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We do Agile, but not Scrum

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I often hear people saw “we follow the Agile Methodology”, or “we don’t do Scrum but we do Agile”. As if it is a thing I should know about. If you have done this then please note, there is no such thing as the Agile Methodology. My husband describes it best. Agile is an abstract super class. It has no specific instantiation. For those of you who aren’t OO geeks, that means Agile is just a word which groups a number of approaches together, it is not a methodology in itself.

It’s a bit like saying I follow the Fad diet. There is no one defined diet call ‘The Fad’ (or at least I hope there isn’t). But there are a group of diets, which are referred to as fad diets. You can say I am on a fad diet, but not the Fad diet.

So what is agile then? 10 years ago a bunch of people (all men I’m afraid) got together and talked about what they were doing and what they had in common. Out of this came the Agile Manifesto. Some say they were surprised they even found anything in common. It was after this that the things they were doing started to be grouped together and called Agile (with a capital A). They didn’t sit there coming up with a single combined methodology; which brings me back to my point, there is no Agile Methodology.

You can be agile. You can try to follow the agile principles and manifesto. You can use one of the methods or approaches that are part of the Agile grouping: Scrum, XP, Crystal Clear, FDD, AUP, etc.

What I find people usually mean is that they like to think they are being progressive and working incrementally, but they don’t have the discipline to follow a formal method. I think it stems from the fact that most of the time before agile when we were doing ‘waterfall’ we actually weren’t following any kind of process at all. We made it us as we went along. There was no consistency of method, no actual principles applied, no discipline. Along came agile and we think we can do it, just by chopping our Gantt chart into 2 week phases.

So if you do “agile” ask yourself these questions:

  • Why don’t you follow a recognised Agile method, like Scrum or XP?
  • Which of the principles of the Agile Manifesto are part of your process, and are there any that aren’t?
  • Does your two week phase end with working software that people can use, give feedback on and use to measure real progress?
  • How do you ensure that your process is empirical, i.e. makes changes based on evidence?

I guarantee these questions might lead you to identifying some areas for improvement, and maybe you’ll decide to start following an actual agile method.

I might as well take this opportunity to mention all the other things that annoy me:

Scrum is not a methodology, it’s a framework. You can’t follow the Scrum methodology because there isn’t one.

SCRUM is not an acronym, it doesn’t stand for “Some Clever Really Useful Methodology” so you don’t need to spell it with capital letters. It is different from a rugby scrum though so you do capitalise the first letter.

ScrumMaster is actually one word, in camel case. Yes I promise it is.

Agile Project Manager is ….. well that’s a whole other blog post :)

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cannot wait to see what you have to say about Agile Project Manager ..

    Good article and story of my life trying to explain these concepts to business people and those that have just read something about it but do not really understand how it all fit together.

    June 12, 2011
  2. Anonymous for now #

    I work in a team that tried for years to do Scrum, but failed horribly.

    We are now, at best, “agile”. We commit to all of the Agile Manifesto principles, we have weekly or two-weekly deliverables. We retrospect *some* of the time (it used to be all the time). Code is test-first and continuously integrated (if not always continuously deployed). We’re doing what we think we can without hitting the problems we kept hitting under Scrum. We are about to have a ton of management change and they are looking to bring in an Agile Project Manager before that change happens, to try and keep the team in action.

    Would love to hear your thoughts :)

    June 12, 2011
    • Thanks for the comment. You represent a large group of people who do Agile, but not Scrum. i.e. those who tried it and it didn’t work. You are most definitely not alone. The most important question is why did Scrum fail horribly? Usually Scrum is not failing at all, Scrum is doing what it does best; highlighting problems in your organisation so visibly that they cannot be ignored. Unfortunately some organisation don’t want to fix these problems, or don’t even believe they can be fixed. I’ve been there. No one wants to be reminded of a problem they think they can’t fix, so instead people abandon Scrum or blame Scrum for causing the problem. I guarentee the root cause was there long before Scrum. By abandoning Scrum you are removing the very instrument which can show these problems to you, which means you are accepting those problems as fixed.

      What concerns me most about your comment is that you used to do retros all the time and now you only do them some of the time. That says to me 1) People don’t have time for retro’s 2) That means they don’t see value in retro’s 3) That means your retro’s are not resulting in concrete actions to improve things 4) That means you have lost the very heart of an empirical process.
      Some Scrum Trainers I know suggest that all you need to do in Scrum is good retrospectives, because if those are working, you will eventually arrive at the rest of the framework by first principles (might take a bit longer that way), but it does highlight just how important retro’s are.
      I’ve love to hear more about your story though. Email me on karen [dot] greaves [at] gmail [dot] com if you are keen to share more.

      June 13, 2011
  3. Anonymous for now #

    I should say that we have a ton of small (a month is a long project for 2-3 people to be working on continuously) projects, rather than the typical story I hear of fewer large (multi-month/year) stories.

    June 12, 2011
  4. I think ‘ScrumMaster’ should be 2 words. CamelCase is for coding … and all lower case with 2 m’s ‘scrummaster’ looks silly.

    Scrum Master … much better :D

    June 13, 2011
    • Yes but you didn’t invent Scrum now did you :) I do wonder why we didn’t end up with ProductOwner though. Maybe you can ask Ken and Jeff.

      June 13, 2011
  5. Wow. Well said. I will be sharing this one! I am also looking forward to reading your thoughts on Agile Project Management.

    Of your list of questions, I think the second one is most important. I see so many people and companies say they “practice Agile”, but really don’t have a clue that it all stems from the Agile values or what they really mean. Without those principals being a part of the process, it’s just the same as following “waterfall” like a novice cook would follow a recipe.

    June 16, 2011
  6. So true. While reading your blog I had horrible flashbacks from so-called Agile projects. Sheez!!
    Besides being a framework I believe Agile and Scrum also lean to be a philosophy, especially when you look at the Manifesto and the values that it underwrites. You can read more about how the values influence the job of the ScrumMaster in my blog if you ar einterested: http://agilebeliever.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/scrummaster-role-and-capacity/

    September 21, 2011
  7. Thanks for this, my sentiments exactly, something I keep saying. Useful questions to ask s/w dev teams/mangers. I say somewhat more rudely “It’s fine to say agile methodology to your grandmother, but not to s/w development professionals”

    January 17, 2012
    • He he – unless of course your grandmother is a software development professional ;)

      January 17, 2012

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  1. Al aplicar Scrum ya somos ágiles?? Podemos ser ágiles sin aplicar Scrum? | Johnny Ordóñez

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