The agile brand has been destroyed by con men and clowns with Brett Maytom and Michael Kusters
Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson as they take a critical look at the current state of the agile industry with guests Michael Kusters and Brett Maytom.
In this episode, we address:
🔸 The degradation of the agile brand by con artists, life coaches, and big management consulting firms
🔸 The damaging effects of quick-fix certifications and the SAFE framework
🔸 The value real agile brings and why many are missing out on these benefits
🔸 Potential solutions based on DOJOs and the craft guild system in Germany
🔸 A call for an outcome-focused approach that combines the best aspects of lean, agile XP, and continuous delivery
Tune in for an insightful discussion on the challenges facing the agile industry and potential solutions that can help organisations create high-value products and services.
Read along you will
Murray: In this episode, we discuss the sad state of the agile industry with Michael Costas and Brett Matan. We talk about how the agile brand has been destroyed by con artists, life coaches and big management consulting firms. People who provide poor quality advice to clients because they’ve never been part of a good agile team. We talk about why clients and managers hire people who don’t know what they’re doing and the damage that two day certifications and the safe framework have done. We discussed the value that real agile brings and how few people are seeing these benefits today. And we discuss some solutions based on DOJO’s and the craft guilt system in Germany. And finally we put out a call for a new outcome focused approach that builds on the best parts of lean agile XPN, continuous delivery to help organizations develop high-value products and services.
Shane: Welcome to the No Nonsense Agile Podcast. I’m Shane Gibson.
Murray: And I’m Murray Robinson.
Brett: I’m Brett Maytom.
Michael: And I’m Michael Kusters.
Murray: Hi guys. Thanks for coming on today. So I wanted to talk about the sad state of Agile since you’ve both written about it recently. Why don’t we get you to introduce yourselves? Brett, do you want to go first?
Brett: I’m Brett, I started off as a software developer about 37 years ago. I hated the traditional waterfall and moved into microsoft Solution Framework and started training and presenting and working with that. Then into xp and about 12 years ago, I became a professional scrum trainer with scrum.org and today that’s really what I do, a lot of training and helping people succeed with Scrum.
Murray: Yeah, Michael.
Michael: I started my career in software test and automation. Quickly moved into test management, quality management from there into Lean Six Sigma. That brought me to Kaban. And this basically opened the Agile world before lean Kaban was a thing. I really liked it And introduced it to the teams I was working with And from that day I was already hooked. And today I am helping organizations discover better ways of working with whatever they are currently doing and taking it from there.
Murray: Okay, let’s start by talking about a LinkedIn ad we all saw recently for scrum master training from Syed Mujtaba Hassan where he says that you can become a scrum master with no prior experience and earn 500 pounds a day, which is about a thousand dollars a day here. What’s that in euros michael?
Michael: Yeah, it’s about 500 as well.
Murray: It’s good money.
Michael: Yeah, Definetly more than what a developer is making.
Murray: So according to Hassan’s’ profile, he has two years experience as a scrum master with a PSM1 certification from scrum.org. On his profile he says he is a Udemy instructor for the scrum.org certification exams.
Michael: At least he was advertising as a PSM one, which is quite telling. If he’s offering courses with PSM one and saying, I know everything you need to know.
Murray: The other thing about Hassan is that he’s posting content on his LinkedIn profile that he’s copied from other people. So this guy is a grifter. This seems to be an example of the sorry state of the agile industry. That we’ve got these con man going around selling agile practices, agile certifications and agile training to people. I wonder how much of this is because of two day certification model that the industry’s developed.
Michael: I still get occasionally asked for Safe trainings and let’s just say what they’re offering is 500, for the trainer. and I say, okay, even if I would take that, I also need to prepare the training. And they say, no, there’s no need to prepare the training because the materials are out of the box ready and you just need to serve them. It’s a instant meal. So basically just rattle off the slide deck. People will get their certification and congratulations. We’ve got 20 new Scrum masters.
Brett: So the big thing that I notice is there’s this buman seat model, which a lot of big organizations do. And being in the training industry for a while, a lot of big training companies work that way. Let’s just get the cheapest person to present the materials and get it out there, and it’s no real value to your clients .
You don’t even know who the trainer. It’s the cheapest person that’s giving the cheapest price to do the course, basically. And then you’ve get people that are wanting to survive that are making the courses. So you’ll see that I’m treating Scrum on Udemy type of thing. And yeah, I’ve got my PSM one so I can train it, or my CSM one and I trainer. So you’re getting a lot of these individuals out there that miss the entire point of what It’s all about and that just then perpetuates.
Murray: Can you become a successful scrum master with no prior experience in product development or software development just by doing a two day course. Let’s say you’re a life coach or a teacher or something like that.
Shane: Yes, you can, but not after two days. So it’s the beginning of the journey. It gives you the terminology, it gives you the grounding at the beginning of the words And the things that you need to get experienced in. And that’s good, it’s good to start with some training, but it doesn’t make you effective. It doesn’t make you efficient, it doesn’t make you experienced, it doesn’t make you at a level that you can teach other people or coach other people or mentor other people. Hell even train other people to do that role. So it’s a good start, It’s better than not doing it.
Brett: It’s hey, come, I’ll teach you what a bicycle is. This is the wheel, this is the handle bar, and this is how, you ride it, the real work is getting on and learning to ride the bicycle. So those courses are just teaching you what the bike is and telling you what to do. The hard work is actually learning how to do it.
Michael: I’ll take it further. To safely ride on a bike and to master traffic are two very different things, and even if I can get a team to use Scrum, that has nothing to do with helping the team survive and thrive in the business world.
Murray: Now Brett, you wrote an article about all these life coaches becoming Scrum Masters. Now. Do you wanna just summarize what that article was about?
Brett: So this is a pet gripe that I have about the coaching world. We are business coaches. We are helping companies build products and make a profit. It’s specialized coaching. Now, the life coaching side, I’ve seen more and more adverts coming on, more and more people talking about teams and psychological safety and all the fluffy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important. But what is more important is we are here to help product development succeed in an organization. It’s a different type of coaching. It’s not about life coaching. And that article was really having a crack at all these people coming in as do life coaching. do life coaching. And, it’s actually setting that business up with false expectations and potential failure.
Murray: Yeah I am really annoyed at all of the life coaches who now think that because they’ve done executive coaching, they can be an agile coach . And I’d also include all of the HR managers, who have been associated with an Agile transformation, who do some sort of certification with, IC Agile or International Coaching Federation , and then go out and sell themselves as Agile coaches. I have seen agile coaches at Major corporate retailers in Australia who are getting paid 220 K a year or something who have never been in an Agile team and only got their agile coaching certification one year ago. it’s just bullshit.
Michael: I’ve had this gripe for a long time that just because we are using the term coach, somehow the space got taken over very quickly by life coaches who suddenly started to dictate a direction in which things are supposed to go. At least that’s what I found when I was trying to apply for the scrum alliance certified enterprise coach. The fact that I know software development, extreme programming. The fact that, I’ve run both agile and waterfall software delivery myself was worth nothing in comparison to lacking the ability to do I C F life coaching. That one was something I didn’t have and suddenly I was not an Agile coach .
Shane: So part of it’s our fault. We saw lots of people become Scrum masters after two days and get the certificate outta the wheat box packet.
So we changed our titles. Let’s call ourselves agile coaches. We can keep our rates up. We can show that we’re more experienced. But, we’ve left ourselves open by using the term agile coach. If we were more specific, if we said we were an agile coach in software development or I’m an agile coach in data and analytics, I can’t coach a software development team, but I can coach a data and analytics team.
That’s my expertise. Maybe that’s where we’ve left it open is we need to put that extra word in that says, Hey, we’re great coaches in Agile and this expertise and therefore you can have an agile life coach if you really wanted one.
Murray: I always understood it to be like a sports coach, like a football team coach or a soccer coach, and that’s somebody with tons of experience, somebody who’s played the game at a professional level. it does include the people side of things. That’s important in professional, sports or any, professional game, but it includes so much more than that. It includes knowing how to train, knowing how to do the work and, knowing how to do the strategy. So It’s a super experience with a wide range of skills and I think the life coaches just saw this term coach and thought woo-hoo money and just came running in and redefined it. And they’ve used the International Coaching Federation to do that.
I had a similar experience to Michael where I went for the IC Agile Coaching course And I got assessed by a HR change management person. And this person failed me because I offered some advice in a mock study. She said the definition of a Agile coach is that you do not offer any advice. You are very curious about the person and you ask questions about the person and you help them make plans about how they can improve things for their situation. And I think that’s just frankly bullshit. My entire professional experience was not just ignored. It was bad to have it. That was the way she was talking about it. That was my experience.
Michael: Yeah, I had the same kind of experience. And, I’m no longer even using the term Agile coach to describe myself. I say I’m an enterprise coach. I get paid for the results I produce. Sometimes I help teams improve their efficiency or effectiveness. Two, 300%. I’ve helped teams produce a 70 million Euro business case in a single year. Those are the kind of things I get paid for. And that is only possible if you know what you’re doing. If you say, this is the things that you need to look at, those are the problems you have to solve, and that is why it doesn’t work the way you’re currently doing it. And a life coach would never do those kinds of things
Brett: Yeah. With Scrum trainers, We’ve always been saying it’s a scrum master. And the scrum master works at multiple levels. Come in oh, we need more money. Let’s have an agile coach, And the scrum master is for a team. So now we’ve just totally devalued what scrum masters do but now , everyone’s on the bandwagon for agile coaches. I used to joke, what’s the difference between a scrum master and an agile coach? $200 a day. It’s a money grab. You’re not there just to sit and ask powerful questions and active listing. Those are good tools in your tool set to use when appropriate. But you are the expert in agility and saying, how do I help this organization succeed by building products in an agile way? You’re a consultant and this is what a lot of folks seem to miss with what an agile coach is all about, that professional sports coach, let me help you succeed.
Michael: Yeah, I’m similar on this sports coach’s analogy. What would you do to a sports coach who was hired to bring the team to Premier League? And in the end, he’s just sitting there and saying, okay, how do you feel today? Why do you feel this way? And a team is not even able to have any kind of cohesive play That just doesn’t work. The Scrum guide, for example, tells us very clearly that the Scrum master is accountable for the effectiveness of the team And I was having this discussion with scrum Masters and agile coaches who said no, the scrum master is not responsible or accountable or anything. They are just there to make sure that the scrum process works. And what are they getting their money for?
Murray: So there’s a really massive difference in quality of Scrum Masters and agile coaches out there at the moment. Some Scrum masters have been terrific and some are very lazy and obviously just in it for the money. I’ve overheard Scrum masters say Scrum masters great cuz it has no responsibility for outcomes. The very worst ones are the ones coming from the big consulting firms. There was one person in Australia who worked for BCG who was excellent, but they had, 40 or 50 people in, at the banks and telcos and only one person actually had any experience. That’s nowhere near enough. People from Accenture, places like that are a real mixed bag. Occasionally they get some really good ones, but often they were a QA consultant and all of a sudden they are an expert agile coach cuz it’s just another way to make money for the big consulting companies.
I see people asking for advice and asking super basic questions like, how do I estimate my work? How do I organize my work? How do I decide what’s gonna be valuable to do next? And it turns out that they’ve been working with PWC Agile consultants for the last 18 months doing safe. And they cannot answer the most basic questions themselves.
