Scrum Was Unethical From the Start

Cliff Berg
5 min readAug 12, 2022


In 2001 an ad hoc group of men (yes — all men unfortunately) gathered for a weekend to devise some shared ideas about how to fix the dysfunctional culture of software development, which — during the 1990s — had come to be dominated by PMI-centric waterfall ideas and heavyweight methodologies.

They came up with what is usually referred to as the “Agile Manifesto”. It consists of four values.

In the ensuing weeks, some of those men exchanged emails and added a set of twelve principles. (Note that at the bottom of the page it says “Return to Manifesto” — the principles are not part of the Agile Manifesto.)

The Manifesto was about balance: “We value <this> over <that>”. It was not about extremes. That was in sharp contrast to eXtreme Programming (XP), which was (and still is) all about extremes — hence its name.

This discrepancy illustrates that just because the author of a particular framework attended the Manifesto gathering (XP’s authors were there), does not mean that the methodology or framework being marketed by that author can be assumed to be consistent with the Manifesto.

Scrum is another example. The Manifesto’s first principle reads, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Over processes.

But Scrum is first and foremost a process. Yes, there is more in Scrum than process, but the Scrum process is rigidly defined by its events and roles. The Scrum Guide even says “The Scrum framework, as outlined herein, is immutable.” And while a Scrum coach can decide to go against what the Guide says, this is a paragraph from the contract that a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) must sign with the Scrum Alliance (at least in 2016):

“[A Scrum trainer] may not be a trainer for, or participate in teaching classes for, any Scrum certification body other than Scrum Alliance,”

and the trainer

“may not teach, promote, market, advertise or support any certification course that (i) is primarily devoted to the field of Scrum or Agile, and (ii) directly competes with a current Scrum Alliance offering.”

So talk about a culture of insisting that Scrum is adhered to, to the letter.

So Scrum is not consistent with the Agile Manifesto. The fact that Scrum’s authors participated in the drafting of the Manifesto is irrelevant. Indeed, if Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had each drafted their own US Constitution, the two would be very different, and probably would be very different from the Constitution that all of the 13 signers were willing to sign.

That’s all fine: no group of people will agree on everything, and getting them to agree to four values was an achievement — and those four values were good ones. But some of the signers of the Manifesto went on to retroactively claim that their individual pre-Manifesto offerings were “Agile”, and milk that, which was dishonest in my opinion. They exploited Agile as a means to grow their respective followings.

The first example of this was Scrum. Scrum originates from the early 1990s, but is it a coincidence that the first Scrum book was published in 2001, after the Manifesto had been published?

And was it a coincidence that the first Scrum certification program was offered in 2002, a year after the Agile Manifesto?

How Agile 2 Is Different

Both the Manifesto and Agile 2 are published freely and state that they can be shared and republished. But what we are doing with Agile 2 is quite different, in many ways. Some of these are,

  • Agile 2 was created by an intentionally diverse group that was recruited based on their breadth of skills, experience, and demonstrated independent thought. (Read more about this here.)
  • We are not offering a certification mill based on a process framework. In fact, the training offered by Agile 2 Academy does not explicitly cover Agile 2: rather, it covers the foundational knowledge and skills needed to use the Agile 2 principles — things like leadership theory, organizational culture theory, behavioral psychology, cognitive science, and operations research. Of course it does not cover all aspects of these topics, but focuses on the elements that impact agility.These are general purpose professional life skills.
  • Constructive Agility is a learning journey for attaining agility. It consists of a progressive process in which one defines one’s own work processes, learning along the way, defining and evolving strategies for culture, value, product, development, and all the other factors that might constrain success for one’s particular initiative.
  • Agile 2 explicitly states that it is open: that one should not simply memorize it, but instead treat it as a set of ideas, and continue to read about all adjacent topics, including leadership, behavior, and psychology.
  • We have published an actual model for agility. You can find it here. And our model explicitly includes organizational culture.
  • We realized from the start that scaling agility is not about workflow process: it is about behavior; and our ideas are built around that.

Culture is important: any Agile coach will tell you that. But we are doing something about it. Organizational culture expert and Human Synergistics CEO Dr. Rob Cooke wrote,

“From my perspective, some of the most interesting work on project teams is being carried out by the Agile 2 Academy…We propose and are working to empirically test the hypothesis that Constructive (compared to Defensive) organizational cultures more effectively support the adoption and implementation of the Agile 2 principles, which include the range of positive leadership styles that are supported by a Constructive culture.”

We feel that what we are doing is more ethical and more informed by what is actually known in the fields of organizational culture, behavioral psychology, and related fields. It is not someone’s guesswork, or preferred process. We feel that it is essential to define your own process for each situation: that is part of the “setup” that you must go through for any initiative, and that if you adopt someone else’s process then you skip a crucial learning step and do not feel the necessary sense of ownership of the process.

Support us. Spread the word. Read our material. Watch our videos. Try out our ideas. They are not a process to execute: they are just ideas, and you can use them now.



Cliff Berg

Author and leadership consultant, IT entrepreneur, physicist — LinkedIn profile: