Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!

Leadership is about change.
It has been a week of confusion and wildly changing situations at my day job.  I have been using this time reflect on my leadership style.  I have also been using this period to do some thinking of the changing role of a leader in the agile.  It is funny how scraps of wisdom bubble up during times of chaos and uncertainty.

When I was in high school, I belonged to the Marine Corp Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.  I joined as a freshman because I wanted to improve my grades and develop some self-discipline.  In the four years since I made that decision, I rose from a lowly recruit to the executive officer of the company of cadets.  Thanks to the guidance of two Vietnam Veterans named David Ogle and Richard Weidner, I learned how to be a leader.

One of the inspirational signs which hung in the drill room said, “Lead, Follow, or Get the Hell out of the Way.”  That boring vinyl sign is stuck in my mind.  Marines are the definition of commitment, it is their job to go anywhere, at any time to act as the long arm of American Military policy.  This is why they are often rescuing American’s from embassies or showing up at short notice when shots begin to fly.  The sign alludes to this because you are either leading fellow marines, part of the unit doing the work, or staying out of their way because when you give marines a job they are going to do it even if they have to pulverize something into dust.

So what does this mean for a scrum master? Situations are going to change over the course of your career.  This means you are going to have to adapt to the different people.  I am learning to get out of the way of team with a strong technical lead.  It is clear they know what they are doing.  It is also clear they do not want my technical guidance on anything.  This means that I have had to learn to step back and let the team succeed and fail on its own because nothing I am going to say is going to change its mind.  In another situation, I see a scrum team which delivers code in a timely manner and appears to be running correctly, but it is hiding some dysfunction.  It is not delivering features wanted by the business. For that team, I wanted to get out of the way but it seems that I must take a more leadership role.

So a scrum master must change based on the situation he or she finds herself.  We are not empty heads in taupe blazer looking to extort billable hours out of our companies.  The manifesto of agile says that we have to respond to change rather than follow a plan.  This tenant means that we need to lead, follow or get out of the way.  Not learning that lesson means we are in for some uncomfortable failures.

Until next time.