Brett: So these two day, become a agile coach people are setting the individuals up to fail. So that person goes into a business, they don’t know how to handle the situation, they don’t have the experience to answer all those questions. They’re just grappling with understanding a user story. I did an interesting experiment with people in my sales team. We spoke to around two and a half thousand Scrum masters and asking what are the pains that the Scrum masters have What is your pain? How do we help you? All the big ones come up. I don’t know how to we work with my management? I dunno how to facilitate. How do I scale? They just didn’t have those core foundational understandings. The big one though, was understanding common business practices, talking about return of investment or a cost of delay. They couldn’t have any of those conversations. So most Scrum masters and adult coaches just don’t have that experience that they need. If we look at the businesses themselves, they hire these individuals and they go, ah, they’re not that great. Oh a scrum master and an agile coach is a team worker and they get treated like a worker.
Michael: I think that Brett is really going to the core of the reason why we have this sad state of agile. We have a lot of Scrum masters who lack the basic skills to make a team successful. They lack the knowledge, they lack the experience, and they come into organizations. They do scrum master work and organizational managers. They’re not stupid. They see what those Scrum masters say and they say, okay, so scrum master is basically a junior project manager, except we don’t call it project manager in a Scrum. You just work with your team and when the important people have to talk, we’ll talk with people who know what they’re doing.
Shane: So if we look at any adoption curve, we have early adopters, people that are out on the bleeding edge, and then we get fast followers, and then we get the early majority, and then we get the late majority, and then we get the laggards long tail, and so in the agile world we are over that hump. We’ve gone past the early majority, we’re either, at the beginning of the top or we’re starting to go down. And it’s like anything that’s been successful, everybody jumps on the bandwagon.
We need a lot more cuz everybody wants it. We start to commoditize whatever it is. Make them cheaper. Cause everybody wants them. So that’s a sign of success. And then in the Agile community, what we need to do is iterate. We need to innovate. We need to look at, all the things that were done 20 years ago? And we need to innovate that to get the next generation of those practices. So for me, yes, it’s sad, but actually it’s a sign of success.
Michael: I could say that we have failed ourselves as a community massively here. This entire certification scene. Do a certificate and you are an expert. The first time it really kicked off was with Six Sigma. They really professionalized this industry of punching out certificates so that you can earn money in a specific role. And I remember Lean six Sigma Master black Belt took me two years and 5,000 hours of study and practical projects, green belt you could Do in half a year if you were doing fine. And then they squeezed down a time. And in Agile we brought it to two days. And that is not an improvement of quality. And to come back to your point of when something is successful, then it gets adopted more often. If we look at other industries like medicine and the legal profession, they set bars for people who can enter. And I’m not saying every doctor or every lawyer is great, but they have professional standards and, we’ve reduced our professional standards to the ability to put our bum in a seat for two days.
Brett: I think we’ve failed horribly. So I go back a lot further and I look at the early certifications, the novel stuff, your certified novel engineer and your Microsoft Systems engineer, they were all massive fads, and I was part of it.
I was training mcsc and mcds left and center. It’s, everyone wants that because, hey, I can get a higher salary. I personally hate certifications. I do it because it is a supply and demand problem. If I could throw a certification up, I would, but you know what, the first question I’ll always get asked when someone wants a course, do I get a certificate?
People don’t know so they are writing, posting and saying, I’m an expert, but they don’t know. And this is perpetuating more misinformation and more people read it and it becomes the norm. It’s that echo chamber effect. And then taking it to Dunn Kruger, we just getting more and more people on Mount stupid.
Murray: Shane. You talked about the demand side. We are now in the late adopters, so that’s the second half of the bell curve. And it’s become a very popular thing. It was in the Harvard Business Review and then all the big consulting firms have pushed it. and so now everybody knows they have to be agile. So all these managers who don’t really know what Agile is, don’t really know what a good agile consultant or coach is, are hiring all these people cause they have to be agile. But I think what’s going on here is that they don’t actually want to change. They don’t really wanna change the hierarchy or the bureaucracy. They don’t really want to change the system of work.
They want somebody who’s really nice and gets along very well with everybody to come in and look after the team and just make them five or 10% more productive. So they’re hiring all of these life coaches and HR managers and that sort of people. Cause they’re actually very skilled at being, very accommodating and very agreeable. And the fact that they don’t have any content, I guess these hiring managers can’t tell, they can’t tell the difference between somebody who’s basically lying about their experience and has a two day certification and somebody who actually has a deep knowledge and they don’t understand what it is.
I got told by a senior manager that it was my fault because somebody that I’d been coaching, decided to resign as if the only reason I was there was keep him happy so he wouldn’t quit. Part of my job, as a consultant , is to, do people consulting. But that’s only part of it. And frankly I was a lot of other things before I was an Agile consultant, I was a developer, a ba, a product manager, a project manager. And I’m going back into that. I don’t wanna call myself an agile consultant or an agile coach anymore because I think it’s lost so much credibility. And I find myself competing with people from pwc who have no experience and not getting anywhere. And I have so much more to offer. And anyway, I only got into this because I wanted to develop really good products and services, and that’s always been the reason for doing it for me. That, and cause love the way that you work with people. It’s so much better. But, I’m going back to saying I’m a agile product and program consultant.
Michael: I think we have two issues here. The first thing is when we look the term that organizations need to be more agile was already advertised by Peter Drucker Long before Agile was a thing, and we as an agile community, we just jumped on the bandwagon and took advantage that this term used to have a meaning with management. and then we just changed the entire meaning. Nowadays you ask people what does agile even mean? And if you would ask the four of us, you’d probably get six or seven different answers. And what was agile supposed to be about? It was just when the situation changes, you need to be able to change yourself and take advantage of the new situation. It didn’t mean let’s dump out a framework. Enter some new roles on the org chart and now we are agile. That is what it was never about, but we jumped onto this and we did that.
