about how it uses Scrum, more about the overall characteristics of the company, its flat, team-based management structure, and of course how much money it makes. There is plenty of good sense in Scrum; it facilitates communication, surfaces problems, and promotes sane prioritisation. A key insight is that software development is not just about technology; it is also about people. “Scrum is the only process that makes personal issues as important as technical issues,” says Sutherland.

That said, I didn’t much enjoy this talk. It came over more as a Scrum marketing pitch than what I’d hoped for, which was a real-world account of a Scrum implementation. Listening to Sutherland you get the impression that Scrum is the One True Way; nothing else will do. Adopt Scrum and succeed; do anything else and (if you have competition) your company will fail.

Sutherland is a master motivator. We hear a lot about success. There are little anecdotes about soldiers climbing ridges. Along with Google, we learn about another company Sutherland admires, Toyota, and its secret of success which he calls The Toyota Way.

I don’t doubt the value of Scrum as a process; but I question whether it is only right way to develop software.


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4 thoughts on “Scrum: good but not that good”

  1. As a CSM (Certified Scrum Master) it makes me very sad to hear you say it was a sales pitch for Scrum.

    Consider that it takes a two day course to fully be fully trained and to understand it. It is even mentioned in the course that Scrum isn’t a silver bullet. I’ve seen Ken Schwaber doing a two hour session on just Scrum without all the marketing BS and it gives a flavour of what is involved but still leaves vast implementation voids. Actually, this was probably a great marketing session for Scrum without it looking like marketing!

    Scrum is excellent in delivering projects to market, but there are gotchas and it doesn’t necessarily work in every environment.

    Other methodologies such as eXtreme Programming can be easily made to work with Scrum and many teams do so.

    Scrum is actually a incremental, iterative framework rather than a process. So there is another fundamental point that you haven’t got from the presentation. Very sad indeed that this session looks to have been such a loser.

  2. > Very sad indeed that this session looks to have been such a loser.

    It was not that bad 🙂 I got the impression that most delegates were more than happy with it. I’m just a bit allergic to this style of presentation.

    > Scrum is actually a incremental, iterative framework
    > rather than a process

    Perhaps more to do with not wanting to use 3 words where one will almost do. Thanks for the clarification though.


  3. I remember Sutherland argue that scrum cant fail because its a ‘framework’. People often think this is the same as saying “scrum will always be right”. Its not. The adaption part of scrum is key – if something dosnt work – try antoher way.
    (e, CSM)

  4. @John A Thomson: John, I think Tim was referring to Jeff’s session in the conference about google, NOT to the 2 day CSM course that happened within Qcon’s tutorials BEFORE the conference.

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