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Scrum won out because it was waterfall in disguise. Commitments and sprints become terribly destructive over time.



Waterfall was coined by a paper discussing why waterfall wasn't a good way to do software projects.

You aren't wrong, either. I found Scrum to be a series of waterfalls that weren't well thought out. "Iterative Design" essentially meant, "We aren't sure what the button should do exactly, but we know we need it there and it kinda has to do this and we'll figure the rest out for the next iteration."

That caused so many problems with tech debt.

Stories began to take longer due to the increasingly large and discombobulated code base, but the expectation was that we continue to deliver the same number of story points each sprint.

Then we got blasted for losing pace. "Why are you under-performing? We are just adding little features. You've already implemented this button on another form before? Why does it take longer the second time? You already know how to do it!"

It became absurd and no one could hear or understand what was happening was easily predictable and in fact -- was predicted by several members of the team many months prior.

When the project management was informed of these predictions now having come true, the development team was accused of intentionally causing the delays.


This mirrors my experiences to a tee.

The most upsetting experience in my career thus far was being belittled by an incompetent project manager.

"How could it possibly take that long? How do you not know how long it will take?"

The happiest times of my career have been when we're lacking a PM -- coincidentally the most successful!


> "How could it possibly take that long? How do you not know how long it will take?"

Well, if they really said that, you can just dismiss the comment as incompetent. A witty retort may be in order if a non-technical manager is in earshot, e.g.:

"How long would it take for you to earn a green belt in karate?"

"Hmm, what does a green belt entail?"

"Exactly, you don't even know what you don't know, yet."


They did, and I replied

"We don't know because we've never done this before, and we can only compare to the most similar work we've done, and any existing data."

Before I could say more, they I interrupted: "You have to know, it's your job, or you don't know what your doing," or something along those lines. It was the most heated I've felt. I know what I'd reply with today, but I was younger and more naive then.


I commented above that the initial questioning was fine.

> "or you don't know what your doing,"

That though was unprofessional, and should be addressed as such.


What would you reply today?


"Yeah, well I had sex with your wife!"

Or just offer over-inflated estimates since they won't accept something realistic anyway.


Not OP, but I will answer with the second option and ask him what I should do?


> A witty retort may be in order

I don't think this will score you a lot of points.


Depends. Are we talking self-esteem/dignity points, or good doggie/loyalty points?


I'd guess career-progression points, or even keep-getting-a-paycheck points at worst.


This low-stakes exchange won't affect much, it's about putting Mr. Incomp in his place. Remember it's a PM we're talking about, not "the Boss."


Best PM I ever had dropped by every week or so to ask if we needed anything.


That's what the best ones do.


In these situations I shift the conversation to what is the PM really after. I explain that I can tell them any estimate they want (or they can make it up on their own - no need to even discuss), but does that really do them any good when it is missed? There is usually some pushback at first, but when items are delivered within estimate a few times in a row they realize it's better to take whatever hit up front than it is to miss and adjust.

Also, someone asking how could something take so long is not a belittling question. I don't see any problem with either question.


Personally I believe this is one of the major gaps in Scrum, and there is no prescripted way to solve this problem. XP's focus on technical aspects is much better in this regard, but the possibility of runaway technical debt still exists.

There are so many places where this can sneak in and become an issue, too:

- The development team can groupthink, underestimate and/or fail to account for technical debt payback in planning poker. They may estimate the cost for the new feature, but not include any time for refactoring to keep the codebase healthy

- The Scrum Master may not shield the development team from pressure to deliver coming from the product owner, which may cause the team to cut the above corners

- Codebase health may be split out from vertical stories into its own tasks that get deprioritised by the product owner

- Even if the development team identifies the need for codebase health, this may not be communicated back to the product owner in a way that makes business sense ("but we can still get this feature out the door quickly and fix the mess later, right?" - yes, once or twice, but the downside is a slowing of velocity)

- Even if the team started well with ground rules the Scrum Master is supposed to enforce surrounding technical quality, the Scrum Master may not be effective in enforcing the process - either because they lack authority or because they lack the ability or knowledge to do so

Among several others.

