Here are my short notes from Scrum Gathering. Overall this edition is slightly disappointing as compared to the last year’s.

First the talks quality is a bit lower than in Stockholm. Or maybe I did end up in wrong ones because I didn’t choose well. Nothing besides the talks titles & speaker names was announced so I could only guess.

Initial remarks by Jeff Sutherland were delivered with his usual zest, but seemed to be just an incremental update from his presentation in Stockholm and his other talks. Must have been quite interesting for first time attendees though. One thing I picked up there is that I really need to read the original Takeuchi & Nonaka paper that started all of this. And I think it is worth exploring what those guys are up to now. If their one paper started this whole movement, then maybe their other work is also valuable.

On to other first day talks: “Coaching Scrum Teams with a User Centered Approach” with Mike Sutton turned out to be much less interesting than I thought. Two things I picked up there were Prezi presentation software and a book about brain functioning – that is before I left 30 minutes into the talk. Simon Bennett did a much better job with his talk on applying game theory to agile contracting. Though his conclusions were certainly nothing new for me his exercises were interesting and kept the group involved. Also Roman Pichler’s talk was interesting, though his delivery style – slow, calm and quiet – is not what I like. He discussed anti-patterns for Product Owners – or common mistakes made by Product Owners. One point we didn’t agree on is what he called “bungee product owner” – I think I’ll write more on this separately.

As far as the first day goes, though, it was Mike Cohn‘s talk that was the highlight of that day for me. I recorded the whole talk and with Mike’s permission I’ll post it on-line when I get back.

Second day opened up with some guy from Sweden – Petric Palm – telling us his life story and showing quotations from famous people and nice pictures. Certainly not a keynote level talk. I used that time to do my e-mail.

Next, organizers switched sessions – the one I wanted to go to was replaced with a product owner panel discussion I wasn’t all that interested in. When I realized that I wanted to go to Erez Katzav’s session but the room was already so full of people it wasn’t possible to get in. More e-mail then plus an interesting chat with another guy who did not get inside for the Katzav’s talk.

After lunch finally the highlight of day two came: Serge Beaumont‘s talk on tools for product owners (tools meaning practices and mental tools not software tools or anything like it). Learning from the previous sessions I came 20 minutes before the talk so I didn’t have to sit on the floor. Serge talked about ways in which Product Owners can organize their work and collaboration with the team, especially around that part of the backlog that is not yet inside the sprint. Serge’s observation is that once team is running at high speed with Scrum POs quickly run out of backlog or they are not fully prepared at the outset. The cure is to define a READY state for items that can go into sprints – an equivalent of the DONE state at the end of sprint – then build a Kanban-based flow that feeds the backlog of READY items so that it is never empty. Great talk and I’m looking forward to seeing the slides posted.

Finally, the day ended with the Scrum Alliance board – or part of it – answering questions. I have to say that it was a depressing experience. Both Jeff Sutherland and Mike Cohn were not present, I think they have left earlier, which was a surprise. The four board members present were looking sad, devoid of energy and vigor as they sat collapsed in their chairs. Sadly, the Alliance’s support staff – Howard Sublett, Cory Foy and others – looked much more energetic and alert than the board.

Plus the style of board’s answers was like on a corporate meeting: very diplomatic, rather avoiding or deflecting questions than giving any straight answers. For example someone asked if the board will be elected by the membership rather than elect itself. The short answer was NO, but instead of saying so one of the board members went into a lengthy discussion which included a story about some football coach from his college or university or whatever.

In summary it is quite clear that the Scrum Alliance is suffering from leadership deficit. “Improvement communities” are a great idea, but they can’t be an excuse for lack of leadership. After all self-organization occurs around goals, and it is not clear what Alliance’s goals are now. This apparent lack of vision is normal after what happened recently, but it can’t be allowed to last too long. Right now everyone is, I think, willing to cut Tome & others on the board some slack and give them time to find the direction but this won’t last long.

Personally I think the Scrum Alliance should open up, especially to members outside of the “old boys club” (as someone called it), to move ahead. Pushing Scrum outside of software development is IMHO unrealistic and in places wrong. The Alliance should rather focus on improving the quality of projects inside our industry. There is still a lot to be done in this sphere. The complexity and importance of the Product Owner role, for example, has been only discovered over time. The problem of awareness in the industry that is reflected in everyone still wanting fixed bid contracts is an ongoing problem. I think everyone could add to this list.

Making the CSM exam a real test of knowledge as soon as possible would be the first step in the right direction. I think exams should be like PMI’s PMP exams – there are no certified PMP trainers, anyone can train or learn PMBOK on their own, but the exam itself is known to be hard and is administered in a controlled environment to ensure one can’t cheat with a book or search engine. Such a structure promotes honesty and certificate value plus it is much more open and fair. I think this is a good example to follow. In the long term a good structure of exams like this could even make CSTs obsolete – which would help the promotion of Scrum greatly. Right now the existence of this closed club with unclear entry rules is choking the growth, especially in the parts of the world where English is not the primary language.

To wrap up my rant a short list of organizational failures:

  • venue: rooms too small, at times crowded – people had to stand in some workshops,
  • lack of proper events folder or plan – short plan in the conference ID is good, but without a brochure with descriptions of talks and speakers profiles one is left guessing as to what talks are about, it is way harder to make good decisions as to where to go, amazingly this information was even missing from the Scrum Alliance’s web site even though all speakers did submit it,

  • lack of Open Spaces – that was a great idea, one of the greatest advantages of Scrum Gathering in Stockholm, don’t understand why it got dropped,
  • lack of free Internet – at 1200€ one could expect that (was fixed on the second day).

To ballance it with some organizationa positives:

  • all most talks in English,
  • food – good and abundant!