The Great Loyalty Oath

by Jeff Langr

March 04, 2007

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a good sense of humor. I’m usually the one in the back of the meeting room, making wisecracks and trying to keep a spirit of levity.

The Scrum(TM) development list this weekend has been rife with accusations about other people’s senses of humor. This is in response to Ken Schwaber, one of the Scrum founders, having promoted a secret handshake (which apparently is supposed to be accompanied by wolf howls).

Almost everyone has a sense of humor. What’s also true is that almost everyone has something for which they don’t have a sense of humor. In other words, they find offense in attempts at humor around these elements.

The best we can do is accommodate these peoples’ sensitivities. It doesn’t mean that we should stop doing the things that these people find offensive. If that were the case, half of human conversation would need to cease. Some people are just touchy about everything.

No, what “accommodate” means is that we don’t go out of our way to force our “senses of humor” on others. Telling dirty jokes in front of a religious person, when we already know better, is doing likewise. Making everyone howl like a wolf or touch one another in some potentially inappropriate manner is forcing our sense of humor. Simply put, it’s about showing appropriate respect. (Some people don’t find humor in anything–we best show these people respect by avoiding them, I suppose.)

I’m not offended by the whole thing, but I do find the whole “great loyalty oath” aspect of Scrum embarrassing. Not necessarily for the participants, but the for the whole of the “agile movement” (no, it’s not that kind of “movement”–that’s probably inappropriate humor, isn’t it?).

One thing that agile gets criticized for is the fanaticism of its proponents. I know, because I’ve been accused of being a fanatic. It’s an odd accusation, because anyone who has ever listened to me has heard me temper my statements, and suggest that these agile things we find valuable aren’t for everyone.

In any case, I have a hard enough time defending agile concepts to people who view them as childish and unworkable. This sort of unnecessary posturing just makes it all that much more difficult.

I do need to pause here and give credit to Mike Cohn. In his posting, referenced above, he explains it as “If we do something silly and a few people woof along with me, everyone remembers it”. I think that’s the right attitude. Unfortunately other peoples’ fascist tendencies (such as the other poster referenced above) lead them to look upon with disdain people who don’t feel like participating. We are branded as humorless and ostracized from the group.

I guess I don’t have the “right” sense of humor. My response, guaranteed to offend at least a few people, is at

We can do better. Instead of being indignant because someone dared resist the tide, we should look to find out what is turning them away. Instead of adding things to agile methods that are divisive and exclusive, what if we just concentrated on how to get teams to work together well? It’s really how great software gets produced.

“The important thing is to keep them pledging,” he explained to his cohorts. “It doesn’t matter whether they mean it or not. That’s why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance’ mean.” – Catch-22

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.