In your situation, the big red flag is that the team predicted the issue many months prior. The process has failed to extract that information from the team members and deliver a consensus between them and the product owner.

Though ultimately, as with any project, if the product owner has more organisational authority than the development team and chooses to exert this authority, no process will be able to save you.


It's easy to say something is shit.

The tricky bit is having a solution and implementing it.

Having something well thought out is hard work. Is hard work rewarded? Is initiative to even try rewarded? I'd say the answer is no.

The answer becomes yes in small teams that are given time, freedom and resources, or in times of crisis (same thing as small team really, minus the time bit), as far as I can tell. Otherwise, most people's natural tendency (including me) is to phone it in. We'd be wise to let people in software development and many other professions that are not manual labor, to switch careers after 30-35 if they haven't done anything worthwhile by then.

Working with people who have to phone it in for the next 30 years and know it is modern day hell for anyone with an iota of ability.

It's permanent compromise and insincerity, or being an outcast that's temporarily tolerated for doing 5-10x the work of the person next to you.


Because Tech debt and I reading messy code base never happened in waterfall...

The problem is always : features and customer request over bug fixing or design fixes.

The system, project type does not matter. That's why some PO recommend 10 percent allocation to devops / ops, 10 percent to improving code base . And "no bug survives the Sprint" philosophy. And what is left,is you next feature or customer request.


For every example of scrum operating badly there are examples of scrum working well. The common denominator in all of those situations - good and bad - is the project and middle/upper management.


In business process analysis, when a process is dependent on individual people, you don't have a mature process but an ad hoc process.

In other words, Scrum methodology in itself is not mature as a methodology and depends on individual fiat, just like any project that doesn't have any process at all.

The only tangible benefit to Scrum might be paying lip service to development departments while firmly retaining the status quo.


Scrum is no more or less dependant on individual people as any other methodology.

The rest of your post is just warping your initial conjecture to arrive at conclusions you'd already decided upon. I neither agree with those conclusions nor the chain of twisted logic you used to arrive that.

I'm not going to stand on a soapbox and sing for the glory of scrums. People - like yourself it seems - can get very tribal when talking about such things. Which is as weird to read as it is pointless for you to argue. In my experience leading different teams using different methodologies, the thing that really makes the big noticeable impact is people and not methodologies. If you work in a blame culture or have colleagues in your team who don't follow process - then whatever process you put in place will be undermined at every opportunity regardless of it's methodology. However if you work in an environment where people respect one another and want to collaborate in getting work done, then you pick a methodology that works best for the day to day work (eg project work or support operations) and for the way people like their work organised. All the rest of the arguments are superfluous.


> good and bad - is the project and middle/upper management.

Yep. People do not realize that the whole company has to adopt agile/scrum for it to work. It's a shift that many companies can not or will not make. They are tied to fixed deadline, fixed scope for various reasons.


I mostly agree with you but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the whole company has to adopt it. However you do certainly need the support from the wider company. I’ve seen scrum work really well despite waterfall being the predominant methodology in that business - there people were happy to embrace the preferred working styles of whichever team they had to liaise with. I’ve also worked in places where scrum failed badly despite the CEO pushing for it. Those places usually suffered from a blame culture that was also the CEOs doing and that blame culture meant that everyone was spending their time working against the best interest of any of the other teams. By “teams” I mean project managers, sales guys, support or operations teams (if they differ from your developers and/or DevOps), finance staff, directors/upper management and even your own paying clients (if you’re a hired service) etc.

I’ve noticed comments for and against scrum are often so focused on the technical aspects of the methodology that they overlook the human aspect. Which matters more in my opinion.


Scrum is iterated waterfall. By iterating faster, inaccurate estimation is shown up sooner. On the other hand, developers are treated like cogs in a feature factory, munching through backlog items fed to them by product managers.

I think it works well enough, for a few years. I don't think it's sustainable - the blinkers of "sprints" encourage growth of tech debt because nobody has an eye on the future and Product won't prioritize refactorings, and sprints are too short for devs to sneak refactoring into the schedule.