Brett: A few years ago I actually went for a client and a very big company here in Melbourne, australia. And the person that was dealing with me turned around to me and said, Brett, by far you have got the most experience, but we are going to rather go with pwc cause I know this is not gonna work and get supported in the business. And when it doesn’t work, I cannot get failed for hiring pwc. If I hire you, I would get fired.
Murray: There’s definitely a lot of bullshit coming from management consulting. I just had one thing I wanted to touch on. You both said, we’ve done this to ourselves, but I don’t think we are in control of it. It’s a free market. People just piled in from all directions. I can’t control this. I can talk about that. I think an agile coach is a sports coach. If the International Coaching Federation and PWC and Deloitte are all saying no, it’s a life coach. I can’t control that.
Michael: I wrote an article back in 2020 where I said the SPC is going to destroy safe. It’s on my block. Safe started as an agile movement. It was a community thing and it was turned into a 300 million dollar business within a pretty short time by Dean Leffingwell. But the key thing is we professionalize something to a level where it was able to dictate the direction of where things are going for everybody. And so with we, I don’t necessarily mean you or me as an individual, but this was people from the Agile community who did build up those things to bring them to a level where they became so successful that those things were shaped in this direction. When I took my certified scrum master back in 2012 with Jeff Sutherland, he was making a lot of claims that being a quality consultant I found highly disagreeable. But these were people who were shaping the industry of agile already 10, 15 years ago who were doing things that made a professional cringe.
Brett: I look back into 2000 eight or nine. Most of the big players, the PWCs and Deloittes, and weren’t actually much into Agile at that stage, and we were having those problems then. Alright, we were having the issues that we are having today. So I don’t really feel that they’ve contributed, they’ve created a mass growth recently, 100%. But those problems existed there. I reckon it goes back further. Even going to 2008, nine, all the original authors of the manifesto for Agile software development, we were all making quotes of how bad Agile is. So I think it was already made. Now, hey, it was open, no control over it. And Scrum was also created with no control, put it into the market. Of course, people are gonna take advantage of it.
Murray: Ken was pretty smart about commercializing the whole thing with certification.
Shane: So The medical, the law and the accounting profession actually start certification between the 18th and 19th century. So it’s been around for a while. I’m wondering what forced them to do it, what forced him to create This club that locked everybody else out. And as agile practitioners, why didn’t we do it? So I think it is our fault, think the people that were early in creating this capability didn’t put in the rigor. Now what we’re gonna do about it, I don’t know. We’ve seen other professions defend their profession using various mechanism. And that’s not something we’ve done as agile practitioners.
Murray: Scrum Alliance did do this. They made it really difficult to become a Scrum Alliance trainer. But they did it to maximize their income cuz they were making like 300, 400 grand each in those early days. But they didn’t put any restrictions on becoming a scrum master cuz that was how they were making their money.
Michael: Yeah, I mean there’s this infamous story where even doll managed to get the certified Scrum Master accreditation, and Jeff Sutherland was very proud to announce that in his class seven year old managed to become the world’s youngest scrum master. And at that time I was already saying, okay I would really love people to know more about Scrum because Scrum can be a real blessing for teams and it can really help to be more successful with our work. But, somebody who’s seven years old, I would not want them to be accountable for the success of a team in a business world with all the politics going around with the money, with the pressure, with customer expectation. Those things are not what you can do after attending this course. But it was already at that time, used in marketing as a kind of, this is what you will be able to do after just two days. And the people who were promoting it were the leaders of Scrum.
Shane: So we’ve had a bunch of agile patterns. So you can look at XP as a form of patterns. You can look at lean, you can look at Kaban, you can look at Six Sigma to a degree. Why is Scrum the one that got the two day WeetBix certification and became the big adopter and all the other patterns they haven’t disappeared. But there isn’t , the whole practices that we are complaining about in those other patterns. Why was it Scrum that was so successful that it made it a sad state?
Murray: It’s because of the two day certification. Xp decided under Kent Beck not to have a certification. Scrum under Ken Schwaber had the certification and It was very popular and profitable, and that money meant that they could afford to pay for marketing and sales. So it drove the engine for growth.
Brett: There is definitely truth in that Marie, because yes, it was easy to go, Hey, how can I get more money. If you go back into those days, we were stuck in the horrible waterfall hell and XP was seen as for the programmers only because of the nature of extreme programming. Scrum appealed to people. What else can we do other than Waterfall? We hate it. And it just came out at the right time. It was blind Luck if you ask me. They just positioned it at the right time, sent the right messages at the right time. Compartmented with a bit of the certification and the way I was learning.
Murray: Yeah, but Scrum is arguably a small subset of xp, when I first was trained in this, in 2004, my Agile training was basically XP with a bit of Scrum mastery mixed in.
Michael: My first encounter with Scrum was in 2008. One of the reasons why Scrum caught attention was that it really took this thing of results in one month or less. And we were seeing those huge initiatives fail. I’ve been, in 2007 Euros were a lot of money compared to today’s Euros. But I was already seeing 50 or 100 million euros projects even 300 million Euros going bust after two or three years of, we’ll make it, we’ll make it, we’ll make it.
Watermelons. Everybody knew this thing is red, this thing is gonna burst. This thing has gone bust. And even managers, when I was in Six Sigma, I learned a term of watermelon projects from senior manager because everybody knew those big IT projects, they’re always gonna go bust and then come scrum with this huge promise. It was a promise, not so much to the teams, but to managers, especially to people financially accountable for the projects. To say that, look, you are not gonna spend 500 millions and in. Three years will learn that all of the money is lost. You’ll see something after one month. If you like it, we give you more of that.
If you don’t like it, we’ll have a serious conversation on what we are gonna do about this. And that is something that managers really needed. Back then, they didn’t have any control over those huge projects. It was all plug and prey. And now with Scrum came something where they said, you can really check whether you’re getting results.
And that is even the thing that today I like so much about Scrum, is that we are not investing investing. And oops, now the money is gone where we can say, let’s check what are we getting the returns.
