The other day, I had a direct encounter with a Scrum Zombie. Now, to be honest, I think he was an engineering zombie well before he became a Scrum Zombie. Nevertheless, as a zombie in general, he was afraid to make any decisions without having permission from his superiors. He was a hardware engineer designing a power supply for an embedded system. To say he was new to scrum was an understatement.
He told me of a time that he almost lost his job because he modified the process. He was now an automaton. Just like real zombies, this guy had his brain eaten, and now he was mindlessly going through the motions. Sad really. I had seen other hardware engineering teams really get it and succeed beyond expectations as they used scrum.
How did I recognize him as a Scrum Zombie? Was it the lack of life in him? Maybe. Was it the fear of management or the lack of satisfaction in his work? Could be. It wasn’t until he asked the following question regarding how to break up his work in a sprint backlog that I really saw it, “Isn’t that against the rules?” Wo! There he was right before me! Did I just see his arm fall off?
Don’t get me wrong. There are rules for scrum – strict rules – rules that must not be broken. We do not compromise on things like whether or not we have a retrospective meeting or if the backlog should be prioritized. Definitions of done are demanded. Velocities are vital. Product owners and Scrum Masters should not be the same person. And certainly there are best practices. But outside the core scrum practices, there is complete freedom to experiment and see what works for a team.
What would you say to this Scrum Zombie? You have to keep a poker face. The temptation to be grossed out must be subdued. Remember, at one time, this was a real engineer – with hopes, dreams, and desires. Not to say they had social skills, but to say they were once like the rest of us. We must reach into his soul and find those things. Where are they?
I told him he was a smart guy. What?! He lit up a bit. I doubt he had heard that in a while. We then discussed the fact that with his intelligence he could make decisions that would be well informed. If they were wrong, he could quickly change. We talked of the pros and cons of his approaches. In other words we talked about the “Why” of his decision.
Then it dawned on me! There was the cure for Scrum Zombies! Agile is the cure! Agile is a philosophy about how we approach development. It is empowering. Agile is a mindset for the mindless. It’s the reason behind what we do. Without Agile thinking, scrum practitioners just go through the motions. They are lifeless and dead inside. Ok, maybe not dead, but there definitely is something missing. I think it’s safe to say they aren’t reaching their potential.
When coaching and consulting on Scrum, I always try to teach the “why” behind the “what”. I always try to teach about Agile as well. Together we can fight the plague before us. Together we can cure the undead Scrum Zombie.