Credit’s Due: Ken Schwaber

Aug 8, 2015

For those of you who don’t know Ken Schwaber is the co-creator of Scrum, an Agile framework. He is also the founder of Scrum.org. My introduction to Agile and Scrum led me to a class taught by Ken, and I never looked back.

2007

In 2007 I moved to Atlanta, Georgia after leaving a job I held for six with an organization I still respect a great deal. When I left a colleague said, “I admire your courage.” My response was, “You know, there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity.”

During this time I stumbled into a freelance web development gig converting a University Department’s website from 1500 individual [HTML] pages to a database-driven content management system.1 This project was difficult for a lot of reasons, but mainly three: the original developer wasn’t what one would call a people person, the content management system was a ball of spaghetti-code (see Sean Parent), and I couldn’t speak to the client.

After a frustrating start, I decided to make the ask of the project manager: Can I actually talk to the client?

When I got on the phone with the client I told him I was recognizing some problems.

  1. All of these one-off requests and emails are getting lost in the shuffle, which isn’t good. How about we save all those for Friday and you only contact me during the week if something is completely broken?
  2. The queue is getting pretty big and it’s becoming difficult for me to prioritize things and deliver what you want and not what you don’t. So, one Monday, can we get together with the integrated list, and reprioritize things for the coming week?
  3. You all have spent a lot of time designing the look-and-feel but not a lot on the user experience of the back-end and administration. Unfortunately, this has put us behind the curve quite a bit. So, on Fridays I also want to start demonstrating the back-end and the front-end to you so you can train your staff on how to use the system. What do you say?

The conversation involved a lot of other things, but everything was agreed to, and I had unknowingly implemented Scrum on our project.

I did end up throwing out the original content management framework after crunching the learning curve numbers against a framework I had been developing and all the bugs I was running into with the original. After a year or so, with mostly one developer (me), we went live with a minimal viable product. A few months later, we received the final check.

I took this methodology and content management system to two other clients and was able to accomplish my mission at the time of making myself obsolete to my clients; accepting the good and bad that came with it.

2011

In early 2011 I was hired by a consulting firm on a government contract. I started working on Time Journal and the Android developer and I started Scrum-but…and it didn’t suck. I eventually moved to a user experience expert role in the firm on an internal project using Scrum, which was kind of painful. None of us had formal training, and something about the way it was working out didn’t seem right—seemed mechanical and dead. So, I started looking into Scrum.

Read the Agile Manifesto. Read the Scrum Guide (often). Read Leading Lean Software Development. Watched video, after video, after video. Started trying to talk with the team about stuff I thought we were doing that could be improved. Long story short, company was bought, and I hit the streets in one of the waves. No hard feelings and went back a year later under the new owners.

But, I had an itch that needed to be scratched. Agile was flowing through my veins. And Scrum just made sense—because I had come to the realization on my own—I remember something about Socrates and self-insight being much stronger than being told something.

2013

After a year of working very long hours at another company, I returned to the consulting firm, and signed up for a Professional Scrum Master course put on by Ken Schwaber himself. The company I worked for didn’t real seem that interested in Agile at the time; so, I just went on my own, it felt like something I had to do.

While there I asked Ken about the Professional Scrum Master Level II examination, and if there were any tips he could share.2 His response was beautiful: Most people mess up on the essays. They see them as a way to show how brilliant they are, but it’s about describing how you will get the team to show how brilliant they are.

At that point I was hooked, but the universe wasn’t pulling me there yet. I’m a big proponent of not forcing things and letting things marinate.

2014

Started 8fold Productivity as a legal entity. Spent a year setting things up for it—lots of new requirements I had no need to consider when freelancing.

2015

I went to the Agile Bootcamp put on the Agile Coaching Institute.3 It was there that I really decided that these were my kind of people. I’m a hardcore introvert and it takes me a while to decide if I’m going to allow myself to be associated with a whole group of people.4 So, when I saw Scrum.org was putting on a class for Scaled Scrum, I bought a ticket.

Being in the room was intimidating with folks from Cisco and Oracle and other large companies, and here I am from my tiny personal company. But, there was no class war feelings—just passionate people trying to help our teams do better.

This encounter only helped galvanize my desire to participate. Ken is a very down-to-Earth person and completely approachable in my experience. As the co-creator of Scrum, he has definitely had a huge impact on me and my future professional goals.


  1. I think they’re still using the original code in fact. But we didn’t have the resources we have now—at least that I was aware of anyway; so, it’s kind of a scary thought if they are still using it. return to text

  2. I’m not a big certification person, but the organizations I work for are; so, until I get enough experience to write my own ticket, I decided to make sure to choose my courses deliberately, my trainers even more deliberately, and get the certifications as icing to that cake. return to text

  3. Lyssa Adkins, Michael Spayde, and Michael Hamman are wonderful people and coaches, and will be giving credit there as well I’m sure. return to text

  4. There’s a longer story there, but it will definitely go too far down the psychoanalysis path for this writing. Suffice it to say, I usually stick with Grouch Marx who said: I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member. return to text

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