Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018

Choose a Growth Mindset

Growth is not easy in this business.
One of the major features of agile is its emphasis on continuous improvement.  Teams, people, and processes can always get better.  If you do a 1% improvement each sprint and perform three-week sprints over the course of a year that equals a 17% improvement by the team.  Many times, small improvements are equivalent to significant increases over the long term.  What works with software development teams also works for scrum masters.  A scrum master should consider continuous growth to be a personal goal in their practice of agile.

I am currently working on becoming a Certified Team Coach.  It has been a time-consuming process with me logging hours and filling out forms.  I reviewed the five dysfunctions of a team and practiced SOLID code development.  I was about to file the first part of my two-part application when someone suggested that I get a pre-screen.  I was deeply disappointed by what happened next.  My screener said the first part of my application would be accepted, but I would ultimately be rejected in the second round because I did not have a “coaching mindset.”  I was disappointed.  It was as if the last five years of blogging, coding and being a scrum master were an empty exercise.  I was given a verbal pat on the head and sent on my way.

After doing some reflection, I went over my notes, and there were some suggestions for graduate-level courses in coaching.  I also spotted a class from the Harvard Business Review on coaching for leaders.  The pre-screener was even kind enough to recommend some graduate-level course in coaching which was local.

Maybe I was not ready.  During this time of reflection, I was exposed to the work of Stanford University professor Carol Dweck.  Her most influential idea is people to be successful need to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.  This very positive idea is one which postulated that everyone is capable of growth and improvement.  Having a growth mindset means that development only happens if people actively seek improvement.  Traditional command and control methods of leadership are less effective than asking questions and having people find solutions rather than having them provided for them.  As I said, it is optimistic.  Professor Dweck can fail students who do not turn in the homework.  Me, I am stuck with product owners who will not write user stories.

I can see a few scrum masters and executives shaking their heads.  Authoring user stories is a fundamental part of being a product owner.  A leader with a fixed-mindset would take disciplinary action or try to teach that product owner to write stories promptly.  A growth mindset leader would ask questions, guide mindset, and follow up with the product owner to get them to improve on their own.  It is touchy-feely and genuinely optimistic.  It also runs counter to how I learned in the field of media and technology.

I was skeptical, but I decided to give it a try.  What happened next was a surprise.  A person responded positively.  They got better at what they did.  They did not improve as quickly as I would have liked, but they did enhance so after four weeks I noticed a difference.  Furthermore, when the person did things which usually triggered in the past, I saw a different motivation.  Now, instead of seeing them attempting to undermine my credibility or authority; I saw them checking for understanding and holding others accountable.  The situation is not entirely sunshine and rainbows, but it is improving.  I should embrace improvement over stagnation.

So here I am attempting to adopt a growth-mindset and continuously improve one small step at a time. Taking a growth-mindset is the next step in my agile journey.

Until next time.