Murray: Yeah, I was a project manager for, some big companies, telcos and places like that, running projects, 10 and 20 million budgets with IBM and Emphasis and people like that as our suppliers. And everything you say about those projects is true.
So the state of the product development, service development, software development world before Agile was terrible. So many things failed, went miles over budget, got cut back seriously in the end, so much terrible quality that went out the door. Everything was super late, so there was a very big serious problem. And then I feel like Scrum and Agile XP did help a lot with that. But I saw a billion dollar transformation program a couple of years ago being done with Agile, with the big consulting companies, and it was just exactly the same as the disasters occurring, in the nineties.
Shane: Yeah I remember one not so long ago where we were using some agile patterns and we ended up with a program manager, three project managers, but we were agile and and we watermeloned. The reports that went to the steering committee didn’t look anything like what the team was saying every day. The program manager would walk around every couple weeks asking for an update, and you’d say, for fuck’s sake, we do an update every day. Why don’t you just turn up and listen? But no, he was too busy. We see a whole lot of antipatterns where you can look at it and you say, that’s not an agile pattern, That’s not the intent of the way we work, and we should call that out.
Brett: So I have never seen a successful transformation cause they all run as waterfall projects. If we look at a lot of the coaches that are going there and helping, they don’t have the experience to help these organizations realize what it’s about. They’ve got their two day course. They know the basics of, what a bicycle looks like , but they can’t actually guide and help those organizations to understand what to do and how to act. And if the scrum master or coach can’t tell us, we are going to apply what we know and what we know is traditional waterfall. And it’s just breeding in a lot of pain for a lot of organizations, having these weak coaches and Scrum masters.
Michael: We had to chime in on how those agile transformations usually run. It was very funny. I was working with a client walking through the hallways on my first day and introducing myself to so folks and saying, yeah, I’m an Agile coach. And he said, I would really love to work on an agile project once. What’s your reason? And he said, when I’m running a classical project I have to give an account every week for our progress and every three months we’ll have a delivery. And if it’s not In the scope that we are supposed to deliver, we are really getting into trouble. And now we have this huge agile project. They haven’t delivered anything for two years and management is just saying it’s okay. So his reason for going agile was we get away with doing nothing, delivering nothing. So the waterfall was delivering every three months and agile was delivering anything for years.
Murray: I wanted to ask you guys whether you think that this is inevitable life cycle of all of these consulting models. If we look back at lean. Didn’t lean, go through this sort of cycle. What about business process re-engineering? Didn’t it go through this sort of cycle? In the early days, you have the people who develop it, the innovators and the enthusiasts, and they make great gains. And then you have people commercialize it, turn it into a playbook, and then you have the consulting companies come along and sell it to everybody. And the certifications just become, bits of paper and then everybody does it. Everybody says, oh, that didn’t work. That’s another management fad. And then they slowly lose interest. Is that the inevitable thing for agile,
Michael: I think that it does happen a lot, but I would come back to the example of what happened in other professions. Usually as a profession matures, they also professionalize their standards and expectations of what it actually means to do this . Even my plumber would not be able to open a business without having learned for at least two years from a professional plumber. This is about the standards we set for ourselves. What do we call professionalism? The only people who we see now trying to push in the direction of, we need to professionalize this a little bit. We need to standardize it, are the life coaches and they’re saying, let’s throw out all of this technical garbage. Nobody needs programming. Nobody needs software. Nobody needs design patterns. Nobody needs finance.
Murray: you wrote your article that you see a coming schism between the people who really know how to do this stuff and getting results and the people who are jumped on the bandwagon to sell consulting services. Do you wanna just take us through your thinking there?
Michael: The thinking is very simple actually. I see this happening. A lot of people say that, look what I am doing is not what these people are doing. What you’re paying me for is not the thing that those people are doing all day. And with those people, I really mean in a broad sense, all of the people who don’t even know what it means to make a team or an organization successful.
I’ve talked to a few practitioners who said, I’ve purged everything related. To Agile from my company page because I don’t want to be lump with those people. Those are individuals who are leaving. They are not leaving the ideas of Scrum. They are not leaving the ideas of Agile or Lean behind.
They are leaving the community because they say, this is not a place for me as a professional to dwell in. And I really have to take a really bad snipe at Safe. With Safe, you just spend $4,000, no experience required. You get your spc and then you start jumping out Scrum Masters at a rate of maybe 50 to 100 people a week.
That is potentially possible. And so the rate at which we are bringing in people who lack everything that they need in order to make an organization or a team successful has accelerated dramatically in the last years, and it becomes harder and harder to discriminate. Who are the people who were mass produced and who are the people who actually did put in the hard work? They went through the challenges. They have some experience on the patterns that they have observed and they can say, look, this is what I can tell you. It won’t work. This could work.
Brett: Michael’s a hundred percent on the money there. That schism is definitely there. I’m feeling it . I don’t want to be associated with this agile cesspool of what it stands for today, . And it’s about how do we move up. Now all the good people still believe in agile. We know it works. We’ve seen it work. We’ve all had tremendous successes. But to sit there in the noise? These days in the Melbourne area, I can’t run a public course. I’ve put public courses up there and I might have one or two people book on, which makes it non-profitable. So I canceled the course. I haven’t run a public scrum course for over a year now, cuz I just don’t get the numbers on the course that I used to do. So as a professional this agile cesspool, it’s no longer a viable market for me to work in. One has to move out. The concept of agile very valid. The brand is destroyed.
