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Tobias Mayer on Scrum Alliance; Part 2

by Dan Mezick on Nov 04, 2010 |

Tobias Mayer is arguably one of the most vocal proponents of Scrum in the world. His career in Scrum includes becoming one of the earliest Certified Scrum Trainers, or "CST”, authorized to grant the Certified Scrum Master credential to students who attend his Scrum courses. His career also includes being both banished from the Scrum Alliance and later reinstated by Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of the Scrum framework. This is the final part of this interview; the first part is located here.

We left off in part 1 here:

What in your view should Scrum Alliance members expect from the organization?

Love, honor, service, commitment, trust, encouragement, support, mentoring, coaching, training... and in return the SA should expect to see, guess what? A transformed world of work :)

What can the members do right now to help SA meet these expectations?

That is a question for Donna Farmer. I recommend InfoQ interview Donna, to achieve some balance with this interview. And at this point I’d like to remind myself (and anyone reading) that my take on the Scrum Alliance’s way of being is rooted in my own experience with the organization, in its many incarnations, over its five years of existence. I have had a rocky, and often controversial history with the SA and many of its senior members, and of course this colors my interactions, and sculpts my opinions. That the SA doesn’t meet my expectations of what it could or should be doesn’t mean the SA is of no value, or is run by bad people. It isn’t. In fact I variously like and/or respect most board members as individuals, and by the word of many SA members the organization offers some value. This interview is an expression of one man’s experience. That is all.

Tobias, you have a history of questioning authority. You questioned Ken Schwaber's authority, and he banned you from the SA, and then reinstated you after a delay. When Ken left the SA, the SA hired you into an authoritative role, Creative Director, where you were viewed by many as the public 'face' of the Scrum Alliance. Why did you take the job?

As I mentioned at the start of the interview, I took the job in hope. I believed the SA had the potential to become a creative force in the Agile world. With that hope I was happy to be the public face of the SA. Many people in the Scrum community know who I am, and they know my values. Not everyone likes me or agrees with me, but I think most (not all) would agree that I do my best to engage in dialog. The SA needed someone to engage with the community, and I did that, through meeting people, organizing small get-togethers, events like “Scrum Beyond Software”, writing on my blog and on the SA discussion group, keeping the community informed as to the work I was doing, or attempting to do. Even in the face of fierce criticism, e.g. over the CST application process, I continued to inform and to be transparent. Most of the board of directors (Mike Cohn excepted) are not well known by the Scrum community, so having someone with a more public persona gave the SA a more human face -- even if it wasn’t the kindest or most beautiful face ;) At least it wasn’t hidden under a veil.

What kind of job description did you agree to? To be more direct, what kind of boundaries on your authority did you agree to, if any? Was your job description clearly specified, agreed-upon and adhered to? Or was it vague, with no clear agreement about scope, and at best a constant negotiation? Or something in between?

Vague, open to change. Deliberately so. We value collaboration over contract negotiation, right? The job description was reproduced on my blog at the time of accepting the job. That post can be found here

Did you find that you were constantly needing to feel your way around the perimeter of your authority boundaries, or were you clear on what those boundaries actually were? If they were clear, did you feel a need to test them?

I always test my boundaries, push my edge. I never felt I had authority, and I wasn’t seeking that. I was seeking autonomy to do my work in the way I believed to be best, while staying visible and hearing the feedback. Not necessarily acting on all the feedback (that would be impossible, as much of it conflicted) but doing my best to navigate the difficult terrain with integrity and transparency. I wasn’t always successful at it.

When you were Creative Director, the CST selection and credentialing process was re-factored and changed to the current CST qualification and selection process . You played a role in this. At one point, you posted a notice that the development of a new CST process was put on hold right? The SA subsequently issues a retraction. Is this episode emblematic of anything missing from the SA, or simply a misunderstanding?

At that point in time there were about a thousand misunderstandings between staff and board, all tangled up and knotted with frustrations and dysfunctions. It is hard to say what occurred. I made a decision I felt was the right one, based on an understanding (in retrospect a misunderstanding) that a certain candidate would become the new MD, and would bring some significant changes to the certification program. The intention was to set realistic expectations for candidate CSTs. Without any dialog with me the BoD overruled the decision in a very heavy-handed (yet not atypical) fashion. As events unfolded my decision was shown to be a poor one. Each party could have learned something from what occurred, but reflection and continuous improvement are not part of the SA culture.

