Scrum is fragile, not Agile

As the title suggests, this post is about two different aspects of Scrum. The first part deals with Scrum not being Agile and the second part is about Scrum being fragile.

Before going more into detail, a short disclaimer: Everything I present in this post (and in this blog in general) is my personal view and does not represent the view of my current employer, my former employers and any future employers.

Scrum is not Agile

I guess a typical reaction to this heading would go like “How is this possible? Scrum is not Agile? Isn’t Scrum the number one Agile software development process?”. The short answer is that Scrum claims to be an Agile process, but the sad reality is that Scrum is quite far from being Agile. I will show you why.

Lets have a quick look at the Agile Manifesto. It states that it values “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Lets also have a quick look at the meaning of the word agile. According to the Oxford Dictionary agile means “Able to move quickly and easily”. It is not a coincidence that the term agile has been chosen to represent the high-level ideas within the Agile Manifesto. In fact, one major point behind Agile is that in many software projects it is extremely difficult to move quickly and easily. This is not the case for a completely new project, but over time many projects get into a situation where sustainable development is simply not possible anymore. To prevent this (and other issues), the Agile Manifesto and the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto provide several high-level guidelines. These guidelines are not specific well-defined processes or tools and they allow for many different implementations. I suspect that both of these properties (high-level and allowing different implementations) were fully intended. The overall goal was not to present a silver bullet, but to help peers to avoid many of the pitfalls in software development, which the authors of the Agile Manifesto experienced first-hand and which fall into exactly these categories.

Now lets have a look at the Scrum Guide (written by two of the authors of the Agile Manifesto). In contrast to the Agile Manifesto and the Agile Principles, this guide seems quite lengthy. Surprisingly, the whole guide does not mention Agile a single time. I am not sure if this was historically always the case, but if the authors of the Scrum Guide do not claim that Scrum is Agile, then we would already be done with the first part of this blog post. I assume that this is not the case, so lets move on. The Scrum Guide is about a framework which contains “roles, events, artifacts, and the rules that bind them together”. In other words, it is a very specific and well-defined process. This does not sound agile and it also does not sound Agile (remember: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”). This is quite ironic and obvious. And this is where the whole Scrum movement should have stopped. But it did not and instead frustrates an increasing number of software developers all around the world. And whenever a Scrum project fails, it is not because of Scrum’s potential flaws, but because Scrum was not implemented correctly. That sounds like a nice transition into the second part of this post.

Scrum is fragile

This part is very short. I thought that the wordplay (Scrum being agile / fragile) is kind of funny and apart from that it perfectly describes one of the things that really bother me about Scrum: Whenever a Scrum project fails, it is because Scrum was not implemented correctly. And you can read about a vast amount of such projects. What does it mean, if a large number of intelligent software developers are not able to implement Scrum correctly? It means the whole framework is fragile. And this is another major argument against using Scrum. What is a framework good for, if it is so difficult to use?

Well, it seems that with the help of expensive consulting and coaching, as well as training and certificates, Scrum might in fact provide value. But it is not clear if this is value for the companies developing software and the hard-working software developers or for those who offer services in and around the Scrum ecosystem.

Personal View

I would like to finish this post with a bit of my personal view regarding software development, Agile and Scrum. To me it seems that one very important part of high quality software development is to maintain a simple priority queue of tasks. The weight is a combination of the value a task provides for the customer / developers and the estimated effort to implement this task. For some developers this comes naturally. For teams and companies for which this is not the case, Scrum offers a rather expensive and inefficient implementation of a priority queue.

And lets be honest. Software development is a very difficult and complex work. Are we really surprised that so many projects fail? The field is still very young and we need to learn a lot. And this is crucial: We need to learn from past experiences, let it be failures or success stories. And here we collectively fail. We are not using the wrong processes or implementing the right processes in the wrong way. We are simply caught in a rat race and not able to make a short break in order to look at and learn from all the things that happened around us, maybe even before our time. It is our duty to extract the knowledge, the experiences and the wisdom from the many resources that are so easily available to us: The many many books, articles and videos about software development and, last but not least, the Agile Manifesto.