> Scrum is iterated waterfall.

No, it isn't. Iterated waterfall is at least as old as the first paper discussing waterfall, but while scrum mandates interations, it doesn't mandate much about how work is done in the iterations, and specifically does not mandate the process steps associated with waterfall; further, it emphatically rejects the role separations and handoffs associated with waterfall during the iterations.

> munching through backlog items fed to them by product managers.

That's...not actually Scrum, as it implies that either the role of Product Owner is taken by a PM outside of the Scrum Team or that that the Scrum Team is not self-organizing, either of which is a significant (even if common) deviation from Scrum.

> the blinkers of "sprints" encourage growth of tech debt because nobody has an eye on the future

Tech debt should manifest in reduced velocity which should be noticed, taken as a signal of a process defect, and addressed in the Scrub Team’s various inspection and process adjustment points.

OTOH, if the Scrum Team is properly cross-functional and self-organizing instead of having a non-team-member imposed as Product Owner, then including appropriate restarting as components of completion of relevant backlog items shouldn't be a problem.


You can scream "That's not actually Scrum" untill the day you die. It doesn't change the fact that that's how it is perceived and done in almost every place that says they do Scrum.


A sibling comment to yours made essentially the same point, and I had already addressed it, before you posted your comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20020206


What percentage of Scrum teams do you believe are "properly cross-functional and self-organizing"? And could you point me to examples of people losing their Scrum certifications for not living up to that standard?


> What percentage of Scrum teams do you believe are "properly cross-functional and self-organizing"?

About the same percentage as that of “Agile” software development shops that put people and interactions above processes and tools.

OTOH, at any place that is considering implementing either, there are decision makers who can influence (or in the case of Scrum more than Agile, authoritatively direct) whether or not that's the case, so for them, at least, it's worth distinguishing between problems with Scrum as prescribed and problems which often occur because decision-makers decided to ignore key parts of Scrum-as-prescribed.


Most nominally "Agile" shops are in effect doing Scrum, so I'm not sure that answer helps your case. Either way, it sounds like we agree the "good Scrum" shop is at best rare.

Given that, I think it's worth considering that the problem is Scrum. Especially given that Scrum is not just a process, but an organization and an army of "certified" people that sell services.

When something generally doesn't work for its stated purpose but keeps making money, I think it's worth asking what its real purpose is. E.g., things like crystals and psychics. As Eric Hoffer wrote, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”


> Most nominally "Agile" shops are in effect doing Scrum

No, most nominally Agile shops are also nominally doing Scrum, but actually doing not-Scrum in a not-Agile context, largely due to sabotage of both core principles of Agile and foundational elements of Scrum by management.

It doesn't matter what name and superficial ritual you put on the process if it's all window dressing over top-down disempowering command-and-control by persons who are neither doing the work nor experts on the work.

Which isn't to say that the Agile and Scrum bodies of work aren't part of the problem: neither really addresses as a key point how the team effectuates ownership of process and how interaction with management works, which means those gaps get filled in (or rendered moot, in the first case) in ways which compromise what those bodies of work do prescribe because.

Lean, which comes from basically the same perspective (while they don't cite exactly the same values as expressed in the Agile Manifesto, being Lean essentially implies being Agile and vice versa) and is a good body of knowledge to draw from alongside Agile, is better in this regard, and so places nominally drawing on Lean seen to be more likely to be doing what they say, because Lean doesn't leave as much of the core vital parts without good guidance.


This is the great con of scrum certification — you can always point to some team and say “well that’s not the official version of scrum”


Which is a really impressive con. Generally the point of certification is to make clear you're getting the official version. E.g., doctors and lawyers self-police because they know it's harmful to have quacks running loose. But somehow Scrum has been able to keep making money despite not bothering with that.


This. I've run programs that purport to be agile but the work input stream was waterfall and disconnected from the means of output so it was really timeboxed waterfall, unfortunately my management did not agree to re label. You know it is real Scrum if it is painful for the business team and they come to realise that now it's software all the way down.