In your blog post, you say: “Scrum needs an organization run by its members, for its members“. Are you offering any guidance on how that might be best accomplished?

No, I am not the right person to do that. It is something I think about: how should Scrum be “led”. Should it be led? I don’t have any answers to that, beyond a growing discomfort with the concept of a monolithic controlling body.

Why not ask Ken Schwaber of Scrum.org to provide this service to the community? Ken is after all a co-creator of Scrum, and as such, a kind of tribal elder. You know him well, what are your thoughts on this?

If Ken wanted to offer this he would be doing so. Clearly, this is not the way he ran the SA and is not the way he is running the (for-profit) scrum.org. No, any such initiative would need to come from members of the community, bottom up, not top down, in true Scrum fashion. We have natural community leaders in our midst, people like Xavier Quesada Allue, Bachan Anand, Gerry Kirk and many others, people who are passionate about building communities. I could see some great initiatives coming from people like that.

We have the SA and Scrum.org vying for authority as the steward of Scrum. Would a 3rd Scrum organization tend to create a lose-lose-lose scenario in your view? Or a win for everyone?

I’d like to see a few hundred Scrum and related organizations, intersecting sets, collaborative tribes, each pursuing their own truth, sharing their passions. Then it isn’t about winning or losing, just being -- and enjoying. Can you envision that? Imagine the energy, the agility of such (dis)organization, and compare it to what we have now, and to where it seems to be heading.

You say that leaders of the SA are “...some with monetary interest and others with little or no commitment to the Scrum community, and in some cases a dubious understanding of Scrum.” Can you please elaborate on this? Who has the monetary interest? Who has little commitment? Who in leadership in the SA has a dubious understanding of Scrum?

Well, the new MD has a minimal understanding (and no experience) of Scrum. The same is true of Dan Hintz the finance guy on the board. Is this bad? No, not necessarily. Jim Cundiff was also not a Scrum practitioner, yet his intuitive understanding of the principles served to guide him. The same may be true of Donna Farmer. We’ll see. The four CSTs, as mentioned earlier, have monetary interest in the SA certification program. I see Steve Fram, Harvey Wheaton and Dan Hintz as having little commitment to the community. Their voices are rarely heard, and their contributions to Gatherings and other events are minimal to non-existent. Michele Sliger appears very active in the PMI community, less so in the Scrum community. Her PMI involvement may be helpful to the SA, I don’t know. In general I see the board as having a good understanding of Scrum-the-Process, but only a cursory understanding of Scrum as a values and principles framework, as something that really does have the power to transform. Of course, the board members would argue that isn’t the case. But I don’t see any evidence of this deeper understanding from any of them. Do you? Show me the expressions of this.

In your view, must every leader in the SA be a Scrum expert? If so why so? If not why not?

No. See above. What they should have is a value system which is rooted in Scrum. I don’t believe the current board members all have that, and recent actions would appear to support that belief. But rather than question their Scrum expertise it may be more interesting to question the very nature of the leadership. Should the SA have a traditional board of directors at all, should it have a managing director? I suggest a successful Scrum organization would create a new governing structure, or perhaps draw from existing sociocratic, adhocratic or cooperative models. And those leading such an organization would bring ideas from outside the Agile world -- forward thinking, transformative, risky ideas, not the safe, conventional ones we are seeing, masquerading as Scrum.

You say that “The SA...can remain as a certification factory, defending the right of an elite few to make a lot of money from the ignorant masses by selling software snake oil.” Who are the elite few making money? What is the snake oil?

The CSTs are the elite few. The snake oil is the CSM certificate, which is very expensive, extremely variable in quality depending on who the trainer is, and of dubious value. In the short term it seems to help some people get jobs, but mostly it is a salve for HR departments and hiring managers. By offering CSM, the SA trainers (which included me, when I was a CST) are enabling these people to be lazy and stupid. We should be challenging them to find better ways of hiring people, not pandering to the old paradigm. The best Scrum people I have worked with don’t have CSM certificates, the brightest organizations don’t value certification.

