The People’s Scrum Book Review

The People's Scrum by Tobias Mayer

The People’s Scrum by Tobias Mayer

The People’s Scrum by Tobias Mayer

The People’s Scrum is a compilation of ~40 essays or blogs written by Tobias Mayer from 2005 to 2012. The book is a quick read and easy to digest because the short essays can be read independently from one another.  I think this is an appropriate book for a practitioner to read about 6 to 12 months after working on an Agile scrum team. It is of less appropriate for beginners and advanced practitioners.  I think beginners would find it frustrating as it provides little guidance on the mechanics of scrum and theory behind why it works.  Similarly, advanced scrum practitioners will likely find little new information or insights that they have not already read somewhere before.

I think my favorite part of the book is an underlying theme around what many Lean practitioners would characterize as “respect for people.” Tobias conveys a deep respect for developers as people and rightly so.  One of my favorite quotes that conveys a bit of that sentiment speaks to the fact the team needs to make scrum work for themselves and not blindly adopt prescriptions from outsiders.

The People’s Scrum is scrum created by the people for the people, not scrum as dictated by a book or a training course or a consultant. pg. 55

In addition to respect for people, there are also several comments about responsibility-based planning which I liked.

Self-organization relies on the simple idea that the people closest to the problem are the best people to solve the problem. pg. 102

The agile explorer, our agent of change, is one who seeks knowledge and journeys into unchartered territory. He/she is a dreamer and a fearless adventurer who, through action, inspires others to journey alongside. … This person is not there to coach teams, or to help people get better at scrum.  He/she is there to listen, think, inspire, confront, agitate, challenge, and open the collective organizational eyes to new possibilities, seeding new ways of being.  pgs. 50-51

There were several things that Tobias wrote that I tend to disagree with or see differently.  I think there is a place for external leadership to guide the direction of self-organized teams.  Self-organized is not the same thing as self-directed teams IMHO.  Larger organizations of >100,000 people need to have leaders capable of guiding and aligning the efforts of the self-organized teams.

Good self-organization does not exclude leadership.  The need for a leader, and more importantly the right type of leader, will emerge from the wisdom of the team, and should never be imposed ahead of time, on indeed at any time.  People outside of the team are not the best positioned to know what the team requires.  Well-functioning, self-organized teams will request leaders as needed. pg. 26-27

I think my least favorite essay was “Riding a Dinosaur” where Tobias passionately objects with the Agile Alliance’s interactions with the Project Management Institute. I think the tone in this essay stands out in opposition to an overall theme of respect for people, and it conveys a lack of humility that I don’t care to see.

The PMI is an outmoded organization which represents and promotes, a particular way of working now known to be largely flawed in the context of software development.  That the PMI wants to change itself is good news.  That the PMI has an important message for scrum practitioners is unlikely. … Scrum, as I understand it – as I live it – has nothing to do with project management. pg.113

My favorite essays was “The Change Agent’s Blade is Thin and Keen.” It is Tobias’s reflection on a Taoist poem called “Cutting Up an Ox” from The Way of Chuang Tzu. The poem was absolutely fantastic and Tobias’s comments resonated with much of what I feel is at the core of good change agency.

Given the space, given trust, people will inevitably behave in the right way; it is in our natures to seek harmony. When the knife blade is “thin and keen,” it almost doesn’t hurt at all: it is invisible.  As coaches, perhaps all we need to do is pause, barely move the blade, and simply watch the barriers fall away.  That place of readiness will not be reached without time and trust, and there is much groundwork to be done to prepare the path. pg. 130

“The Spirit of Change” essay was another favorite of mine.  It reminded me a bit of the concepts in The Radical Leap Re-energized by Steve Faber.

This is what matters to me: engagement, love, passion, excitement, release, freedom, personal responsibility, courage, inquisitiveness, laughter, life – spirit!  No framework or process will give us spirit … Spirit comes from within, and it is actualized through service to something bigger than ourselves. pg.151.

I was not able to find Tobias’s old blog archives that the book is partly based on, but you can find Tobias Mayer’s new blog here.  He also has a Tumblr blog here for further conversation on The People’s Scrum.

One thought on “The People’s Scrum Book Review

  1. October 13, 2013 at 2:17 AM

    Hi Daniel. Thanks for the review. It is very thorough, and thoughtful—and challenging! I find I am forced to agree with you that “Riding a Dinosaur” lacks humility. It was written at a passionate time, more in anger and despair than in thoughtfulness and respect for difference. I let it stand as it was because it’s part of my journey. Also, because I still hold that sentiment today, only in (I hope) a more understanding way. Thank you for reading the book and taking the time to give it this much thought. I appreciate it.