> Tech debt should manifest in reduced velocity which should be noticed, taken as a signal of a process defect, and addressed in the Scrub Team’s various inspection and process adjustment points.

This process adjustment usually means "sorry about your vacation" and/or "you aren't doing enough overtime".


Yes, if external actors rather than the self-organizing teams own the process, that is probably the first response, but that won't actually stop the buildup of tech debt and the velocity impacts, though it may produce a one-time, non-repeatable improvement, so even in that case if someone (even the wrong actor) is monitoring velocity and doing process improvement, there will be an impetus for further change.

(Of course, if the wrong actor is monitoring velocity and controlling process, then the team has an incentive to mask the effect of tech debt but continuously adjusting estimates to maintain the illusion of constant velocity, a d avoid the first bad response, or, if that opportunity is missed, to avoid the subsequent external interventions.


>I think it works well enough, for a few years.

"Fortunately," hardly anyone in Silicon Valley plans to be working on the same codebase in a few years. There's a good chance the problem space won't be relevant anymore by then, and on the off chance it's still funded, the new team will rewrite it whether or not it's good.

>sprints are too short for devs to sneak refactoring into the schedule.

As I've gotten more senior, I've just gotten more brazen about doing this less sneakily.


Is the Silicon Valley representative of software development though ? Because on the other hand we have professors telling us that the average (surviving?) software lifetime is 20 years...


This is just intuition but I suspect that the lifetime for software is u shaped. Much of it is very short lived but software that lasts more than 1-2 years is very likely to live for a decade or more.

A lot of 6 month old code gets thrown away either because its been rewritten or because it didn't achieve its stated objective. Meanwhile a bunch of companies are relying on systems that were first created in the 90s because that software achieves its objectives and the cost justification for a rewrite isn't there.


There are many 20 years and older code bases currently. But if you start a new code base today it might get rewritten many times in the next few years because software users no longer have the power to stay on an old version due to the SaaS paradigm.


The biggest problem with Scrum is it lacks any sort of design phase. You do the minimum. Oh, it doesn't work quite right? We'll fix it in the next sprint...

The "spiral" model is closer to a true iterated waterfall. I've seen it used successfully in more mature companies.


It's like "build one to throw away", in that the goal is to rapidly explore the feature space and discover useful features, but what actually happens is that it's a trap and you won't throw away something that works no matter how poorly implemented.


absolutely. If you ever see a group afraid to produce a prototype, it's because they're afraid management will try to ship it as a final product.

The effective strategy is to build an oblique, fatally limited prototype, which can not possibly be mistaken for a shippable product. The bad prototype can only be used to test the hardest parts of an idea and must have major holes in it with no way of filling them. It should also have a largely fixed timeline to ensure it is put to bed before it gets "hamstered" into the shipping product.


absolutely. If you ever see a group afraid to produce a prototype, it's because they're afraid management will try to ship it as a final product.

I once had a manager who, on the subject of upper management wanting to ship the prototype, would say “the difference between dev and prod is one letter.”


You're confusing "investing in design" with "having a design phase". I agree many Agile teams underinvest in design. But so do many non-Agile teams. The problem isn't the lack of a formal phase. The problem is not taking it seriously.


You get what you measure and Scrum has no measure at all for design. I’m now curious to see some projects that Ken Schwaber worked on.


I'm certainly not defending Scrum. But I think one of Scrum's big problems is relying on proximate measures rather than actual results. It values output much more than outcome. So I think the way to get good design isn't to try to measure design. It's to release early and often, making sure that products fulfill their purpose.


I think our whole industry is full of proxies for the things we actually care about, which is for instance why we rant so often about the hiring process.

For another example, look at what we talk about with Clean Code or SOLID principles. We have that old joke about the two hardest things are naming things, cache invalidation and off by one errors. I think the fourth hardest one is resolving merge conflicts.

You work carefully on code for weeks or months and then in one fell swoop it all gets broken when you aren't looking at it anymore. It's really bad for morale.

If you read through all of these Best Practices with the notion that merge conflicts are dangerous, then you start to see them as designed to keep conflicts from happening. Putting related code together isn't just about reading comprehension. It's also about keeping unrelated code apart. You and I can work on unrelated stories without ever doing a 3 way merge.

