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Interview with Ken Schwaber, Part1

by Dan Mezick on Aug 26, 2010 |

Most recently, Ken is the founder of Scrum.Org, a credentialing organization that offers Scrum classes, Scrum certifications and assessments in Scrum skills. InfoQ caught up with Ken and conducted an interview, Part 1 of which appears below. It is being published in 3 parts.

Ken, you are the co-creator of Scrum and known for being very direct. How did you come to create Scrum.org, and what is the mission of this organization?

Although pleased with the spread of Scrum and the demise of waterfall, I felt that additional steps were important. The first was to improve the capabilities of the Team of developers on the Scrum Team so it could consistently deliver a completed increment every Sprint. The second was to institute assessment based certification so we really knew who knew Scrum and who didn’t.

These were outside the interests of the Scrum Alliance, but within my personal goal of improving the profession of software development. So I started Scrum.org with my personal goal as its mission. I left it to the Scrum Alliance to complete its mission of spreading Scrum, while I took the next step.

I’ve written more about this, the genesis of Scrum.org, on my blog, http://kenschwaber.wordpress.com/ and posted an article on my most recent personal history related to Scrum, at http://www.scrum.org/originsofscrumorg/.

Ken, the Scrum Guide does not say who defines the Sprint Goal. It also does not say who selects the person to be Scrum Master. It ALSO does not say who defines the super-important Sprint length (it is limited to 4 weeks of less, but the Guide does not say who decides the actual Sprint length.) In the current version, exactly how the Product Owneris selected is also somewhat vague.  Question: Is Scrum prescriptive enough? If so, why so and if not, why not?

What a fine line we walk between a framework and a methodology. A methodology tries to provide answers to all situations, to be prescriptive and complete. In doing so, of course, it would be so long and hard to parse as to be useless. All contingencies can never be posited or described. I’ve always erred on the side of brevity – let intelligent people find out the best approach, what works for them in their situation. Then they are free to change the approach when it is no longer appropriate.

The “black holes” that you describe above in Scrum would be easy for me to fill. However, I’d be filling them from my point of view, and the answers would become a methodology. As I find floundering in the holes, I try to fill them with Tips in the Scrum Guide, blog entries, videos, and even talks.

But I resist making the Scrum framework prescriptive. I hate methodologies.

The Scrum Guide is authored by Jeff Sutherland and yourself. There are many revisions available now. The first Scrum Guide prescribes some changes to the Scrum in your book, SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT USING SCRUM. The current Guide says 'the PO is always a person, never a committee”. Many of us are looking around for the revision history. Where is it? Is there a Scrum Guide "revision document", and going forward, can we expect to see the explicit revision history for Scrum from version to version?

Good idea. In the meantime, the most current version is always posted at www.Scrum.Org.

Scrum is enjoying tremendous popularity. There is widespread expertise in Scrum throughout the world. Over 70,000 people hold the Certified Scrum Master credential. Jeff Sutherland and yourself are the authors of the Scrum Guide. What exactly makes the Scrum Guide authoritative?

Some might ask why Scrum.org has the right to define Scrum bodies of knowledge and to assess how well it is understood. Let me address this question. The individuals involved in these efforts have developed and promoted Scrum since its inception. We not only have the experience and expertise necessary to create these bodies of knowledge, but we also have the contacts necessary to access additional experience and expertise as necessary. Scrum.org has established a Scrum Council to provide formal input, and our discussion boards are a useful source of informal input.

Perhaps as importantly, we are the people who are willing to roll up our sleeves and get this work done. There is no question in my mind that this is necessary and important work, not just for Scrum but for the software development industry in general. I am working to bring to market quality-assured Scrum training and Scrum assessments because I don’t see anyone else doing so with any measure of success.

Article Note:

This is Part 01 of the Ken Schwaber interview. Watch for the next segments of this interview, where Ken discusses Scrum assessments, Scrum certification, Kanban, Lean, Scrum developer certification, and more. Part 2 and 3 can be found here.


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I mentioned this interview in myblog by Roberto Bera

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