Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Scrum Hegemony & the Kanban Insurrection

One of the ideas I talked about in my Jax London presentation is something I call the Scrum hegemony and it deserves a few notes.

In the early days of Agile there was a tendency to equate Agile with XP, that changed a few years ago and Agile become (almost) synonymous with Scrum. I’m not saying Agile was XP or Agile is Scrum, just that to the uninitiated it can seem that way. (I blogged about this nearly 2 years ago now, see “Scrum is the new XP”.)

In many ways the Scrum people did a fantastic job of making Agile acceptable to the corporation. They had data and Harvard Business Review articles to cite, they didn’t ask the corporation to get into technical details (like TDD) and they had a friendly (English) name which avoided the word EXTREME! And most of all they had Certifications. O, don’t forget a pretty good marketing machine.

All this had the effect of making Agile acceptable to suited corporate types who didn’t know the first thing about software development but knew projects were always late. Ironically Scrum isn’t much more than XP, indeed, it is less than XP.

Consider XP: you can basically divide it in two. The bits about engineering (continuos integration, test driven development, refactoring, etc.) and the bits about managing the work (iterations, stand-ups, stories, etc.). Scrum, as documented concerns itself with the management side.

Granted Scrum expands on roles, Scrum adds some concepts like self-organising teams, adds some terms like backlogs and renames others (iterations to sprints) and adds burn-down charts but the management side of XP is basically Scrum, and Scrum is XP.

Purists might like to argue about which stole from which but the point remains: they are the same.

Scrum is devoid of the engineering practices, but as I’ve noted before in this blog: Scrum without the engineering practices is heading for trouble.

XP’s success, and the even bigger success of Scrum had the unfortunate side effect killing off most of the other Agile methods: FDD, ASD, Crystal, etc. Pockets still exists (especially with DSDM) but that is all they are, pockets. That was good for understanding but bad for experimentation and learning.

That’s now changing. The Scrum hegemony is now ending. Kanban, and perhaps other methods, are now offering alternatives. David Anderson’s Kanban insurrection is again offering an alternative. Kanban is again allowing the experimentation and variation in process that the Scrum hegemony has been stifling.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for one moment Scrum is going to roll over and disappear, or that Kanban will dominate. Scrum will continue to be the Agile method of choice for corporations, it will be the 800 pound gorilla to use a phrase. But it will no longer be the only show in town.

Kanban is on the rise and drawing more attention to Lean, Software Craftmanship is on the rise and Tom Gilb’s work is being re-examined. There has long been a divide in Scrum between those who believe in “one and only one Scrum” and those who see “Scrum A, B and C” (I was going to post a link here to Jeff Sutherland’s blog but it appears he’s removed the post). Now there is a schism in Scrum: there are two bodies awarding Scrum certification, Scrum Alliance who’ve been around for a while and a backed by Microsoft and Ken Schwaber.

One of the good things about Scrum was that it was clear about what it was and was not - unlike Agile. This increasingly looks in doubt. As Scrum has grown more popular variations have set in, differences in certification and types of Scrum only add to those differences. The danger for Scrum is that it goes the way of the word Agile and becomes all things to all men.

That risk is echoed in the wider Agile family now. I welcome the rise of Kanban, not just because I think its a good system but because I think it is offering opportunities to think again about how we do things. But the end of the Scrum hegemony could leave the Agile as a whole fractured and incoherent, and decidedly not the type of thing corporations should be involved with.

Worst of all, it could see a new methodology war. There would be no winners here, only looses. Scrum and Kanban, and all the other methods, shouldn’t be rivals just alternatives. Unfortunately between the method zealots and in the commercial market I fear that message will be lost.


  1. Great blog. You are hitting a big nail firmly on the head here! I think the nerve you are starting to touch is that most people dont really get what 'agile' is and there is a huge blurring of the line between what a technique is and what a fully fledged scalable process/methodology is.

  2. Your writing is quality Allan, technical but easy to read for the uninitiated ;)

  3. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

  4. Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!


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