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.