And if you look at merges as the problem, you start doing things like alphabetizing data structures that don't have a strong cohesiveness to them because then when you and I add a feature to the same data structure, we aren't both modifying the bottom of the file. I put something under T and you put it under G.

To put this another way, if in some perfect future someone invented a merge tool that never screws up, so that we only get merge conflicts when two people are accidentally working on the same feature/bug, we might start to question all of these practices as overwrought.


Yes, you're correct... I didn't mean a "formal" phase, so much.


I completely agree here. Instead of understanding the volatility of the requirement(s) and designing for that, we refactor and react.


It doesn't lack a design phase. Where do you get this information from? It isn't explicitly prescribed, but no one prohibits you to make designs.


Experience. I've been developing software for 20+ years. In practice, due to the nature of agile / scrum, design is very minimal or thrown out the window entirely. It encourages short term thinking. Rarely is anything beyond the "current sprint" considered.


I was explicitly told not to write unit tests because they took too much time, which required me to spend entire days retesting almost 100 scenarios when the business logic changed.

Of course the business didn't know all the scenarios at the beginning of the feature development and didn't care because: iterative development means we'll figure it out later.


All straight out of the TDD playbook.

A lot of devs trap themselves by insisting they can write the tests after. Once managers know the code exists they want to use it, or move on to the next thing people are breathing down their necks for. And code written without tests is difficult to test so becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

In fact it’s such a reliable mechanism for self sabotage that I look at carefully at people who bring this on themselves and try to figure out if it’s naïveté, learned helplessness, or malice.


As you've discovered, good automated testing is mandatory for iterative development. If execs tell you to do something unprofessional, it's ok to say no. Indeed, if we're going to think of ourselves as professionals, I think it's mandatory.


> if we're going to think of ourselves as professionals

We need to unify around these principles, possibly revoke memberships for unprofessional behavior. One dev getting himself fired changes nothing..


I'd love to see that kind of organizing happen.

But one developer quitting rather than do bad work does change something. At the very least, it means that the developer can find another, better job. But it's also an opportunity for companies to learn. And for those who don't, good people refusing to prop up bad companies is a step forward.

I'd also add there's a a lot that can happen between refusing to do bad work and quitting/getting fired. Saying no is the beginning of a negotiation. A negotiation that won't happen if we just say yes all the time.


Scrum is unsuited to actually building a decent framework for you application.

We tend towards 4 or 5 sprints in which nothing is completed, only to suddenly have a flood of completed things the next.


Then that's not an Agile process. That sounds more like mini-waterfall.

It's perfectly possible to deliver small units of work weekly. One still gets frameworks while doing that. It's just that the work of making the framework happens over time, not up front. Which is good, because good designs are based on good information, and the beginning of the project is when you have the least information.


I love these commitments. When my Scrum leaders asks me why we didn’t finish what we ‘committed’ to doing these two weeks I want to strangle him (nothing personal, I do otherwise like the guy :P).

The terminology is so incredibly developer hostile.


Which is why the scrum handbook went with the term forecast instead. Many years ago.


I agree. The last "waterfall" company I worked for was Novell. In my opinion, all the Novells of the world glommed onto Scrum because it was shiny and new and allowed them to call all their bloated and unnecessary project managers "Scrum Masters" and all their wasteful status meetings "Stand-ups." It was just the same old garbage with a different name, but hey, We're Scrumming!


Waterfall with little or no modelling. If you write the wrong system, you are left with nothing. With waterfall you could at least start over with your design artefacts.


Scrum wins out at companies that did not exist in the waterfall era, staffed by developers and engineering managers who have only ever worked in startups. Similarity to existing process may explain a large part of the adoption in places that had existing process, but a lot of Scrum shops didn't.


Scrumfall is, sadly, widespread


> Commitments and sprints become terribly destructive over time.

Could you elaborate?


You're asked to deliver a feature that would take 4 weeks to implement without tech debt in two weeks. This requires sacrifices like ensuring network connections remain alive, handling exceptions, optimizing queries, abstracting functions for re-use, handling all the data input scenarios, etc.

