Agile Odyssey

Agile Odyssey

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The Comfortable Lie

ScrumPosted by Shane Billings Thu, September 03, 2015 07:54:23

I've been doing this scrum thing for a while. At times I am encouraged by those who readily accept the changes presented to them. Other times I find it discouraging when people reject the benefits provided by scrum. Culture change is hard with whatever you are trying to do, and this is no different.

My discouragement is my problem though; not theirs. Putting my emotions aside, I have thought and pondered extensively upon why agile is so hard to accept. Certainly, there are as many reasons as there are people who are not going to accept agile methods. Not the least of which is simply an aversion to change.

Where does that leave us? What are some of the other big objections? Let's delve a little into the abstaining abyss embraced by the naysayers.

The most prevalent alternative to agile is the ever entrenched Waterfall Method. As one dives deep into the differences, the benefits of agile become readily apparent - except for one glaring omission. Even the Agile Manifesto speaks of it. "We value responding to change over following a plan."

Think about it. We value change. Who does that? Who likes change?

"Come join us," we say.

"Wait, this is way different than what I'm used to."

"Yea, but it's better."

"I don't know about this."

"That's okay. You don't have to know. We adapt to change. Not only that, but change comes so rapidly, you will never know for sure anything again," you explain realizing in retrospect that there probably was a better way of explaining this when you hear the reply.

"What?" Yup. There it is.

That's right. We tell them they will never know everything and, therefore, must adapt as necessary. Change when needed with no idea when or where the opportunity will present itself. And we want a lot of it-frequently in fact. Just keep the changes coming. So very uncomfortable.

Compare that to waterfall.

"I want to stay here."

"Why?" You're shocked, yet fascinated - like when you see someone running with a couch down a busy road at midnight. I'm speaking from experience here.

"I know this. But I can also plan out my entire development schedule." They seem pretty confident.


"You bet. As a matter of fact, I don't even move on to the next phase until I have the last one all figured out. This helps me predict exactly what I will do years in advance."

"Wow! How can I do more waterfall?" you respond.

Wait! What? You seem pretty easily swayed. I know it's tempting, but just hear me out. It's a lie! The comfort; the panacea; the peace; it's all a lie. No one knows the future no matter what. Everyone must adapt. They may think that they know everything that will happen to the project, but they don't. To be clear, I don't think they are dishonest. They believe it.

But it's not true. It's just a way to feel good. It feels good as they assure management that everything will work out as planned. It feels good as they control every move of the employees. It feels good as they try to work to the plan and make everything fit in a box. It feels good as they embrace the comfortable lie of waterfall.

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Scrum Zombie

AgilePosted by Shane Billings Sun, August 30, 2015 19:24:54
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.

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