Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, January 9, 2017

Continuous improvement is a scrum master job.

Development is a lot like theater
One of the greatest things about my job is that I spend numerous hours working with people.  I am learning new things on a constant basis.  I also spend time teaching others how to be better in the workplace.  It is this back and forth which keeps me going into the office.  This week I was asked about how you inspire teams to make continuous improvement.

Business professionals use sports metaphors to describe what they do.  I was never any good at sports, so I look business through the filter of music and performing arts.  I think it is a more constructive way to look at the work.  There is no scoreboard hanging over the cubicles in the office.  Business leaders are often too busy to chart out plays, and there is no playoff season or championship.  Business is an ongoing activity.

To me, the world of work resembles repertoire theater or a jazz orchestra.  Each week the company needs to put on eight shows a week with a matinee on Sunday.  The quality of the performance needs to be professional grade because people will not pay big money to see an elementary school recital.  People get sick, and performers drop out but in show business terms, “The show must go on!” If the show does not go on then, people do not get paid.  The cruel arithmetic of performing arts is that quality must be outstanding and that people must want to purchase your product.  Otherwise, you starve.

So as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach you need to look at your job as if you were a theater director or the leader of a jazz band.  Instead of being autocratic about the work, you will need to be collaborative.  You will have to get to know the people you work with and understand them as people.  Do they have children, are they single, is this their first job or do they have experience?  Do they show up for work on time?  Are they prepared?  Can they improvise and can they handle the pressure?  As coach and scrum master you need to know.

Once you understand the above, you can lay out the goals and mission of the team.  Scrum is good about this.  Each sprint has a beginning, middle, and end.  The release of working software should is like a performance.  When the curtain falls, the scrum master and the team decide how to do better job next time.

I am a big believer in the 1% principle.  Each sprint, I want to improve the performance of the team by 1%. If I have thirteen iterations in a year, the team has increased its performance by 13%.  Over a period of five years, that would be a 65% growth in efficiency.  That is the kind of return which creates pay raises and promotions.  So create small increments of improvement and meet them.  Over time, you will be amazed by the results.

Finally, Agile and Scrum can not overcome a poor work ethic, incompetence, or stupidity.  Being average is not sufficient.  As a coach or Scrum Master, it is your job to help everyone become a better team member.  People unwilling or unable to improve must go.  It is best for the individual and the team.  It is one of the hardest decisions to make.  As someone laid off multiple times, I speak from experience.  Each time I have lost a job I have bounced back and been a better developer.  Nothing focuses the mind quite like unemployment.

So look at your role as a theater director.  Get to know your people.  Collaborate with your team and hold them accountable for small improvements over time.  Finally, remove people from the team holding them back.  Being a scrum master is not easy, but it is the most rewarding job you will ever do.

Until next time.