Murray: So I know a safe trainer. I went on his leading safe training course about three or four years ago cuz I wanted to be certified so I could work with a big company. And he had 40 people in there paying 800 dollars each on the weekend. A lot of people who called themselves Scrum Masters and Agile coaches from Emphasis and NAB and people like that. The guy was teaching at new what he was talking about, but all the people who were there were saying, is this on the test? Is this on the test? That’s all they cared about. And the people who called themselves Scrum Masters and Agile coaches already were completely clueless. Most of them hadn’t even read the Agile Manifesto or didn’t even know what it was. So I think maybe everybody’s going to the safe Scrum courses, Brett, because that’s what the big companies are asking for and it’s cheap as well. It can be really cheap to go through.
But I am going back to product management and program management. I was a professional commercial product manager, designing and developing products and running TV marketing campaigns earlier in my career. And I’ve, done quite a lot of product development work for Sensis and seek and other companies. I’m going back into that product program area and just to do it with Agile. Cause companies don’t take me seriously as an agile coach or consultant. It’s now some sort of junior PM team level role. And that’s not the level I operate in.
Brett: It’s all driven by the recruitment side. Cuz every job ad advert is before you can even apply. You have to have a safe certification. No one wants the Scrum certification anymore They want the safe certification and cause of that push. Now everyone says I need to get the certification. When people ask me about courses, the first question they ask is there a certification? It’s all because of the drive by the recruiters that is the benchmark to get a job.
Michael: Unfortunately scrum lines has already started this thing. Yeah, it’s a good thing if we get recruiters to say that if you wanna work in a Scrum environment, you should be Scrum certified. And even though it was never meant as a certification of competence, just as a certificate of I’ve heard something about Scrum before and I’ve at least worked. In an environment with a professional trainer for two days, so that I have a little bit more than, yeah, I’ve read the scrum guide thingy. And most people, even those who took the certification courses have never even bothered to read the guide. So the bar is very low. But we, as a community, we started convincing HR, you need to demand the certificate because it means something. But I was never sure what it’s supposed to mean.
Brett: you made me giggle there, Michael. I went for a interview about four years ago, and the entry bar on was having a CSM or P sm. So I went in, as I’m a pst Dear Recruiter turned around to me and said, no, we’re not looking for pst. We want to CSM or PSM one. So I said, do you know what a PST is? No. So I said, okay, so you got PSM one, then PSM two, then PSM three, and then PSTs. Oh no, but we still want to PSM one. It’s so ingrained to them to look at that low bar and those certs are just entry levels. Companies shouldn’t be looking at PSM one s or CSMs. They should be looking at higher. That’s the skill that’s really needed.
Murray: wanna move on to talk about solutions with you guys. Is there any solution? What can we do? What I’m hearing is that people are disassociating themselves from Agile and now calling themselves enterprise consultants and product consultants. I’m going to be focusing on product and program management and consulting. I’m focusing on outcomes. Let me put it that way. I don’t know what is that? Is that the answer for people, just the professional people just to leave the agile space, still do it but just stop calling themselves agile or is there another answer?
Shane: But isn’t that what we did? When Scrum Masters turned two day Scrum Masters we called ourselves agile coaches. That didn’t work.
Michael: I hear from a lot of people in many of the organizations I’m working with, at what we were doing before, Agile came around, was actually already agile. We just didn’t have this name, especially from the smaller companies. The smaller software companies refused to do Waterfall because they were just delivering value to customers, especially small companies delivering to corporate clients. They just had a kind of way of working customer calls, this is what we need. They said, we can do it now, or We are busy, we can do it a bit later. And they tried to deliver as soon as possible in small increments. They were doing this thing before Agile was there, and Agile just gave them a name for what they were doing. If Agile is no longer the name for what we are doing, maybe we have to go without a standardized name until something better comes along. But Brett already brought up the point Agile as a brand is destroyed, so we can’t go under this brand anymore. But do we have a better brand? I have my services. You have your services. My services are basically focused around building more effective organizations that are able to deliver value with a higher probability of success. That’s the business I am into.
Murray: The people who formed the Agile Manifesto did it so that for the same reason that we are talking about right now, they did it so they could have a common brand name that they could work under. They all agreed that they were trying to do similar things, and they got together and agreed on the set of principles and values in a common brand name. Now I see other people have developed their own brand names. There’s the whole lean brand name. So Jeff Gothelf said he scrubbed the word agile, but what he was doing was really agile, When he had lean ux. you’ve got the Lean Startup people. That’s a lot like Agile applied to startups, but they removed the word agile went for lean. So there’s been this trend of lean. Then there’s continuous delivery, which I quite like. They’ve gone off on their own Continuous delivery and DevOps. They’ve created their own brand names. Maybe we should develop our own brand name that’s more focused on outcomes, but I dunno what that would be.
Brett: So the brand is destroyed. What you are doing, Marie, and what you are doing, Michael, and what I’m moving towards, we all doing the same thing under the skin. It’s still a lot of the core principles behind agile, lean, flow, combine, theory of constraints type of stuff.
That pattern is there because they work, they’re good, but the brand is destroyed. The only way it can go through. Now when you create your own little framework as an individual you just barking in a thunderstorm and no one’s going hear it. Especially in the noise that Agile’s making. It needs a mass take up with a lot of disgruntled people to get into a community to say, okay, we’ve had enough. And with a mass noise banging on the same drum and influencing the market.
But it has to be done carefully, that brand has to be protected against all the sharks. Patented, copyrighted and trademarked, because otherwise you’re gonna get the same happening over and over again. It’s not about techies coming up with solutions. It’s about creating and eating our own dog food and creating a branded product.
Murray: I had a go with a few people of doing this with Agile too, but I’m gonna say it didn’t work. It didn’t get enough take up and there was problems in the way it was done. So I don’t know, I see a few people getting together and trying things. None of them are taking off really.
Shane: My view is I put the word data in between Agile and coach. That’s my specialty. There’s very few of me in the world. That’s my answer, Bring in a specialist and then, make sure they are a specialist and they have the experience. Or that you are bringing somebody in who doesn’t have the experience, but you are recognizing that and they’re gonna learn with you. Cause that’s okay as well, We’ll have to actually get experience somehow. But that’s my view until the next thing that’s better than an agile way of working turns up. And it will because it always does, I’m not sure it’s gonna be in my lifetime, but there’s gonna be another wave of change and early adopters and things are better than the way we are doing things today.
