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Scrum at 21 with @KSchwaber | @DevOpsSummit #Agile #AI #Scrum #DevOps

A look back through the eyes of Ken Schwaber, its co-creator

I'm told that it has been 21 years since Scrum became public when Jeff Sutherland and I presented it at an Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications (OOPSLA) workshop in Austin, TX, in October of 1995.

Time sure does fly. Things mature. I'm still in the same building and at the same company where I first formulated Scrum.[1] Initially nobody knew of Scrum, yet it is now an open source body of knowledge translated into more than 30 languages.[2] People use Scrum worldwide for developing software and other uses I never anticipated.[3]

Scrum was born and initially used by Jeff and me to meet market demand at our respective companies. After we made Scrum public in 1996 and writing my paper SCRUM Development Process, we started trying Scrum publicly, in companies with critical needs that were willing to try anything. The first organization where we employed Scrum was NewsPage, one of the first Internet news aggregators and publishers. This was followed by four years of helping finance and healthcare organizations.

Everything stands on the shoulders of the work of others, and we borrowed heavily prior to 1996:

  • Iterative, incremental development is a foundation for Scrum Sprints and "done" increments.
  • I first applied the theory of empiricism and complex systems theory from work done at DuPont Advanced Laboratories
  • Jeff drew heavily on his understandings of lean thinking.
  • The name "Scrum" was introduced by Peter DeGace and Leslie Hulet Stahl in the still active community of wicked problems, righteous solution[4]
  • Jeff McKenna is an unsung hero of Scrum, contributing many thoughts and concepts.

The father of XP, Kent Beck, contacted Jeff Sutherland in 1996 to ask if we minded if he borrowed some of the ideas from Scrum; he reasoned that there was no need to reinvent the wheel.

From its introduction until the technology crash of 2001, the work we did with organizations implementing Scrum provided us with the learning we needed to evolve and strengthen. Scrum gained most of its current events, roles, and artifacts during that time. We also gained confidence that it worked, creating value in the most complex, unlikely circumstances. Jeff and I continue to listen, think, and update Scrum today.

Lightweight, or Agile
In early 2001, Jeff and I were invited to participate in discussing our approach to software development by Jim Highsmith, Bob Martin, and others that were using and advocating what was known as "lightweight" methodologies. These lightweight processes were in contrast to the overwhelming weight of waterfall, CMM, and RUP.

We created a synthesis of our best thoughts and refined them into a single set of principles and values. Ward Cunningham published them on his wiki[5] and put up a place for people to sign their support[6] -  The Agile Manifesto, which struck a chord. In retrospect, the choice of the word "Agile" was a brilliant call to arms. That word became magical.

In response, we created the Agile Alliance, also in 2001. Alistair Cockburn devised and conducted its first conference in Salt Lake City, focusing on community and conversations. His contribution has been forgotten, but it was seminal.

Driving Scrum Awareness
Remember 2001? That was when the tech market crashed, compounded by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the end of the Y2K bug remediation spending. People didn't have money, and nobody was traveling (particularly in airplanes).

I decided to take spreading Scrum and Agile on my shoulders. I traveled worldwide, giving free presentations, classes, seminars and beer hall conversation with anyone who would listen. I also published articles, many of which are still at my first website, controlchaos.com[7].

People started using Scrum[2] . Start-up and software companies adopted it to get their products off the ground or to create frequent releases. People used it in their IT organizations projects to help their projects succeed and because it was just more fun. The pleasure of coming to work to collaborate with others in small teams to build great products that our customers loved was a universal magnet.

Scrum started to become known. When I was working with Salesforce.com for example and with many other companies, it was amazing to hear business people telling each other, "You aren't going to believe it, my software organization is finally listening to me and has already showed me some working software." The typical business person response was, "You mean I don't have to wait 18 months to get software that I don't want." My response, which reflects the heart of Scrum, was, "That's right. Now you'll get something you don't want in 30 days."

Scrum Remains Simple but Operates in Complexity
Scrum is simple. Scrum delivers transparent information every 30 days or less (depending on the length of your Sprint). However, Scrum operates in a complex technical, business, and interpersonal environment. The outcome is unpredictable. What saves it is that, for better or worse, the person paying for the Sprint (Product Owner) gets to assess the results and determine what is the best thing to do next. Scrum has been the flag carrier for the Agile movement because of this - ability to do your best through agile response.

Of course, this requires diligence, intelligence, and courage (going back to the Scrum Values of Courage, Focus, Commitment, Respect, and Openness). You can waste money and lose opportunities if you don't have or exercise these values.

