So you want to do Scrum?

What do you truly want?

I have spent a career helping organizations go from whatever process they are doing to wanting to be more agile. The request typically starts with "We would like you to come in and conduct some Scrum Training".

Great, I love conducting workshops and helping people learn. But my main message in the workshop is that our goal is not to do Scrum. Even worse? When an organization says they want to do "Agile". Our goal is not to do Scrum (and you can't DO Agile). Our goal is to BE agile.

Agile is about optimizing our culture / human beings to deliver great products even better than our competitors. We want our customers to buy OUR product, not the competitors. Organizations are like machines. They simply want to take a pill, have people prescribe how to do things, and then just hold people accountable to do those things.

Organizations are typically inherently built against agile values and principles. They are often engrossed in ossified proceduralism that has mummified over the years because of post-mortem process implementations to prevent the next plight from happening.

Optimize for the human being

There is hope however. Hope lies in the human beings that work in your organization. Management's job should shift from holding people accountable with a job list to making sure the organization is setup to foster self-organizing teams (a tenant of agile values and principles). This is a scary word for a proceduralist because they feel like their jobs might be obsolete if a team now manages their own process. I do empathize. But if they have not hired people that they can trust, then they might be the problem (sorry to put such a fine point on it).

This post won't be about self-organizing teams, but realize that the kind of work usually required for complex product development is not centered around cogs tweaking knobs in a predictable, repeatable pattern day in and day out. The high cognitive nature of software development in particular lies with creative people solving problems in a unique or innovative way. You can't really predict when that next great idea is going to happen. All you can do is foster a culture and environment to enable that creativity. In agile we believe that none of us are smarter than all of us, so the team comes together to work on those complex problems...together.

What do I truly do?

When my friends or family ask me about my job, they say things like "What do you do?" or they will joke that they have no idea what I do. Well, it is probably a bit more challenging to describe Scrum and agile, but I think I have settled on the core practice of what I do...I am like a personal trainer for the organization. Yea...that's it.

When you want to get healthier and be more physically fit, you can look at YouTube, read some books, and read blogs to piece together your meal plan and exercise routine. Some people are successful at that. Others will flounder and simply go back to their "normal" pace of life. I call this organizational gravity. Organizations do the same thing. There is a culture, a way of doing things, that is engrained from years and years of habit. If you want to change, you have to be intentional and deliberate about it and have a plan. The plan won't always work, but you need something to fall back on when those temptations of organizational gravity come back (and they will).

Get serious about change

Typically if you are serious about changing your physical fitness, you will hire a personal trainer. Someone who assesses your current state, asks a lot of questions about your routine, so they can build a plan that has a chance of surviving the long-term. The plan usually will be iterative and incremental to ensure they don't start you off with a weight-lifting plan with weights you can't lift. You start out small, get some results, get excited, get motivated, and then the plan gets harder. Then you make some quick wins, get motivated, love the results, and now the plan gets harder. You keep pushing to get better each time you *get* better.

The personal trainer is there to coach, mentor, facilitate, and teach you along the way. Scrum and agile are the values / principles behind the plan that I would put in place to help an organization get more physically fit in their product development process. The values and principles serve as the guard rails (the foundation in the plan). As we learn and grow, we inspect to see how things are going. Then we start removing the guard rails when we feel comfortable with the change. We most likely need more guard rails in the beginning because its all new. Like riding a bike with training wheels, then we remove the training wheels (balance is the foundational piece that has to be learned).

How fit is your organization?

A personal trainer can help you make that plan a little more tailored for your needs and can help you when you are weak. But eventually, you want to move to a place where you don't need the personal trainer anymore. You have built that personal trainer into the fabric of your organization and now you have a bunch internal trainers that are woven out of your own culture's values. This is the large hurdle that prevents most organizations from pushing through to truly being great. They get some improvements, but they aren't going to enter that top tier body building competition and yet, maybe they don't need to get to that state.

So...you want to get more fit and be able to deliver products quickly and easily (the definition of agile by the way)? Then find your motivation to do so, hang that on a wall for you to see each and every day and put a plan together that iterates towards your goal. Celebrate quick wins, learn, and grow. There will be times you want to quit. So refer back to your motivation and push through. That is how you achieve "being agile".


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