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Purist is a dirty word

Something strange happened in the last few years. Purist became a dirty word. And "Scrum Purist" came to be the dirtiest version of all. I run into a lot of folks who proudly boast that they're not "one of those crazy Scrum Purists" - that instead they're pragmatic, down to earth and have simply "used the parts of Scrum that work" and ditched the crazier parts. They often then point to a poor ostracised individual sitting alone in the corner and say:
"He said we shouldn't show uncompleted work in the Sprint Review. But that's just not feasible. We'd look like we were behind schedule if we did that!"
So, for the crime of asking a team to stick to the rules of their adopted methodology, this poor unfortunate has been branded a zealot. Regardless of how you've reacted to the post so far, the situation described above is not as simple as it might first seem. Because not all Scrum Purists are created equal. The unhelpful Purist is the guy who has learnt the rulebook. Perhaps he carries around a copy of the "Scrum Guide" with him, or has an original copy of Ken's book in his back pocket. He's the one that wants you to do Scrum for the sake of Scrum, and figures that if you do, then magic will fall out the sides. These are the people that give Scrum a bad name. I don't call them purists, I call them bureaucrats. There is however another kind of purist; this is the person who truly understands Scrum for what it is. This is the person that understands that Scrum is not really about roles, meetings and artefacts. Scrum is a complex adaptive system where each of the simple constraints has a place and a purpose; working with each of the others to subtly bring order to chaos. The best coaches & trainers have a background in complexity science and can understand and guide this process effectively. Sometimes in ways that may seem counter-intuitive. These people are not purists. These people are the genuine article. Don't confuse them with the would be bureaucrats who are just mindlessly enforcing the rules without understanding why the rules are there in the first place. Both kinds of person may seemingly act like a purist at any given moment in time by insisting that you follow a rule that you don't understand. But only one of these people knows why. The dictionary describes a purist as:
A person who insists on absolute adherence to traditional rules or structures
And based on that, I would say that yes, purist is a dirty word and rightly applies to the Scrum bureaucrats. But if you've ever met or worked with the genuine article, then you know that they're about as far away from the dictionary definition of purist as you can possibly get.
Published Tuesday, November 03, 2009 7:35 PM by Anonymous
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Simon Bennett's Blog said:

As awareness of Kanban grows, people are naturally wanting to learn more about it; especially if they’ve

November 10, 2009 3:08 PM

Craig Knighton said:

Very well put, Simon.  Ideas do matter, and as you point out, if you actually can communicate why these rules are more than just arbitrary behaviors, then you can help a team understand why compromising undermines what you are trying to accomplish.  People don't want to hear "because the book says so" - if you explain why each nuance is important and can back that up, then even if they disagree, they will give you the benefit of the doubt and follow.

January 21, 2010 1:50 AM

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