Blowhard Watch: Most outrageous Scrum Claim yet from Scrum CoInventor


People familiar with Scrum, XP, and Agile know that proponents of these methodologies often make baseless and ludicrous claims while they shamelessly hype their products.

But even by these low standards, Jeff Sutherland goes over the top with his recent blog posting, “A Good ScrumMaster is Hard to Find”.

In this article, he is hyping two things:

1) Scrum in general

and 2) A “buddy” of his he is trying to find a job for.

The fact that he uses the #1 paragraph first to blindside his audience into not realizing it’s a sales pitch for #2 is egregious enough.

But how he does #1 is patently ridiculous. He states:

“Really good ScrumMasters are hard to find because they get promoted to VP of Engineering or head of a business unit or run off and start their own company. Why? The math is simple. As soon as someone demonstrates s/he gets twice the results of anyone else in the company, management starts the promotion process. Because they are experts in leading cross functional teams, they can take on anything in the company.” — Jeff Sutherland


Let’s look at the first sentence and replace ScrumMasters with $X:

“Really good $X are hard to find because they get promoted to VP of Engineering or head of a business unit or run off and start their own company. Why? The math is simple. As soon as someone demonstrates s/he gets twice the results of anyone else in the company, management starts the promotion process. Because they are experts in leading cross functional teams, they can take on anything in the company.

Is there any valid substitution for $X that makes this statement true? Engineer? Manager? As soon as somone demonstrates they get twice the results of anyone else in the company, now it’s fait accompli that management starts the promotion process? That is laughable.

And what about “twice the results” to begin with? Who says Scrum will give you twice the results? With slight-of-hand reminiscent of Uri Geller, Sutherland smoothly slides that in and dresses it up as if it’s been “shown” by math.

It’s wishful thinking but it isn’t a fact.

If someone substituted “Stanford MBA” for $X, and Stanford ran that ad, they would be sued in a heartbeat for blatantly false advertising, and those stanford MBA’s have a better chance than most of leading a business unit.

I won’t even bother with “Because they are experts in leading cross functional teams, they can take on anything in the company.” because that is ludicrous even to the casual observer. Now these ScrumMeisters are able to become CFO, CEO, any position in the company at all, ALL BECAUSE they got certified? Wow! Can the BBB please investigate them now?

The fact that Sutherland blithely throws out these steaming piles of wisdom, and has the gall to say “The math is simple” while giving NO supporting math AT ALL, shows that Scrum is indeed very simple.

It’s a Snake Oil Marketing Scam, with pyramidal “Certifications” merely to line the pockets of the founders, while they scream out huge promises that no credible person could possibly believe.

If you look at nearly the entire “Pro Agile” webring, with all the “many positive statements” about Scrum and XP, they almost ALL are invariably are selling “Scrum Certifications”, “XP Coaching” or some other way to make money from the “Agile Goldrush”.

Yet few people seem to notice that all these promises are coming from Salesmen — not impartial observers!

Next time you check out an “Pro Agile” website note what the site is selling — it will almost always be something.

Clearly everything stated by these Scrum, XP and Agile Salesmen must be taken with copious amounts of powdered NaCL, as they are wont to say whatever they think their gullible audience wants to hear.

In a future Blowhard Watch we will take a look at some other less than salient aspects of the Scrum marketing machine, but that’s all the stomach I have for today.

Sutherlands original article is here for your edification.

DISCLAIMER: All the statements in this article are MY OPINION ONLY, the conclusions the reader can draw for themselves. I have retained a copy of Jeff’s original article if it “changes” over time.

Software Maestro


About Software Maestro

Long time OOP Software Architect
This entry was posted in .NET, Agile, Business, Entrepreneurship, Management, Managers, Scrum, Software, Software Development, Startup, Startups, Thoughts about Agile/XP/SCRUM/Patterns, Venture Capital, XP. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Blowhard Watch: Most outrageous Scrum Claim yet from Scrum CoInventor

  1. martincron says:


    There is a distinction between what “Really Good Scrummasters” (what Sutherland said) and “Certified Scrummasters”. At best, they are an overlapping set. I did the Scrum certification and found it largely pointless. Not because the concepts are devoid of value, but because I already knew the stuff. Fortunately, I didn’t pay for it myself.

    Back to Jeff’s post. The traits that make a “really good scrummaster” are the same God-given (where God is a metaphor for explaining how some humans are just more capable than others) talents that make for strong thinking skills and good leadership. A “really good scrummaster” by that definition would get promoted, start his own company, whatever.

    I think that’s what Jeff is selling here. If you look at it through that lens, it’s still sort of blowhard-y, but it’s not as much about the product as about a person. Surely you’ve worked with people you would recommend highly?

