The End of Kurt Cagle: Or At Least the End of his Movie Studio Model.

Disclaimer Up Front:  I have been “Crazy” about Scrum since I first learned about it, and I myself have been known to act a little “Crazy” at times in my life, and this is why my blog and company operate under the “ScrumCrazy” brand.  That, and in the world of SEO, it’s easier for people to find my articles if they put the word “Crazy” in their search engine queries along with the word “Scrum”.  While I was personally interviewed, trained, and certified as a trainer by the co creator of Scrum, Ken Schwaber, (through his valiant organization,, none of what I say below is me speaking on behalf of Ken,, or anyone else.  For those who don’t know, Ken was also an Agile Manifesto signer and one of the chief visionaries of that artifact(I was told this by others, not Ken).    But having said all of that, These are my own thoughts and opinions, and are not endorsed by anyone but me.

(The title of this article is a play on words from Kurt’s first article.  I do not wish any type of “end” whatsoever to Kurt Cagle. )

In Kurt’s first article, he does a great job on three fronts:

  1.  He does a wonderful job of setting up a straw man argument against Scrum… oh wait, more like a straw man argument against “not Scrum,” as we trainers sometimes like to call it.  The experiences he describe are 100% clearly of people who don’t understand Scrum or the Agile Manifesto in any meaningful way.  They are doing what Martin Fowler calls “faux Agile,” as Scott Heffield so politely put it in his pretty good but oh so polite rebuttal.  The only thing I can add to Scott’s rebuttal is that we Trainer/Coaches see this archetype in industry often — someone experiences “faux Scrum”, and assumes that was real Scrum, or even professional Scrum.  I don’t know Kurt, but usually this archetype of a person never bothers to crack one of the leading Scrum books or goes to get a good certification class in Scrum or goes to a good Scrum conference– they would rather just criticize from the cheap seats without doing any sort of deep dive.  Maybe that’s Kurt maybe it’s not — I’m only speaking to the archetype, not to Kurt personally.  I’ll let him explain his credible or not so credible learning journey on Scrum prior to his first article.
  2. The other thing his first article does well is that at the end of it, in one of the edits, he realizes that Scrum and Agile are not quite the same thing, but then he makes the argument that at many organizations, they are synonymous.  He is partially right about that, for reasons I will expound upon later below.  But here’s the thing, anyone who comes to my 2 day Scrum classes learns the difference between Agile and Scrum on day one, so here is another data point that tells me he likely has not done his homework on Agile and Scrum — and that’s fine, he’s on a learning journey, and all of the inbound traffic he has gotten after the first article will get him up to speed pretty quickly.
  3. He does a great job on getting 300K hits.  Does this speak to motive?  What is he hawking in his non journalism job?  Is it a “studio model” perhaps to replace Agile? Is this a sales pitch for his non journalism work? Speaking of motive, one could make similar arguments about me.  Is Charles trying to promote his Scrum classes?  Is he trying to “piggyback” on 300K likes so that Charles will get more than the 16.5 blog readers he currently has?  Fair arguments, but I can tall you first hand I’m not doing it for those reasons (but I’ll happily accept 1.5 more blog readers or anyone who wants to request a Scrum class)  🙂

In Kurt’s 2nd article, he does basically two things:

  1. He pitches his “movie studio model”, and
  2. He tries to bash Agile (or is it Scrum?) some more.

I’ll take on the 2nd thing first just a bit, because honestly, I almost agree with him on #1, but more about that later.  Skip down below to “Movie Studio Model” if you want to see that next.

In trying to sideways bash Agile, he says

  1. Vision Is Critical. …(e.g., software) ultimately is the reflection of one person’s vision. That person is the one who determines the boundary of the work…but that particular person ultimately is responsible for both the initial direction and design of the project, and in many respects is also responsible for ensuring that the resulting product reflects the best potential product it can…”
    1. Hmm.  He pretty much described the “Product Owner” role in Scrum to a tee.  I will admit that the Agile Manifesto does not speak much to that unifying vision, other than some sideways references.
  2. “Good Design Is An Absolute Requirement. The Agile Manifesto gives short shrift to design,”
    1. Hmm, well, ok.  But the Agile Manifesto is short, basically 4 value statements and 12 one sentence principles — far below the # of words in your article, sir. So, short shrift… maybe… but Agile Manifesto principles 8-11 have everything to do with Design.  I will admit that principle #10 doesn’t look like it has to do with design, but it does.  I know this because I asked a forum question to one of the Agile Manifesto authors(Jeffries) at a conference.   And I also read a ton of articles on similar Agile subjects.  But that’s because I went on a learning journey rather than thinking I could understand such a powerful artifact from only reading it.  So, sorry, Kurt, not buying your “short shrift” argument.  Is it possible you just don’t understand the Agile Manifesto deeply?
  3. I could go on an on like this all day about his article, but that would be super boring.  Heck, I’m lucky 4.2 of you are still reading this.  🙂
  4. Let’s just wrap this section up by saying Scrum and Agile are often treated as synonymous, but that’s just by people who have never bothered to do the research and learn.  The other reason this is true is because, in modern times,  90% of Agile Teams are actually Scrum teams.  I would argue that Scrum is the wildly most successful of all Agile frameworks, and that’s why 90% of Agile Teams are Scrum Teams.  I would further argue that no one in history since the Agile Manifesto was written has ever created a highly successful, full on, Agile framework, that was NOT based on Scrum.  Try to prove me wrong.  <insert internet prove me wrong meme here>  🙂  In short, Kurt, you are correct that they are treated synonymously, but that’s only because of the massive success of Scrum, an Agile framework.  🙂  Ergo, due to the success of Agile.

Movie Studio Model

Here’s where it gets interesting to me.  Kurt, your movie studio model is decent, but it has one fatal flaw.  Movies are generally one and done, good software products are not.  Also, even if you make the argument that movie franchises are a better model, there is such a huge gap of time between movies in a series that your metaphor breaks down again.  Great software products do not go on long hiatuses like that.

It’s not a Movie Studio, it’s more like a TV Studio, and a TV Series

I like your model, but the hiatus flaw doesn’t work for me.  For years I have pondered how a great software product is very much like a great TV series (aka “Web series” to you Gen Z types).  There is usually a pilot or a small first season, what we in Agile software call either an MVP or a some early form of Lean Startup validations.  The series usually pursues a lucrative profitable market(or creates the same), what we call in Agile “business value”, as supported by the target market — Personas, User Roles, and/or Stakeholders.  I’m not as familiar with TV studios, but I’m guessing some combo of the Head Writer and Exec Producer fulfill that Product Owner visionary role — trying to maximize the business value of the software product (or TV series) with a “see the whole” type vision.  Most great TV series last 7 or more years, and usually have profitable spinoffs (and maybe even a couple of dud spinoffs).  Guess what also has these characteristics?  A great software product!  The Director is fairly close to the Scrum Master role, except it would have to be a director who is very collaborative and doesn’t use command authority — think of a great director who really cares about the growth of his actors and in harnessing their creativity– a true servant leader.  That would be a decent Scrum Master.  As all metaphors do, lots of things break down from here.  The only other good connection here for me is that, while the actors/Scrum Team members might change over the years, the PO keeps a close eye on the story arcs, and everyone tries desperately to continue to extract business value out of their target market.  And, at some point, sometimes apps and TV shows get “played out”, and it’s time to start over again with something new and fresh.  On the other hand, sometimes there are true spinoffs or other kinds of derivative products that are offshoots of great products.  A big problem with the studio metaphors is it requires way too many people to be successful.  Good Agile teams can be highly successful with just 7 or so players.  That’s extremely rare in a TV series or a movie.

But here’s the interesting part for me.  I was once a programmer like you, Kurt, and you want to know how I came to this TV studio metaphor that’s so similar to yours?  Not through my years as a programmer consultant — through Agile practice and attending Agile conferences.  Ohhh the irony!

So, Kurt, you were close, but you are on a learning journey so keep plugging away.  And not for nothin, but so am I.  If there is one thing I’ve been taught in the Agile space, it’s that we are never at perfection.  We are always improving.  You keep on keepin on!



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