Friday, April 22, 2011

Scrum Doesn't Work for Us

"...because..." and then I hear a list of how a company, or a team, or a project is 'different' from others out there. This is common, and though there are great assessment tools out there, let me share with you three common issues that I and other coaches see.

1. The user stories are not estimated in points. I've heard lots of explanations of why, or how management doesn't understand points but understands hours, or points-to-hours conversions posted on the walls. In the end, the principle remains that we don't estimate well (just refer to the initial estimates of pre-agile projects). We compare well, referring a current feature or request to a simple, previous one that we know well. Also, estimating hours is often unconsciously optimistic. Not only do we think in terms of ideal, uninterrupted hours, but we don't stop and factor in risk, complexity or unknowns when saying "That will take 8 hours". Estimates are planning Marc and Liz's 2 hour meeting at church on Saturday, story points are planning Marc and Liz's wedding.
2. The team isn't voting on the size. Sam the Helpful Manager says, "Joe's the architect and he just tells us how many story points it is." Well, just because Joe (AKA Smartest Guy in the Room, whether others agree or not) is the architect, doesn't means he's as smart as everyone else on the team combined. No one person can see all the issues, has all the combined detailed experience, has all the creativity and innovation to come up with the best solution. And, worse yet, my experience is that it is less about Joe voting and the team missing out on better sizing, it's more often about pride, power and control. Joe likes his position and title and doesn't want to share power or the stage or 'important meetings' with those less than him. And because the team doesn't discuss and vote on the size, they don't feel or have a psychological ownership of the work. Someone else signed you up "Bob's Crazy No-Pain, No-Gain Exercise Boot Camp" how much will you really be into it? If the team didn't vote it, the team doesn't own it.

3. Don't know that you don't know. This is perhaps the most dangerous because teams think they know what to do and how to do it (but don't). It's like visiting another country and plugging in your hairdryer as a means of learning that voltage is different in other countries (and then blaming the hair dryer manufacturer). The first antidote is having an expert on site - someone trained in agile. The second is getting as many people as possible involved in the agile community (conferences and local events) in order to keep learning.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Humility - The Trait of a Good Coach

The last few months, I've met several great ScrumMasters and coaches. They understand agile and are helping their teams and organization in very important ways. I doubt that most companies, no matter how big the budget, can achieve success without people contributing in ways like these people are.

Given that people in coaching or ScrumMaster roles often know quite a bit about Scrum and agile, and given that those they are supposed to help in the organization do not know as much, it can become all to easy for the ScrumMaster or coach to feel important because of this knowledge, special, even superior. This subtle form of arrogance may not even been there before, but takes root and grows like a weed as people come to you to ask for information, help, solutions, or advice. And they're not just asking you about technical help, but for teams, departments, and management. How do you feel when you talk to them? When you educate them, direct them, help them, coach them? Are you there to serve them? Arrogance or pride prevents us from being truly effective in coaching by limiting how much we are able to help someone or how many people we can assist. 


Arrogance will tell you that you're in a special position of honor and influence, at the top or over others in importance or ability. And you'll believe that having this high place is solely due to YOU (not good fortune or opportunity that others did not get). Pride tries to lure you into believing that its solely because of the effort you have put forth and your knowledge and abilities. 

Not that you're effort and natural and developed skills and knowledge aren't important. They are. But would any of us have been in our current position if we were born in Libya or Haiti? For myself, I ask "What if my pervious employer hadn't paid for me to go to Certified ScrumMaster training so many years ago? What if my first big Scrum project had been cancelled after the first week? What if the first full agile adoption had been with an awful client instead of a great one (they had found me, not vice-versa)? What if I hadn't been selected to speak at the Scrum Gathering and Jean Tabaka just happens to sit in my session and we end up talking about Rally? Yes, I hear some of you saying that I helped create some of these "chance" opportunities because I was doing the work - submitting to the conference, leading the first project, going to the training. 

But if we fall prey to the fully self-made position, then we'll become convinced that we ARE better because of who we are and choices we made. And everyone else wanting or needing our help? They must be either less talented or did not make  good choices. What gets transmitted with this worldview, knowingly or not, is coaching via "Do what I do and try to become like me." And if that is true, then what hope does the one helped have of getting better? If you have arrived, are at the top, the coached try to get better by aiming for the goal, which is...YOU. To improve, they have to think like you, solve problems like you, lead like you, behave like you. They have to become you, because that's the goal. But how can anyone be someone they are not wired to be? How does the researcher become all about action? How does the thoughtful consensus builder become Type A Get 'Er Done?

Also, arrogance prevents us from helping because we're not really listening. We think that ff someone isn't understanding, it's because they're not trying or they're not very smart because it's certainly not because of us. We have all the right answers and communicate the right way, including telling them what to do. The truth is that it's hard to receive from someone who's not really listening or showing that they value and care about what you have to say. 

Rather, in acknowledging we are in a position of influence partly due to good fortune and providence, we can know that other people may end up in similar positions for the same, which allows them to be them (and you to be you). They don't have to become like you to be successful. And you can then share what you know from a stand-point of how fortunate you've been, and that you're just paying it forward. You can help because you've been helped. You're grateful for the opportunity to serve others knowing that you just as easily could have been in a very different situation. You teach knowing that you can learn from others, since you're not at the top of anything, but on a path like everyone else.

In an agile leadership economy, we don't raise parity unless we buy into the truism that to those who have been given much, much is expected.