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Making Fun of Agile: Scrum Masters

Today marks a new chapter in my career as an agilist. I’ve always loved humor, so today I’m going to make my first attempt at utilizing two of my passions together. If this works, I may decide not to stop.

Back in Medieval times, the jester was the only one who could make fun of the king to his face and not lose his head in the process. Since that time, jesters everywhere have been pushing boundaries. Sometimes, they (figuratively or possibly literally) have lost their heads for such boundary trouncing.

I’m thinking of Lenny Bruce getting arrested in the 1950’s for talking about sex and using swear words. Now, it’s the cheap and easy way for a comedian to “be funny.” Times change, but one thing remains, if you’re not pissing someone off, you’re probably not pushing boundaries. Let’s see if I can piss someone off today!

Scrum Beginnings

Back when the Agile Manifesto was created, everyone present stepped back and collectively said, “this is great!” But, two visionaries (and original signatories), Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, saw something else -- a money-making deal! Who doesn’t love money?

So, Jeff and Ken set about packaging up this amazing set of principles into something they could sell and Scrumtm was born. Little did they know (or did they [queue Dr. Evil finger cheek]?), that they would spawn an entire industry.

They created such marvels as sprints, stories, retrospectives, and the all-important (or self-important?) Scrum Master. The Scrum Master role was the only thing created out of thin air. Every other aspect of Scrum is either born out of preexisting roles or elements of the Agile Manifesto.

The Scrum Master

I imagine them sitting around a table (cuz this was before Zoom) talking about this new role.

Jeff: “How about Scrum Police?”

Ken: “I see where you’re going, but that seems a bit heavy handed.”

Jeff: “I guess so. But, we need an enforcer. Someone who can really crack the whip! We can’t have people going off the Scrumtm rails.”

Ken: “Okay, but let’s think of something a little more benevolent. We don’t want to let on that we’re being dogmatic here.”

Jeff: “I hear you. Since we’re using a rugby metaphor, how about something like Agile Coach?”

Ken: “Too obvious.” Let’s switch to a martial arts metaphor for this one. Nobody will see that coming. We need a title that will let people know that this role is ready to kick some ass! How about Scrum Sensei?”

Jeff: “I like your thinking, but people are going to have trouble spelling ‘sensei.’ I don’t even know how to spell it. How about Scrum Master?”

Ken: “I love it!”

And, with that, the scrum master was born. I still think Scrum Police was the right choice. Why? Because the role is heavy-handed. All day, everyday, “agile professionals” discuss and debate how it “should” be done. “It must be so!” I know this because I’m on LinkedIn, too -- saying how it should be -- trying to build my rep as a guy who knows how to do agile right.

What if a group of agile trainers taught software development teams how to apply agile principles and turned them loose? Could a team of engineers, product owner, and UX designer manage to practice scrum or better yet, agility without a cop standing over their shoulder? Might they coach each other and continue to advance their practice without oversight?


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