Michael: One thing that I would really like to put up as an open question is did the Agile community try to become too big? We tried to be everything to everybody. We wanted to build something that every company in the world can use for everything. Friend of mine who was working with me at that time told me a product that does everything, does nothing, and maybe we need things that do something right. For a specific purpose, not something that is so universal that it has no content anymore.
Murray: I know, Brett, that you are working on something. But I don’t think that anything that any individual like you or me or Michael comes up with is going to get anywhere. I think this needs a community effort. This needs a whole lot of people like us to come together and say, we need something new. Cause , this brand name is destroyed and it’s not working anymore. I don’t wanna be a trainer because people don’t take it seriously. I wanna have more influence on organizations than that.
Brett: It can’t be just trainers. You need consultants as well. You need people to go out there and to be able to make money from consulting. All I do as a trainer is I prepare you
Michael: what we have in Germany is the system of a master apprentice. And if you want to get into this trade, you will go through an apprenticeship. Of course you will have classroom training for the theory and to be familiar with the materials. But you will learn by doing and you will learn from somebody who knows what they are doing. Of course, this model does not scale as infinitely as the current agile model where you can just dump out an exponential amount of unqualified trainers who dump out an exponential amount of certifications.
The protected business model of craftsmanship is one of the reasons why German craftsmanship has such a high standard and it delivers the results. It doesn’t scale infinitely, but like Brett said, it’s a protected well working revenue stream and everybody who participates is a winner.
The people who buy the services are as much a winner because they get high standards as the people who are on top of the food chain, because they don’t need to work so much. They help other people learn, and the people who learn deliver results. so everyone wins.
Shane: So what would I do? I’d create agile dojos. Walmart run them and a few others do. And it’s this idea that actually you go into a training environment where you actually learn by doing. So you’re actually doing the work and you’re learning. And if we take that one step further, we take that to martial arts. There are 101 different martial arts styles and even within each style there’s 101 dojos. And what’s it about? It’s about your dojo being the best. It’s about you going out and kicking arse. Because if you are a martial artist and you come on that mat with two days training on how to break a board and you go up against a true black belt, it’s gonna hurt. And so if we really wanted to differentiate ourselves in the market, that’s what we need to do. I’m not convinced that’s what I want to do, but if it was me and I needed to achieve that outcome, that’s what I’d do.
Brett: So the Dojo is very similar to a cohort model where you’re getting people on a learning journey. It’s not just a start. And it’s a blended learning. It’s not lecture based. So there’s a little bit of theory, but there’s also on the job and there’s a solutioning side to Hey, I’ve got this problem, call a friend . And then it’s about growth of that knowledge and it taking them up further down that journey. That’s the cohort model, that is needed. The only thing that has to be done is the brand. Agile has to be out of there. You can’t put anything agile. It’s gotta come up with something unique.
Michael: I think that cohort learning is a good thing, but anything that is, a training environment is not the real world. The reason why we even need Business agility, in my opinion, is because something unexpected always messes up everything we thought we know. And to prepare an entire organization, not just a team, not just a product for the disruption with something that nobody did expect yesterday that nobody could have anticipated. When an organization is capable of handling these situations, then they have achieved agility, but to get them there, no amount of cohort training will get us there. I work with organizations, sometimes a year, two or three years, until people feel the confidence that they know, okay. I know something will happen. I have no idea what will happen, but we can handle it.
Murray: Yeah, I really like the apprenticeship model you are talking about the German craftsmanship model. I think that’s what we need. We need some serious craftspeople in the software development, product development space. Something where, it takes years and there’s a, whole structure of people who can train you and mentor you. There’s somebody in your own organization, there’s somebody in another organization, and so on. So a whole industry craftsmanship model would be
Brett: That cohort model works with that as well. So you have your masters and your apprentices and your journeymen . That works in a cohort model, but it also is about on job. One of the big things is you have to limit the scope. You can’t be everything for everyone. Now if you look at why did Safe Succeed? What’s the issues with Scrum. Safe came up with specific methodology steps. This is how you do it and people want that. Scrum and a lot of agile is all about the principles and people need tell me how to do this. I need to do my job. And they don’t have that.
Murray: Yeah. But safe is we’ll tell you how to rewire your house. Come on a two-day training course, and here it is on a website. Go for your life. And not only that, but after you’ve been on the two day training course, without ever having actually rewind your house at all, you can now train 500 other people on how to rewire their house. That’s what safe is. It’s dangerous. It’s not safe.
Brett: I agree with you, Murray. It’s not safe, but they appeal to that how?
Murray: Yeah. That’s what people want. Make me a doctor. with a two day course
Michael: I already learned that with the top structure. People always wanna know how do I do it? It’s nice, the theory and everything behind it, but how do I get started? How do I do this? This is what people simply ask. we sometimes used to just about safe. No, it’s not about rewiring your houses. You have a problem in your house, so you’ll take a nuclear bump, drop it on the house, and afterwards, hopefully the problem is gone.
Murray: Maybe we should wrap it up Shane do you have any conclusions?
Shane: So about a hundred years ago medical lawyers, accountants, plumbers started putting in structures for certification, with rigor, with cohort, with learning on the job, with proving you can actually do the work. So were they going through the same conversations as this? But it just wasn’t on an electronic podcast.
And then we look at accountants and plumbers and doctors and we’ve seen bleed in their industry. So in the accounting industry, we now have bookkeepers who are doing a lot of the work, And plumbers, we have handyman, Who are going and doing a lot of the work and doctors in medical we see pharmacists now doing consults for people who are sick. . And if I look at them, what do they do? They do value differentiation, They say, yes, you can go see a pharmacist if you’ve got a cold, if you’ve got a serious cancer, you probably want to come and see me. So that’s how they deal with it.
