To wrap up my coverage of the last Scrum Gathering in Munich a couple of words about the last day and then some general comments.

After the lame keynote session on Tuesday I decided to sleep in on Wednesday and I missed Harvey Wheaton‘s talk. It didn’t appear particularly interesting on the mini-agenda we were given, looked like another boring life story. My friend Tomek went in, and thanks to him I know I’ve missed a very interesting talk, a real world experience of implementing agile & Scrum in a startup company run by Harvey. Well, next time I’ll be in for Harvey’s talk.

Another session I attended was supposed to be about agile contracts by Peter Stevens. To the surprise of both speakers this talk was squeezed into the same room and time slot with Regina Mullen‘s talk. In effect both had time to speak, but not to take many questions from the audience (crowded, as usually, on chairs and in between). Peter’s talk was a mild disappointment for me. I had a chance to talk to him a few times and I read his blog, so I know he knows a lot more about agile contracting. Maybe he just decided to cut his talk to leave some time for Regina. In any case, I didn’t learn much stuff that I would not know before, but I think it must have been a good introduction for the first-time attendees. One thing I’ll remember from this talk is his story about Zurich trams contract. And it also reinforced my resolution to finally write about my take on risk in client-vendor relationships.

Regina’s talk was, on the other hand, an unexpected, entertaining diversion for me. Though she did include her life story into it (like way too many speakers at the Gathering), she did it in a gracious and humorous way and her thoughts on making lawyers use agile were quite interesting, even though I’m clearly not in her target group (IANAL). Nice talk, I just hope she has a chance to present this to lawyers and indeed change their ways. Part of the challenge throughout my career in the IT world, especially as a manager in the last couple of years, has been finding lawyers that would really understand what we are trying to do before helping us draft contracts, user agreement, licenses and so forth. We need more people like Regina there – I definitely would love to talk to a lawyer who does know outright what a sprint is.

After lunch the best regular talk to attend was probably one led by Nigel Baker (I suppose so, as I know Nigel – it’s not possible to get bored when he talks), but tired of all the Scrum politics over lunch I decided to go to the haiku workshop led by Liz Keogh. I was amazed by the results. I really did learn something new I didn’t know before, and it was really easy. It took Liz a couple of minutes to get us to write haikus, and since then they keep on popping up in my mind on their own. Two examples of the ones I did and really like:

Worn green carpet
carries us all patiently.

Engulfed in our own little worlds
between iPod earbuds.
Autumn leaves.

(Haikus composed during the workshop and sent in afterward can be read here).

I resolved to try and write at least one per day. I think they are more than a diversion – they are a great tool to awaken our pattern-matching R-mode processing (read Andy Hunt’s book for more on L&R-modes). Haikus being by definition based on surprising matches can increase creativity by encouraging the R-mode “search engine” to produce more unexpected matches, useful not only for more haikus.

The event ending session was a big surprise. I expected some energizing talk, so I took out my camera to record it. Instead what happened was that after some small talk and a round of due thanks to different people by Tom Mellor a “wave” exercise was performed. It was so jawdroppingly stupid I thanked God I had my camera out so I had a good excuse not to participate in this idiocy without attracting attention. I kept on recording though and I wonder now whether I should put up this video or not, as I’m afraid it could only damage the reputation of the Scrum Alliance.

Interestingly, most people I talked with afterwards agreed it was stupid, but during the round after the “wave” they said BS like “powerful” or “energizing” – only me and one other guy were honest enough to say it was “silly”. To me it was a clear example that whoever was supposed to lead this session just didn’t have anything meaningful to say, so came up with this thing instead.

I think this failure illustrates a deeper problem Scrum & Scrum Alliance has. Scrum is part of the IT industry’s response to the failure of traditional, waterfall based project management in software development that that is called “Agile”. Scrum is a simple framework for managing requirements, work and team during software development projects. Yes, it doesn’t say anything about “software” as such, but this is where its roots are. In other words – it is a way to manage projects (because, I’d argue, Scrum projects are still managed, even if there is no Project Manager as such) created in our industry.

Now we have to decide – is Scrum just that or is it something more? Should we focus on merging Scrum with technical practices in teams and keep focus on software (which is what Ken Schwaber seems to be doing with his new training program aimed at developers)? Or should it be treated as a industry-agnostic project management methodology that could take on PMBOK, Prince-2 and other heavy methodologies everywhere? Or maybe should it be part of the soft-skills portfolio for coaches, HR etc. together with “waves”, collaborative drawing etc.?

The problem here is that traditional management methods work quite well in heavy industries they evolved in, and there are lots of very good people in the soft-skills department – usually better than ex-software developers discovering their “emotional intelligence”.

In any case a choice must be made before Scrum dissolves into mist. Ken, Jeff and Mike did agile movement a great service by laying out Scrum as a clearly defined, tangible thing as opposed to agile’s vagueness. Scrum was something anyone could start using and derive benefit from following its simple rules – because even ScrumButt was giving more productivity than waterfall. That’s why it was so successful – exactly because of its sharply defined edges and simple clarity. Now this clarity can be lost amidst empty motivational talks and silly exercises lifted out of kindergarten.

I know what I wrote will be harsh for some, but well, that’s what I think. And being a nobody in this movement, a nobody living in a place most of you never heard of I can afford the luxury of being honest. And of course one thing will stand: Scrum itself and other agile methods and practices. No matter which Alliance trademarks what you can use them and be better off in your projects.

To close on a more optimistic note some appreciations:

  • Thanks to Boris Gloger and his team: they not only provided real, freshly pressed juice and real, freshly brewed coffee but also filled in where organizers couldn’t in a truly agile fashion. Their idea of just copying the materials on pen drives and handing them to people at the end was brilliant. Plus he paid for the beer on Monday.
  • Tobias Mayer: another true agilst, when everyone complained about the lack of Open Spaces and the board said they will make them next time Tobias singlehandedly organized “guerrilla Open Spaces” the very same day greatly enhancing the Gathering experience for many. Also, it is Tobias who told me to go to the haiku session instead of political discussions – thank you!
  • Howard Sublett and Cory Foy: Scrum Alliance needs more of you guys, not just 5 hours / month.
  • Stefan, Robert and other German friends who helped me find my way around Munich and explained some customs during the beer evening.
    Everyone I talked with during the breaks.

Overall, I liked the event as a whole, I hope next one will be way better – and that clouds over Scrum Alliance’s future will be gone by the time we meet again “somewhere in Europe”.

(There will be one more post in the Scrum Gathering series – about Scrum Alliance as such).