    Re: results. I’m not selling anything (well, I guess I’m doing the same amount of self-promotion that any non-anonymous person does) and I can tell you that I’ve gotten feedback, post-agile implementation, that “we’ve gotten more done here in the last three months than we did all last year”.

    The guy who gave me that feedback was wrong though. We didn’t do much more, we just did more important things, because we had an iterative and incremental approach to designing and building software to add value. So yeah, we got more meaningful stuff done in three months than the previous team did in a year.

    It’s impossible, however, to decouple those results from the differences in God-given talents of the two teams. This is where I see “people over process” coming into play.

    Imagine the usual disclaimer about anecdotal evidence here. I live an anecdotal life and don’t have the ability to carry out large-scale development methodology research projects.

    Also, it’s not necessarily good to discount an idea just because someone is selling it. There are people who choose what to sell because they actually beleive in it. Markets form around ideas, not the other way around.

    Stay skeptical, of course, but don’t tar everyone with the same brush. There are plenty of “Agile Snake Oil” salesmen out there, but Sutherland isn’t one of them. He has shown with his work at PatientKeeper that he’s not all talk.

  2. Software Maestro says:


    I’m glad you found the Scrum Master training pointless. I’m not surprised.

    The fact is, “really good” at whatever, Scrum Mastering or not, is no guarantee of promotion. For starters, there would need to be room at the top of the chain to absorb such a promotion, and there would be money needed to pay for it.

    There are no such guarantees in life; making absolute statements that are easily provable to not be universally applicable is a sure way to destroying your credibility in this business.

    You yourself say that what saved your customer was an: “incremental and iterative approach”…

    Those ideas predate “Agile”, and they have nothing to do with the hype machine.

    They’ll postdate “Agile” too when it winds up in the dustbin of history.

    You got benefit out of the Soup, not out of the Soup Stone!

    So we agree here — the Soup Stone — “XP and all its practices, and Agile and all it’s Hype, and Scrum and all it’s nonsense” are meaningless.

    The core practice which is useful, which they haven’t copyrighted and rarely blithe upon, is the iterative and incremental approach.

    That’s all anyone should talk about — the rest is just profiteering and voodoo to make something simple mysterious and dogma ridden.

    Stop talking about Agile and start talking about Iterative — please!

    These blowhards have taken up too much bandwidth with their proprietary approaches when all they have to say when they are done with it is: “Customize it to suit your needs, after you’ve paid us for bogus Certifications and Coaching that aren’t applicable to your unique situations”.

    I also noticed your blog entry where you trot out a well flogged straw horse — that people like me “Just don’t get it”.

    Like we have a disease, or a mental shortcoming and don’t see the wisdom.

    That is not the case.

    I understand it very well. I understand that 99% of it is nonsense, and the 1% that is useful is not unique.

    I recognize a scam when I see one.

    Software Maestro

  3. martincron says:

    I’m just trying to get better at what I do by working to understand different mindsets. I’m not saying that you don’t get it. I don’t want this to be this argumentative or confrontational.

    Note, I’m not comparing anyone to Jar-Jar.

    I get it now. I see we were kind of talking past eachother. I care about the principles (iterative, incremental, respect for people, high-quality code, optimize the whole, emperical vs. defined) that you don’t seem to have a problem with.

    When you say that 99% is nonsense, you’re right. The snake-oil salesmen, opportunists, and overly-eager managers with unrealistic expectations about instantly doubling productivity. Those are the people who I labeled as “don’t get it”.

    So, if you mentally decouple all of that nonsense from the good stuff (which of course aren’t original or unique to Agile, as Agile was discovered, not invented) we’re almost totally aligned.

    Dust-bin of history? Bring it on! I look forward to the time when people make software using those principles and just call it “software development”

    I guess we’re both kind of post-agilists.

  4. Software Maestro says:

    I certainly don’t want to be confrontational either, and I’m glad that you aren’t implying that I don’t get it, but there are plenty of people who do make the assertion that “detractors” “don’t get it”.

    I had wanted to make a point of not naming names in this blog, but Sutherland’s post made it hard to do.

    As far as comparisons to Jar Jar, there is a fair amount misconception and conjecture about Jar Jar and why i used him as a character, and at some point I’ll make a “making of Scrum Master Jar Jar” blog post to explain it all.

    In the meantime I want people to read more of my postings than just Jar Jar so I’ll wait a bit on that.

    Things like iterative development, Unit Testing, I was doing long before they were published.

    I’m sure others were also doing them long before they were published…

    Then there is a cartload of nonsense on top of that and how the tests should be first, the tests should be on top, ruby should be there because Fowler likes it and because you can redefine base classes, even if that’s not important for 99.99% of applications….