How do you feel now that you have no association with the SA and have repudiated all your ties with the currently dominant Scrum credentialing body worldwide?

Free. Free to reinvent myself and to play with a broader set of ideas. It didn’t come about in the best way, but I think my moving on from the SA is the best thing for both parties. There was a misalignment there that didn’t serve either of us well. I have come to realize that what I call Scrum is significantly different to what many others are calling Scrum. It is probably wise for me to drop that term. Being untethered allows me to do that.

You and I have talked about your natural attraction to roles that are antagonistic to formal authority. When you were the Creative Director, you yourself occupied a role formally authorized by the Scrum Alliance. Did you find yourself defending against attacks from people like yourself? If so, what did you learn?

Lowell and I invented that role. It wasn’t an existing SA role, and you’ll notice it hasn’t been refilled after I left. It was a way to challenge the traditional non-profit structure, and socialize the idea that the SA was a creative organization. I was certainly attacked in that role, but not (as far as I could see) by people like myself. I felt the attacks came from the more traditionally-minded members of the SA, especially those CSTs who support the certification model.

Is Scrum useful outside of IT for complex product development? Jeff Sutherland describes the use of Scrum for managing venture capital businesses, and the tailoring and customization appears be quite extensive. Is Scrum really applicable in a very broad way?

Yes. That is, many of the underlying principles and values of Scrum are applicable in any complex environment, and the practices of Scrum, Kanban and XP are applicable in certain contexts.

What is Scrum? You say in blog posts and commentary inside same that Scrum is not a process, and is not a system, and is not a methodology. What the heck is it actually?

Well on the SA site it is described as a framework. Ken once described it as a pathway. I like both those definitions. In the end, Scrum is a temporary name for a way to work in a complex environment. It will go away eventually. It’s kind of a stupid name, if you think about it. There are better ways to describe what we do.

Let's discuss a desired future state for the world of Scrum. Given the current situation in the present day, what is that desired excellent future state? How do we get there? By when?
I just wrote an article on that -- well, on the state of Agile. It appeared on the Agile Scout blog on 26 October: I won’t repeat the contents of that article here. Check out the Agile Scout blog.

Can a global-scope Scrum adoption transform human civilization? Or is is simply a useful resource that teams can use to get tons of work done, while bringing dignity and integrity to the workplace ?

Scrum is a tiny, tiny part of a much greater paradigm shift rooted in CAS study and application, and humanitarian values. Yes, the whole movement can, and will change the way humans interact. Scrum itself can begin to open doors, but heading out on the adventure will require real courage and daring. And it will require love. We need to seek beyond the Agile world to arm ourselves.

In your blog post, you say “If the SA doesn’t reinvent itself at this time it will fast become irrelevant to its members, who will look elsewhere for new inspiration. Which is exactly what I plan to do.” Where are you looking for inspiration these days?

Again, read my Agile Scout article. Inspiration can be found everywhere, if you stay alert. And better yet, sometimes it finds you. Lyssa Adkins once told me that if we are true to ourselves great things will unfold before our eyes, and we will be ready to see, and to act. I paraphrase.

What is your opinion of OpenAgile ?

My opinion of its founder Mishkin Bertieg is very high. Mishkin is someone I trust and respect, someone who leads through his value system, by example. OpenAgile is something I’d recommend people take some time to read about. It is perhaps one of the next steps in the evolution of Agile -- beyond process to a way of being.

What is your opinion of ICAgile.org

I have no interest in this initiative. It is just another certification organization keeping us rooted in old ways of thinking about the world. Beyond that, no opinion.

What is your opinion of the Agile Skills Project?

I don’t know. I need to learn more about it. It seems a useful resource, and aims to be inclusive. It was initiated by Ron Jeffries, someone I have a great deal of respect for. It’ll probably be a resource to keep an eye on.

Tobias, thank you for this interview. Here is your very last question: Why do you love Scrum so much?

In fact it isn’t Scrum that I love, it is this community of warriors and lovers, truth-seekers and risk-takers. Agile, Kanban, Scrum these are strange attractors that are waking us up and taking us towards the edge of chaos. And where else should one live?

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