To help organizations see how much agility their development organization has, I devised a value metric, called the Agility Index. Try it out and get a feel of how you are doing, the metrics measuring (broadly) your:

  • Current market value
  • Time-to-market
  • Ability to innovate

This index is useful whether you are building software of just trying to gain business agility and compete effectively. This is particularly true as businesses become more and more automated.

A combined technical and business manager that drives value from one or more businesses functions is supplanting the CIO. Agility and Scrum are the bedrock. Scrum values determine success, which cannot be bought; instead it must be earned the old fashioned way - hard work.

Taking Scrum Forward
Scrum is still just a framework. Scrum doesn't fail, as countless organizations have proven. You still solely own the prerogative to fail. Scrum helps you manage that prerogative by creating close working relationships between people from all aspects of value creation. People are the most important asset that Scrum brings to creative initiatives - creativity through shared values in small cross-functional teams focused on transparency.

I always thought that Scrum was enough. People would figure out how to use it in their specific circumstances. My part was to teach them and to build a body of consultants and trainers to help them.

Over the years, I've added some things to help people use Scrum to build innovative, leading-edge products. Briefly:

  • Agility Index based on evidence-based measurement[8] of the value that an organization reflects when developing, deploying, and sustaining software-based endeavors (see above). Apply this to assess whether your investment in software-based initiatives is improving or worsening your organization.
  • Nexus and Nexus+[9], frameworks that rest on top of the initial Scrum framework, helping organize larger scale software development initiatives. Nexus+ is particularly helpful in structuring the app-based approach to delivering functionality on a well-architected infrastructure. It is formalized in a guide that parallels the Scrum Guide, the Nexus Guide[10].
  • Scrum Development Kit[11] (SDK), a detailed definition of DONE specific to different technical environments, formed by invariant principles, modern practices, artifacts that can be expected from those practices on certain technologies, and integrated technology stacks.
  • Scrum Studio[12]  provides an encapsulated environment, separate from the lean or traditional business environment, within which creative product development based on Scrum can be successful. Innovation laboratories in various countries are based on this model.
    Agility Path[13] is a methodology for management driven change from traditional structures to an agile culture. Based on a practice database, value-based measurements, and change and evaluation methods, one or more leadership teams cause measured improvement and gains in agility for an organization.

Scrum.org sustains and enhances these largely free Scrum facilitation tools and processes. You can either figure them out and use them yourself, or, if needed, I have created trainers and consultants to help you.

There are many Scrum, Agile, DevOps, and Lean books, conferences, and expositions. Some of the books are excellent sources, but far more conferences, expositions, consulting organizations, and trainings are pretty useless, serving as money-making endeavors that create overhead, confusion and waste. By several definitions, Scrum is more than 400 pages long.

Scrum will serve you if you understand it, embrace its values, and rely on people working together to fulfill themselves while creating valuable products. This was true when Jeff and I started Scrum and it is true now. Ensure that anyone who claims to be an expert really uses Scrum[14].


  1. Advanced Development Methods, Inc., then Scrum.org at 131 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington Massachusetts
  2. http://www.scrumguides.org
  3. Marketing campaigns in NYC, specifically IBM's developers working with its advertising agency.
  4. Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catolog of Modern Engineering Paradigms, DeGrace and Stahl, Prentice Hall, 1990. http://amzn.to/2deQvcJ
  5. http://agilemanifesto.org
  6. http://agilemanifesto.org/display/index.html
  7. http://www.controlchaos.com Library Seminal Articles, My Articles, and Articles
  8. http://www.ebmgt.org
  9. https://kenschwaber.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/nexus/
  10. http://bit.ly/1i6zjHs
  11. http://bit.ly/2dhaHsY
  12. "Software in Thirty Days, Schwaber and Sutherland, Wiley Press, 2014, Chapter 7, "Develop a Scrum Capability"
  13. Ibid, Chapter 9. Also contact Scrum.org for papers and more details.
  14. Op Cit, www.scrumguides.org

More Stories By Ken Schwaber

Ken Schwaber co-developed the Scrum framework with Jeff Sutherland in the early 1990s to help organizations struggling with complex development projects. One of the signatories to the Agile Manifesto in 2001, he subsequently founded the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance. He founded Scrum.org in 2009 in order to execute on his mission of improving the profession of software development. A 30-year veteran of the software development industry (from bottle washer to boss), he has written four books about Scrum: Agile Software Development with Scrum, Agile Project Management with Scrum, The Enterprise and Scrum, and Software and 30 Days. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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