This creates a confusing code-base with lots of IF statements, copy/pasted code, data modifications from several areas of the system, etc.

You'll fix a problem with data getting into the database incorrectly and realize a couple sprints later, fixing that bug caused other bugs elsewhere.

Automated testing doesn't catch it because automated testing only handled certain scenarios.

It's a mess.


>You're asked to deliver a feature that would take 4 weeks to implement without tech debt in two weeks.

Well there's your problem. How is that inherent to scrum?


Because it's a sprint. You've got a finish line and you're racing towards it. Businesses don't function without prediction, and refactoring gets cut before roadmapped features. If feature development is a bottleneck in company growth, debt will grow, quickly.


“Sprints” are, pretty much by definition, a non-sustainable pace.


Agreed. I regularly ask "Why are we running a marathon in a thousand sprints?".

Besides tech debt, a concern I have that I don't see brought up is burn out. With Scrum, every action you perform is micromanaged and with a push for "high velocity". There is no proverbial breathing room in this where the pressure lets up. At least with waterfall (for how we did it before Scrum), the windows of high pressure times were shorter. During the beginning of our 6 month waterfall, in parallel to spec work we'd be taking care of tech debt or implementing our pet feature and it was a time of mental recovery.


imho a problem with the implementation of SCRUM, but not necessarily restricted to SCRUM.

In a perfect SCRUM world you could not be forced to implement this in a time not of your own estimate. A feature that is so big that it takes more than a few days to implement has to be split...but well we all know how this plays our in reality most of the times...


>You're asked to deliver a feature that would take 4 weeks to implement without tech debt in two weeks.

There is something odd with this, if you did the estimation. Shouldn't the story points/sizing/estimates preclude this?

Doesn't the team pick the items for the sprint that they think they can complete?


You can never take a 4 week story in a two week sprint. When would you ever be able to complete it?


By breaking it down into smaller stories?


My experience shows that proper testing and documentation is the first thing that management wants taken out of the story, often with the excuse "We can handle that in a later sprint." But since your life is a neverending series of sprints (note: that's actually an ultramarathon), and management gets to pick priorities, you may never return to the technical debt.


I have not worked in a scrum environment in a couple of years, but when we did it those items were not included in the story. They were part of a definition of done that the team did not really talk about publicly.

Refactoring stories were also rare, it was just sort implicit in the task, unspoken as part of doing it.

I'd imagine that is why they did not get cut.

But yes, management picked feature priorities, but left the implementation up to the team. So at any given time were were working on the "most important" thing from a business perspective.


The most successful (but still crappy) solution to this that I have seen is developers undertaking guerilla tech debt work. This can be done by bundling maintenance work into an existing task where the two are actually not that related or by simply carving out bits of time between official tasks.

While it "works" it is certainly not ideal that people have to go off the reservation to ensure that the project doesn't implode in the future due to the accumulation of buggy code, performance problems and likely security vulnerabilities.


> proper testing and documentation is the first thing that management wants taken out of the story

That's not breaking down a story into smaller stories though, that's simply not doing some of the tasks necessary for a story to be complete. "Story" is not a synonym for "task"; a story is user-centric not about internals. "Write the documentation for this feature" is not a story and "write the tests for this feature" is not a story, they should be part of your definition of "done".


That would be ideal, but we are devs, we don’t get to touch the stories other than to mark them as done...


You're not doing Scrum then. One of the few meetings that Scrum dictates is "backlog refinement" where the dev team works with the PO to get the stories into a workable state.


Yeah, we do waterfall and scrum with the worst of both.


If you can't touch the stories, you can ask whoever does to break it down. If they don't then you shouldn't ever pick it up into your sprint. If they insist and it doesn't work out then you should call out the incident in your retrospective and hopefully get everyone to agree to do things differently in the future.


Sadly, it’s more like the dev team points out that we really cannot work with these stories then management telling us to deal with it while the BA’s suck their teeth.

Then they ask us why there isn’t any progress.





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