There are a lot of articles I’ve read recently which highlight the importance and purpose of a particular component of Scrum. I’ve found that a constant barrage of these super specific call-outs can have an inverse effect – I am less able to focus on what’s most important right now.
As a professional Scrum Master, the impact of being able to learn more about a particular piece of the framework can be invaluable but the bigger picture and idealism can get lost when buried in the minutiae.
What is it all about?
It seems impossible to boil the framework down to one core piece or part of the process as being “the most important.” I’ve had heated debates with folks on this who would say that a Definition of “Done” is the key element to making Scrum work, or that if only they had a strong Product Owner, the rest of it would all fall into place. I’ve fallen into this trap myself – it’s a natural response. When we see something that doesn’t align with our vision of the perfect implementation, we are quick to simplify the problem so that we can simplify the solution. Unfortunately, my experience has never been that straight-forward.
When I’m asked to talk about what Scrum is to folks who are not in product development, I struggle to find an elevator pitch that leaves me feeling that I’ve done justice to the inherent complexity of development and people as well as the comfort and implications that the framework brings to the surface.
A more holistic view of Scrum is needed to truly keep its components cohesive and relevant. The framework, in my mind, is less like a jigsaw puzzle where each piece fits together to create a masterpiece and more like those ancient labyrinths where the configuration is simple enough to allow those on the path an opportunity to discover something new and the onus lies with the sojourner not the maze.
Starting the change
It is very likely that the majority of people who want to see change and want to employ that change using Scrum have varying perspectives on what is most valuable to them. There is certainly an incredible amount of value in having a unifying vision at any organization. Being able to rely on your leaders to coalesce as a group that builds confidence in the direction of your organization breeds a sense of comfort and sustainability. However, the role that each individual takes to redefine an organization through the use of Scrum is necessarily going to vary and that is a good thing!
The power of an individual’s perspective on a small team of people can have huge impacts. I’ve seen people take on challenges and improve organizations armed only with the understanding of Scrum’s potential and a strong conviction to keep the values at the center of their decision-making. While it may seem cliche, the strength of true collaboration (in place of, or in combination with, cooperation) is profound and may be the thing that ought to drive the initial efforts of any organizational reconstruction. Quick, decisive action and a willingness (or, even better, a desire) to change are foundational aspects of a Scrum Team and require an intimate appreciation for one another.
There is so much to be said about the energy that’s created by the passion of a few, like-minded people. The word “catalyst” seems appropriate here. I am reminded of science fair exhibits where one small element is introduced to a seemingly stable environment and in an instant, everything has changed. It can be an explosive event or something much more subtle. But the process is generative although it may seem destructive – a whole new host of color, sound, and material is created.
Scrum illuminates the necessary systems and interactions that are inherent in any creative process. The problems we solve are complex and the people who solve them are also complex. There is no way to simplify people and there should not be an effort to do so. An environment that supports community and diversity is one in which people can openly communicate with purpose and passion. This is not an easy task. There will be so many factors at play that determine the right way to do this but a tightly woven web of personalities and perspectives will pay off in the end if given the right amount of attention and growth opportunities.
It can be easy to lose sight of the value that inclusivity provides to creative work. We can be quick to fear “group think” and throw the baby out with the bathwater – eliminate group decision-making, reduce transparency (“You’re on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know!”), and form a posture of skepticism assuming worst intentions.
“The essence of Scrum is a small team of people.”
If we recognize this component in the larger context of Scrum (its values, empiricism, transparency, inspection, adaptation, rules, and purpose) then we are confronted with some questions that must be answered. Do we really trust each other? Do we believe we that ingenuity is achievable only by a few, remarkable people? Are we safe enough to admit that our shortcomings exist and can be supported by others?
It would be a shame to limit ourselves so much. How much more likely we will be to do something new and challenging if we are accompanied by people who are supportive and genuinely understand the potential cost! Distributed accountability doesn’t mean that there is no accountability. But you win and lose as a community and have a far more likely chance of forward progress and improvement together than alone.
Are we there yet?
The labyrinth we enter is one where we can expect to encounter new obstacles that seem to change the game and to change us. The fear of what’s around the corner may never go away but with each pass, we should become more confident and comfortable over time, armed with new information and tactics.
When it comes to “agile transformations”, the idea of an arrival is antithetical to the whole point. We’re meant to always be learning and changing and working in a way that the only limitations we encounter are ones that are self-imposed. Scrum puts forth, in its entirety, the basic set of assumptions and tools needed to create that kind of environment but there is never an assumption that the work will be finished, that the curtains will fall, and all you have to do is bask in the standing ovation waiting for you at the other end. We can bank on the fact that the way we work and the challenges we face will be as numerous as the ideas we come up with (both good and bad). Having the guardrails that Scrum provides allows us to expect and ease into change but that doesn’t mean it solves every challenge – that’s up to you; it is comforting but not comfortable.
Written by Matt DeFusco