Can Scrum or Agile Fail?

Floyd May’s post showed up in my feed this week. His response to this article made me happy. You really should read it, then read this post by Ron Jeffries.

According to my memory of the two dozen or so attack pieces on Scrum and “Agile” I’ve read, each suffers from a faulty premise that undermines the credibility of their conclusion(s). That premise is:

“Agile” (or Scrum) can fail.

Given that “Agile” or Scrum can fail, then you may well work up a plausible argument as to why it has failed in a particular organization or team. However, I submit the following:

“Agile” cannot fail; it is not an agent capable of accomplishing or failing to accomplish anything.

And the corollary:

Scrum cannot fail; it is also not an agent itself but a framework used by agents to address complex, adaptive problems.

The agile manifesto is a set of values qualified by purpose statement, caveat, and described by 12 principled statements which list behaviors observed to not just correlate to success but cause it when practiced by…people.

I submit my own premises for your consideration:

Processes don’t fail or succeed; people and organizations do.

And the corollary:

Frameworks cannot succeed or fail; people and organizations do.

Far from adding to the discussion, pieces like the one to which Floyd responded tend to make a sharp left turn at the outset by relying on the faulty premise mentioned above. They quickly go off road, bowling through a field of straw men and ad homimen attacks, all of which present real obstacles to making any meaningful progress in discussion. Incidentally, this is a wonderful primer on logical fallacies if you need a refresher.

To maintain credibility, each piece concluding that “Agile” and/or Scrum should be burned at the stake for the transgression of witchcraft and child sacrifice should consider explaining why there are so many well established case studies for the success of agile development cultures or organizations rocking their Scrum processes.

I like the way Jeffries puts the button on it in his post, so I’ll steal it:

The challenge to [all of us], is to move beyond complaining about how screwed up [“Agile” and Scrum are] and start telling us things to do and things not to do, reasons to do or not do them, ways to know how we’re doing.

Take us forward.


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.