    You’re right if you strip it all away it’s just “software development”.

    And talking about that would be great.

    And that’s why the hype machine is there — because there is no money in that.

    I would still call myself a pre-agilist or non-agilist.

    I was never punk or hip hop so I’m definitely not post hip-hop….

    Maybe a Roots Developer πŸ™‚

    You did say my blog was “good” albeit “inflammatory” —

    It may seem inflammatory, but it takes a hot knife to cut through a huge wad of bs. With Jar Jar, I did it with a little more humor than in this one.

    If the Agile Money Machine could finally shut up and stop their unyielding marketing efforts, I’d love to find other things to write about.

    Software Maestro

  5. Kevin S. says:

    To put in my two cents… I find that the best folks in the agile movement are not the one’s that teach classes or certify others… but are the consultants that come in and work on your team as a member, create code, and in the process lead by example in the agile principles (be it scrum, XP, crystal, whatever). Having worked with both ObjectMentor and Thoughtworks, I know there are good agile folks that make money selling these packages of common sense software development. To teach others something, you have to give it a name and tell a story. I can’t argue with the stupidity of vague wand-waving that leads to magical certification and unknown new powers (even though I got certified since it makes my resume look better)… but I do know the power of working with someone who knows how to do it.

    My main point? Some people do sell the agile package when really it is about common sense, but I can’t tell you how helpful that is when half of your software company seems to have lost focus on common sense.

  6. Software Maestro says:

    Yes of course — any company ready to blow $1700 on a voodoo certification has certainly lost all semblance of common sense.

    So they’ve identified a mark.

    Now they hold their hand and the mark believes they couldn’t have been successful without them.

    It’s far easier to sell product, especially placebo product, to fools than it is to sell it to higher end customers.

    But that doesn’t mean that just because they are fools that it’s overall a good thing to send them to Camp Bhagwan Ragneeshi..

    Software Maestro

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  8. Fregas says:

    Software Maestro:

    I’m glad your site exists, because while I don’t always agree with your conclusions, I think its good that someone questions the “marketing machine” that you so dislike.

    That being said, I think that perhaps there is some benefit, even to the snake oil salesmen. The very fact that Scrum, XP and other Agile processes are getting a lot of hype, means that some developers are paying attention to things like unit testing, maintainable code, iterative processes, and self-organizing teams. Even if this is only the 1% of value thats in Agile, it is SO FREACKING HARD to find developers and managers who care about any of it, that ANY hype is welcome. If some of that will sink in to the development and management community, things will be better. An agile process AT THE VERY LEAST gives these people somewhere to start and some important principles to value.

  9. Software Maestro says:

    Well I think that starting with “Agile” as a baseline also fills their head with a lot of stuff that is harmful too.

    I really wish people would promote Iterative and not agile and seperate the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

    Maybe I’ll make some generic Iterative blog postings that people can refer to that are hype free and 100% organic….

    But been a bit pressed for time but it’s on my agenda…

    In the meantime urge everyone to promote Iterative, and not Agile;

    If say the Scientologists said that everyone should diet, and you think dieting is good, then I think it makes sense to promote dieting and not Scientology…

    Software Maestro

  10. Stunning affair, didn’t thought this was going to be so interesting when I saw your link!

  11. Linus Dalin says:

    I guess this is a very old thread, but it is too good to leave out… πŸ™‚

    I have been working successfully with Scrum as a Product Owner for many years, and one of my strong positions is that Scrum must be drivent throughout the organization.

    The Scrum Master Jar Jar analogy is more a sign of a problem with the organization. Not implemented correctly, all frameworks or methodologies stand the chance to fail.

    If the developers think that the morgning scrum is to “inform” the scrummaster on what they are doing, there is a long way to go, and most probably the “Scrum Master Jar Jar” is simply a renamed pointy haired project manager in an organization that is quite far from working with Scrum.

    In a real implementation of Scrum this would never happen. The scrum master is an integrated part of the team, responsible for the efficiency and the release or demo. He is NEVER a Jar Jar character πŸ™‚


    • Software Maestro says:


      So, what then would you say is “supposed” to happen at these Daily Scrums if not “Inform” the ScrumMaster/Other team members of their daily situation?


  12. HM says:

    Just found your website and this article. I agree with you about the agile being a ripoff of the iterative process with some charts and voodoo thrown in.

    I also agree with one of the other commenters that mentioned that testing, maintainable code, and documentation aren’t valued by management or some developers.

    However, at my last job, having Agile didn’t improve the documentation, the code base or get buy in for such things.

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