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Enough with the Gimmicks! Let's Evolve

01.08.2010
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Mark Lines is a Co-founder of Unified Process Mentors who also works on IBM's worldwide advisory board for methods.  He's familiar with almost every flavor of agile.  "It seems like every couple of years there's a hot new methodology," said Lines in an exclusive DZone interview.  To Lines, it seems like anybody can get rich by just changing the terminology of an older methodology, go on a speaking circuit, write books, and sell certification programs.  His article, "Play Ball - The New and Improved Agile Software Development Methodology" was written to poke fun at some of the gimmicks associated with Scrum and "flavor of the day" methodologies.  "I'm not saying that Scrum's going to go away, in fact, I think it's one of the ones that's going to be around for a long time," said Lines.  For the article, he just took the rugby terminology (standup is a "scrum", iteration is a "sprint") surrounding Scrum and changed it into a satirical baseball-themed methodology.  The article, Lines says, is meant to emphasize how different names for the same thing can be confusing to the people trying to adopt agile and become more efficient.  

Lines got the idea for his article at a June conference this year.  He was on a panel and responded to a particular question by saying, "if you want to get rich, come up with a new methodology and brand it after a sports paradigm."  People at the conference chuckled because they knew Lines was talking about Scrum.  At the conference, Lines added, "sell a certification program and you'll get rich."  He explained that Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of Scrum, is a very wealthy man now based on Scrum's certification program.

"Some of us make fun of that certification program because you pay for a two day course and you then become a certified Scrum master," said Lines, "but the fact is you've never actually managed any project using Scrum - what gives you the right to call yourself a master?"  Lines said that his friend Scott Ambler, the chief agile methodologist at IBM,  posted a comment on Ken Schwaber's forum saying that his dog could be a certified Scrum master.  According to Ambler, the dog would just have to pay tuition, Ambler would tell his dog to 'stay' in the classroom, and at the end of two days, the dog would be a Scrum master.  "Ken didn't think it was very funny," said Lines, "he actually kicked Scott off the board."  

The purpose of "Play Ball" is not to belittle Scrum, Lines said.  "Hopefully it will make people think about whether or not we should come up with brand new terminology every couple of years or if we should just evolve what we currently have based on what we already know," said Lines.  "Don't get me wrong, there's lots of good stuff in Scrum.  It's come up with some very good practices that I think have really changed our industry, specifically around the area of project management."  However, Lines says that Scrum is being abused by certain organizations that try to take advantage of it for their own personal gain.  

Scrum is sometimes marketed as a complete solution, but Lines says that Scrum doesn't cover the whole spectrum of software development.  "People think that it's all you need," he said, "but Scrum primarily talks about project management,.  It doesn't talk about architecture and it talks very little about testing."  However, these gaps can be filled with other solutions.   "Scrum is a great start, but I think people need to take a look at other practices from other methods and supplement Scrum," said Lines.  That's actually what the IBM worldwide board on methods advises, he says.  The board says you start with something like Scrum and supplement it with the missing practices.   On the other hand, organizations need to be carful when blending methods like eXtreme Programming, Scrum, and Kanban all into one.  Lines says you could end up with something called "a process soup" when nobody understands what's going on because all the conflicting terminology doesn't make sense.

Although Lines believes Scrum is over hyped, there's a positive side to that, he says.  "Scrum has gotten people excited about a new way of building software, which results in much higher productivity," said Lines.  He also says Scrum has made "Agile way more fun than it used to be."  This is important for the primary goal, which is wider agile adoption Lines says.  According to Lines, about 70% of organizations still use waterfall.  Waterfall is almost the opposite of agile.  It was previously considered best practice and is now considered to be worst practice Lines said.  It produces a high volume of contracts and documentation, which agile tries to reduce.  Lines says that the other 30% of people who use agile are the rebels fighting for better ways to work.