|Getting started is hard.|
I am what Bloomberg Business Week called “The Man in the Taupe blazer.” I have a wrinkled suit and an eye for continuous improvement. I look around the organization and find a way to make things better. Over my career, I have discovered that people do not know how to manage projects. Skills like prioritization, time management, and breaking work down into smaller pieces are rare in the business world.
I suspect lousy project management happens for two reasons — first, many of us to learn to create by ourselves. The use of teams to educate students and develop teamwork is a recent trend in education. It means people learn to work on their own instead of with others. I also attribute this to the glamorization of what I like to call “asshat leadership.” Gifted people like Elton Musk, Steve Jobs, Carly Fiorina, and Alex St. John lead organizations and behave poorly to others. The “asshat leader” is someone who thinks being rude, insensitive, and authoritarian is leadership. It is not and Robert Sutton’s book, “The No Asshole Rule,” makes it clear that being an “asshat leader” has serious implications for the business. The style of leadership is colorful and media-friendly but, in the end, it often leads to adverse outcomes. For those two reasons, I think it is hard to lead and manage projects.
So, where does a rookie coach or scrum master begin when they introduce scrum in an organization? I say before you do anything, talk to people doing the work and listen to what they have to say. Many people like talking about their jobs, so when you ask, they will be happy to share with you. Ask them about what is working for them. Ask them what they feel needs to be changed. You will be surprised by what you learn. Only when you have learned what you can will you be able to move forward.
The next step is to teach and practice the basics. Show a development team the process of scrum. Show them the rituals involved with a sprint and practice them always. Repetition is an excellent teaching tool. Eventually, the team will treat the sprint cadence like a routine. If a team masters the basics of sprinting then they will be able to focus on more advanced topics.
Once the team is sprinting, track your progress and ruthlessly inspect and adapt. Measure how you are doing and then make changes to each sprint to improve. Team members need to feel like they have input into the changes and are respected. I remember a quotation from Will Durant, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. “
Help people develop good habits and then watch them succeed. I did not realize this until I worked with an organization that stressed excellence daily. Soon, we considered it reasonable to achieve daily and when we did fail to be able to cope with the disappointment and do better the next time. Now one will ever be perfect but we can all strive for excellence.
So, if you are beginning your agile journey, practice the basics of scrum, listen to others, inspect and adapt regularly to change, and make excellence a habit. It is not easy but it will be worth it.
Until next time.