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Don’t shoot the messenger

In ancient times, it was not uncommon to kill the bearer of bad news. It was a matter of principle. “Don’t bring me bad news. And by the way, don’t fail with your efforts.” Luckily, in these days, the worst that could happen to you is to be fired – not much better in the current economy but, hey, who complains. However, still too many projects or companies are run in exactly that very way.
How does this fit together with Scrum? Not at all! Scrum is built on three legs. Transparency, Inspection and Adaption. It is the Transparency part which is in conflict by not being able to tell the truth, the naked truth. All software projects will encounter problems and are predictable only within a short planning horizon. Most non-trivial software projects belong to the complex category according to the Cynefin framework. Complex projects cannot be managed by a defined approach but require an empirical process. It is the empirical approach that is based on Transparency, Inspection and Adaption. Empiricism wants feedback; this is why Scrum has Sprints, Daily Scrum, Review and Retrospective. They are the empirical process controls. They provide feedback about the product under development, the progress and the process. All of them are subject to change when appropriate. Inspect and Adapt!
Now, imagine a company which is run top down military style. You get your orders, don’t dare to even question them and then report back. Your reports are checked against the minutiae defined plan, often a Gantt chart. You cross your fingers that you will not be the first one to bring down the plan. You know what happens to the bearer of bad news! This is a very toxic environment for any kind of agile change effort. The moment you discover or run into some serious situations people tend to loose their ability to speak up. The situation becomes a problem and looses its opportunity for improvement. Forget all about Adaption and improvement. In short, the whole effort is futile.
A successful Scrum introduction needs an open management. A management that can let go of being in control and is able to change from
Command and Control to Leadership and Collaboration
This is the most challenging part for management. Essentially they need to make themselves obsolete and become servant leaders to their teams [1]. Until this happens, it is my job as external Scrum Coach and Change Agent to shield the teams I am working with. At the beginning of a Scrum introduction, it is much easier for the teams and the management if I – as the Coach – am the one stepping up, telling how things really are and even taking the fall out. It is not always fun but it is very rewarding as it builds up the trust between the Scrum Team and myself. The individuals on the client might risk their careers; but myself, in the worst case, I only get shown the door. I am a paid sacrificial lamb.
I am a European who has worked in Germany, France, England, USA and now Switzerland all along my career and based on my experience, I am sorry to admit that there is something about the term ‘Old Europe’. In continental Europe, there seems to be a lot of rigid top down hierarchies, still. Maybe this is the reason why the agile adoption takes longer to get going over here. However, I am happy to see dramatic changes this very past year.
Give me a call if I could be of help to you or your company.
[1] Dan Pink, Drive, Kindle Location 1275, […] Autonomy over task has long been critical to their ability to create. And good leaders (as opposed to competent ‘managers’) understand this in their bones. […]

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