Agile Acceptance

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I recently had the honor of attending the Global Scrum Gathering in Orlando and had an absolute blast.

If you’ve never attended one, then it’s hard to tell you how valuable these events can be; how critical the network-building. This year they are holding two more: one in Benglaru and another in Munich. Can’t recommend these enough!

But this event was a little different. Firstly, because Scaled Agile (you know, the much-bashed-upon SAFe people) were a Gold Sponsor. I’m not sure if this is the first event they’ve ever sponsored or not but Gold sponsorships go for a hefty $10K or more; so for them to be there was not trivial. Secondly, Orlando was different because the keynote jumped all over Scaled Agile in a very non-complimentary way.

Let me take a little aside real quick… I understand from very good sources that Brian Rabon is an amazing guy and he’s done nothing but awesome things in our community. Yes, he was the speaker in question and no, I won’t go into the details. I honestly believe Brian’s comments were literally meant in good fun; nothing more, nothing less. However, this post is aimed at holding the community responsible, not Brian. This is about our culture. WE were the ones who made an environment where Brian’s comments could be seen as reasonable, not Brian. And yes, I include myself in that “WE”. More about that topic shortly…

"'Adapting to change over following a plan'
is what makes us agile,
not which framework we choose or certification we have."Stephanie Davis
Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak
Agile Alliance Board Member
Tampa Bay Agile Organizer

But it isn’t just the keynote. I sat in a LESS talk where the speaker spent the first five minutes telling me what LESS wasn’t and then another five telling me specifically how it wasn’t SAFe. I was sitting there waiting for him to get on with it and tell me what LESS was and how I could use it to help my customers, and that information was buried under a LOT of negativity; none of which could help me help my customers.

(NOTE: The above paragraph is stricken because I had a long, very productive conversation with Ram Srinivasan, who was delivering the talk mentioned above. His slide deck, that he made available in the comments below, and his attitude towards Agile do not support what I wrote above. As a result of the discussion, Ram and I have mutally agreed that most likely I fell into observational bias, where I saw what I was expecting to see. He mentioned that especially after the keynote he was very careful not to bash anyone at all, so I must have been mistaken. I publicly apologize for any inaccuracies that my version may have entered into the record, and look forward to many deep and great discussions with Ram about the nuances of our chosen profession. The original paragraph is left for purposes of transparency. If anyone has any questions please reach out to me and I'll be happy to answer them.)

And THAT is the entire point of this exercise, isn’t it? I love the Agile community, some of the best people in the history of people are involved in this thing. But I’m not here for the community, not really. I’m here because, like all of us, I have customers who need to be happy. Any other considerations are entirely secondary to that. Help me keep my customers happy and I’m yours; anything else is at best a useless distraction and at worst a hindrance.

As members of Scrum Alliance and its community we all exist in an interesting dual role. We are both the customer AND the builder. On some topics we should be making decisions as someone who buys what Scrum Alliance is selling but on other topics we should be making different decisions as someone who is being asked to build the thing. Both are completely genuine and useful points of view.

Right now I’m wearing my customer hat and I’m here to tell you that I am not entirely happy with the Scrum Alliance culture. This negativity impedes my ability to do the one and only thing I’m here to do: Keep my customers happy. How can I accept a culture where bashing the competition is seen as a normal way to do business? I can’t. I won’t.

"Either improve team-level scrum to cover these shortcomings or embrace the other frameworks."

To be honest with ourselves alternative frameworks only exist because the team-level Scrum that Scrum Alliance promotes doesn’t answer every question. It has holes, shortcomings. We all know how poorly it scales; it has NO mechanic for dealing with Sales, Executive teams, or other internal dependencies at all. It says zero about release schedules in a multi-team environment. I could go on and on about this, but we all know these things.

At the very least I want to challenge our community with this simple charge: Either improve team-level scrum to cover these shortcomings or embrace the other frameworks. As a practitioner give me a simple and clear answer to my laundry list above. Maybe that answer is cutting-edge new thinking being done by our community right now! But maybe it's an improved, meshed certification ladder where I can organically grow my expertise and come to my clients with a full and robust tool belt. Honestly I don’t care HOW we answer this charge, I just care that its answered. Hehe, typical customer viewpoint right there, folks!

And one more thing… On Wednesday morning I happened into Manny Gonzales, Scrum Alliance’s CEO, in the lobby before the show started. I walked up fully expecting to have to follow Manny, who was as busy as can possibly be, to his next appointment while he listened to me. I got no such thing. Manny stopped in his tracks and gave little old me his full attention while we chatted. He was amazingly gracious and attentive throughout. I took a few minutes and expressed what I’ve written above, talking about the culture and all. At the end of it he said something amazing: “I won’t run a business that allows that [bashing other frameworks.]” I loved it, spoken like a true CEO in the best possible sense.

Yes, in my past I’ve taken shots at other frameworks. I’ve been as much of the problem as anyone. Well, no more. I won’t participate in it and I won’t sit idly by while others do either. As a coach not only should I be holding the person accountable for poor behavior, I should be holding the team accountable for holding them accountable. That’s what I’m doing now.

Of course we still need to have robust conversations about strengths and weaknesses. For Agile to adapt and improve those discussions are crucial, must-have conversations. But that doesn’t mean bashing. Don’t make me ashamed of my other certifications, every framework has a situation where it’s the bees-knees at customer happification. Talk to me about how your tool does that.


  • If you create a tool that looks like it will keep my customers happy you have my interest.

  • If you surround that tool with great training and certifications you have my attention.

  • Build upon both of those an amazing community of fantastic people and you have my heart.

  • When I can take all three of those things and make my customers happier in their work lives… then you get my wallet.


But if you start to bash other people who also want to help me help my customers… now you are starting to tear down everything you’ve worked so hard to build with me. I’ll start to guard my heart, I’ll take back my attention and I’ll lose interest. Quickly.

I’m urging us to build a culture of tool agnosticism. We here at Scrum Alliance are building the best team-level scrum out there. Sure there are times when you’ll want to use something else, no worries. Do what you gotta do, but come back to us when you are ready to improve team performance and happiness. We’ll be here.

Author Bio:
Lee Allison
Author: Lee AllisonWebsite:
Agile Coach
Lee is an experienced Agilist and IT professional who loves the people-centric nature of Agile practices. He and his awesome family live in Austin, TX where they watch the Cowboys, brew beer, laugh and wish the weather weren't so damn hot!