The other thing I think about is large FANG companies, If you look at them, they behave in an agile way, but they don’t do scrum, they don’t do any of the fancy words or the certification. They just deliver some value in a new way of working.
I remember one of the first gigs I was lucky enough to do when I started my entree into this agile way of working, When I was down at a novice I had an organization that wanted me to help, and the key stakeholder that brought me in, she said to me, okay, we’re gonna go change the way we work. But you can’t call it agile. because we’ve tried agile and it didn’t work. So you’ve gotta call it iterative. Few years later I can actually walk in and say the word agile and it’s okay. So we’ve gotta take that as a success, It’s no longer a dirty word but, give it a couple more years of people with their weetbix certifications doing agile and we got a problem.
So the last thing I’m gonna end off with is the story of an expert in China on mixed martial arts. And in China all the martial arts are fairly hierarchal. There are certifications and all single martial arts. So you you had one style of martial arts and you became a master in it. And this mixed martial artist basically said, I reckon I can take on the grand masters of every one of those single code martial arts and beat them. And everybody laughed and said, no, you can’t. So he started turning up to their competitions and he started beating them. And so what happened was the Chinese government suspended his snapper card, so he couldn’t actually travel on the trains to get to those competitions, so he couldn’t win. They used to get some friends and hop on the back of a truck, and he’ll get there and he’ll still win.
And for me, that’s something I think we need to think about. Is, yes, we know it’s broken but putting up these barriers isn’t the answer. So what is the answer? And I don’t know, I didn’t have an answer when we started this. I go back to that idea of cohorts, of dojos, of brand recognition with a group of people who you respect, who have gone through the same journey you have and aligned to those principles. And for me, that’s actually something we should attempt to solve given the sad state of agile.
Michael: A brand needs to have a quality promise. And if you do not live up to your quality promise, you do not really have a brand that people would trust. And whatever the future brings us, we need to be very keen on our quality promise. Otherwise, whatever we do will just be a mess.
Murray: Yeah, I think the Agile brand has been badly damaged by the low quality of work that is being done by people calling themselves agile coaches and agile consultants and Scrum masters. You’ve seen an awful lot of people complaining on social media about, they’re a developer and they’re Scrum masters clueless and not helping them
And you’ve got a lot of managers who are always skeptical anyway, don’t believe in it. So unfortunately, it’s become the next management fad and it’s got to the point for me where it’s now, has a negative impact on me. And I think other, really experienced people feel the same way. That’s why I’m focusing on delivering outcomes using agile product and program management. Cuz I have tons of experience in it.
Michael: I’m not even worried about the negative impact on us as practitioners because as long as I help companies achieve value, they know what they’re getting. What I am mostly worried about is the negative impact it has on the people, on the organizations that are exposed to this kind of agile way of working. Corporations are blowing millions, potentially billions on failed agile transformations. They are hiring people for bullshit jobs and developers are wasting precious time in their career doing things that do not really help them become better at software development, and that is the true damage that I’m worried about.
Brett: A lot of the good people don’t work for big companies. They work as small little businesses around the world. And this is hurting a lot of small businesses that are good. Experts out there that should be earning the good money out there, but they struggling to survive a and make ends meet. When I hear people talking about Scrum. I look at it and go no as a PS we don’t teach Scrum like that. What you are talking about is nothing what Scrum is. But as a small little business trying to succeed, you just noise in thunder. No one hears it. The consequences. Michael said the bad agile is hurting people’s careers. It’s hurting companies. And it’s just making it lousy for everyone that’s working in it.
Murray: But it’s also giving managers what they want. So I see a lot of middle managers who want bureaucratic, agile because it’s non-threatening.
Michael: That is not my experience. Usually when people want to work with me, they have a problem to solve. Otherwise, maybe they would go to a classical agile coach who can ask them, how do you feel about your work. The middle managers, I know they have large organizations to run and it doesn’t work the way they currently do it with or without Agile framework. But they need a problem to solve, and they need something that helps. Unfortunately, they are not in a position to discriminate what is being told helps, and what really helps.
Murray: I have a lot of experience in middle and senior management up to executive level. And there are a lot of people, as you say, who have a serious problem to solve and who are trying to solve it and they need help. But there are also a lot of people who are out of their depth and operating on perceptions and brand names and struggling to hold onto their place in the hierarchy. And big consulting companies and big names like Safe are very appealing for them. And those are the people they hire cause it makes them feel safe.
I wanna go to what the answer might be. I think we need something new. I think unfortunately the Agile brand names had its day. I still think like all of you do that. What we are doing here is highly valuable. We call it Lean, agile ux, continuous delivery, xp, DevOps, Lean startup. It’s all the same basic idea about, delivering value early and often, accepting uncertainty, doing experimentations and learning quickly both in the products and services we’re developing and also in our organizational processes. And way we design our organization. So there’s something very real and very true and very valuable there. It’s just the agile name has lost it and we need something else. And I don’t know what it is. Maybe people listening to this will have some ideas. Maybe we need a group of people to come together and come up with something new or maybe somebody is gonna come up with something and we can all get involved in that.
We got a problem to be solved. I think we’ve defined it pretty well. I dunno what the answer is.
Shane: I do. We just rebrand ourselves to be called Eiger Coaches, which is Agile. Spell backwards and we can use the line. We are the only coaches. You can look in the mirror and it make sense.
Murray: Shane, you spent too much time in Oracle Presales. That’s good. I like it. All right. I think we should wrap it up. Thanks very much for coming on guys. It was fun.
NN – Outro: That was the No Nonsense Agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help to create high value digital products and services, contact Murray evolve.co. That’s evolve with a zero. Thanks. The listening.