Scrum – The Silver Bullet [NOT] -- Cartoon -- September 26, 2006

Today I introduce the role of the ScrumMaster.

Dear Reader, this is the ScrumMaster. ScrumMaster, say hi to Dear Reader.

As you can see, this ScrumMaster has an attitude (manic-depressive?). Cool. Heh. I will be adding more commentary about this topic, so check back for updates!I spend a lot of time with teams and managers (Pigs and Chickens, as explained here).
One of the very common comments I receive is just like the one above; in fact, I heard that exact comment earlier last week about Scrum being THE “Silver Bullet.”

Of course, I do not have a super- magic-magic marker like our friendly ScrumMaster pictured above, and I wind up [usually] sighing under my breath and facilitating conversations with the audience about why Scrum is not a Silver Bullet.

I will address the following topic now…

How can a ScrumMaster effectively handle this question when asked?

First and foremost, really try not to even be perceived as a Scrum — or Agile — Zealot.
If you are perceived this way already, take some time for some positive introspection and remember not to take yourself too darn seriously. Agile is not appropriate for every environment or all situations. Really. Understand this and be ready to defend that statement.

Next, think about the following example.

I have had — and continue to have — the opportunity to work with some great people within the Agile Community. One of my main mentors is Scott Ambler (of Agile Modeling and other methods and practices). He sums up one aspect of Agile Modeling (AM) by stating:

“AM is not a Silver Bullet. Agile modeling is an effective technique for improving the software development efforts of many professionals. That’s it, nothing more. It isn’t magic snake oil that will solve all of your development problems. If you work hard; if you stay focused; if you take AM’s values, principles, and practices to heart; then you will likely improve your effectiveness as a developer.”

Let me see how his statement applies to Scrum… I will interject “Scrum” in the place of “AM” in order to show the power of Agile stuff in general [and of course, this is a good use of re-use].

“[Scrum] is not a Silver Bullet.”

What is a “Silver Bullet?” Wikipedia defines one as, “The metaphor applies to any straightforward solution perceived to have extreme effectiveness. The phrase typically appears with an expectation that some new technology or practice will easily cure a major prevailing problem.”

Can you see how Scrum can be misconstrued as a Silver Bullet? It is easy. Common sense stuff. C’mon Mike, give me a break [you may be thinking]. Read on…

“[Scrum] is an effective technique for improving the software development efforts of many professionals.”

As Scott says, “That’s it, nothing more.” This is a powerful statement in its total simplicity. Really. Think about it from a professional standpoint and which type of teams usually implement Scrum. Hmmm. See a common thread there?

“[Scrum] isn’t magic snake oil that will solve all of your development problems.”

If anything, Scrum helps you surface problems — development or otherwise — fast. Sometimes too damn fast. One of the things I tell teams is there is a learning curve for both them and the people outside the core team (remember, those people are called “Chickens”). Have you ever personally seen what happens to a chicken when it’s head is cut off? It keeps running as if its head was still on the body. Ummm… where am I going with that one? Work with me here [semi-tangential but relevant!].

I attended an Open Space Conference a few weeks ago and facilitated a discussion about the following topic:

“How to use the “F” word effectively in your organization.”

The “F” word I am referring to is this [drum-roll please]…. Failure.

But Mike, you say, my organization cannot afford to fail on any projects. Please hold. Listen to this thought all the way through…. Some projects fail. Say it with me now. Big or small, some projects may fail. Sometimes these are run as Traditional Waterfall projects and sometimes they are run in an Agile manner. This is real life stuff.

So, how can you use the “F” word effectively if you are introducing an Agile Methodology (for example, Scrum) into your own environment? First, convince yourself that the project can be a success. Then, make sure you communicate out to the various stake-holders that you are not planing on failing the project. Ever. However, what Agile (and in this case Scrum) allows you to do — and this is powerful — is to find out early in a project where the mistakes are hidden.

Does this mean the overall project will fail? Maybe. But, if I were responsible for delivering a large project in six months I’d really like to know EARLY and OFTEN where the land minds are hidden — and get them exposed as soon as possible. Clear them. Early and often.

This technique does, in fact, clear the way for delivering successful projects. And, you fail early and often. In a good way. Scrum is designed to do this for teams. Make sense? Think about it…. reflect on it. Why? Because by being clear on this concept, this can be an effective tool to communicate to others when they start asking questions about using the “F” word. You can read more about “Why Agile Works” for more information and background information.

OK… come back with me from my tangent to Scott’s final statement about AM.

“If you work hard; if you stay focused; if you take [Scrum’s] values, principles, and practices to heart; then you will likely improve your effectiveness as a developer.”

Scrum looks easy. Common sense stuff. Right? Then why do organizations — and the people within them — hire people like me to help them transition to this technique? Two words: “Change Hurts.” When I am training new ScrumMasters, one of the topic titles in my workshop include those exact words. When we first introduced the topic into the course material, we were not sure where it would lead. It needed to be discussed. So we did. Wow. I will get into some of those topics at a later date, I promise (smile).At the end of the day, take this away from the comic strip above. Scrum is not a Silver Bullet. It was never meant to be that. And as someone who is interested in practicing this technique — or for those of you who are practicing this on a daily basis — be a professional and do not promulgate this metaphor.

Please send comments, questions, criticisms, ideas, or whatever here. You can also enter The Scrum Community to discuss this cartoon and other Scrum topics. Thank you!


Originally Published:
September 25, 2006
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