Story A: Joe
I’ve known ever since high school. Incredibly nice, funny guy. The one you’d like to have in a team. Scrum was always an interesting topic for Joe and he’d read many books about it and showed a lot of interest. When I asked the team who’d wanted to be a Scrum Master, Joe raised his hand saying he’d like to give it a try, if everyone is ok with it. Why not!
Joe applied every method he’d read about. When I was with him, things had a nice, slow start. People were feeling better, always giving positive feedback about amazing atmosphere, tactics and how thoughtful Joe was. Everything and everyone was chilled. Coffee, water, candy, fun as well as the security of the team, cooperation with management and product owner. It was time to let them fly, and use their own wings.
A few months later
A few months later I met the guy from the team somewhere in town. He was a completely different person. Depressed, with “everything sucks” attitude and looking for a new job. Quite a cold shower for me. But everyone goes through a similar situation. Next day, next colleague from the team. Same thing. Except the fact that it wasn’t only her resigning from the job. It was the whole team. Everyone, but Joe.
I stopped by the team while they were still at the same place. In a very hard atmosphere that felt like few minutes from the War, we decided to keep names to ourselves and try to talk about the facts.
Often used terms were “dictatorship”, “everything according to books”, “everything on time”, “long talks”, “I saw a YouTube conference”, “I went to a conference”, “You’re late, once again”.
And then a note basically saying “I want to do the right thing”, “ignored discipline”, “rules are useless”, “ununderstood why are we doing this”, “not trying to understand”.
It turned out that Joe, the good guy, was given a “role”. He didn’t mean any harm, just really wanted to help out the team. Joe spent so much time learning about Agile that eventually he was 5 steps ahead of everyone on the team, but he didn’t know about soft skills. He was pushing onto the team. And for a while people accepted it. But enough is enough.
Solution? Talk about things and explain roles. The team was surprised at the fact, that all it took was to compare everyone’s positions, values, and understanding. How a great day at work should look like. Put together everything that connects them, the same end goal.
Our conversation ended with Joe apologizing to everyone and suggesting giving up the role of a Scrum Master. The team elected new Scrum Master and started all over again. This time, they knew how Scrum worked, so they focused on atmosphere, relationships and the product itself.
Resigns were withdrawn.
Story B: Jerry and Helen
Jerry became Product Owner after being a successful developer. He not only programmed the software but played a great role in designing it as well as giving it a name. The software was used all around the world by millions of people. Hats off. Who could be a better Product Owner than him? As a developer, leadership of the team was never something he wanted to do. He’s developer at his heart, soul, and brain.
Scrum Master Helen. Clever, active, well informed, great in communication and overall work with people. She was born to be a team leader. You wouldn’t want anyone else. More than 10 years of experience.
And then Scrum came. And with Scrum, change of organization of the team and these two people got in the same one. Every one of them wanted to push the team. But in different directions. One wanted a perfect product, the other perfect team. They started an internal fight. Not openly but by ignoring other’s ideas and pushing everyone their own ideas.
The team was better off without them. Work ethic was the best when Jerry nor Helen were around. The atmosphere on planning was comparable to a mortuary. You could hear a fly buzzing around the table. No results, team members barely saying hi to each other. What was wrong? It wasn’t like that before Scrum. The management and clients are saying the same thing.
I tried to have a talk with PO and SM. Their personal ambitions were much bigger than the team and the product themselves. But why? We tried to find the answers and slowly getting to their personal goals. It turned out they both had different visions so each of them pulled the team in different directions.
Solution? We closed them in the same room, the same way you’d close two lions. We used post-it notes and 5 WHY to get to the core of the problem. Speedboat, looking for anchors and engines that run them. It turned out what connected both of them were topics about people in the team.
They both wanted their colleagues to feel nice whilst working. Not just for the “fun” aspect of it, but for the same goal they’d all be proud of. Because the bad vibes between PO and SM didn’t only affect them, it also affected the outcomes, quality, and feedback of the product. And everyone was ashamed of it.
Story C: Dad’s a Product Owner, Mom’s a Scrum Master
That’s how I always saw it. A good father and a good mother want their family to be good and feel good.
A family needs a leader that will find the right direction and take risks. It needs someone to provide “fuel”.
The family also needs someone who connects them. Someone who cleans up, gives a warning and protects. Someone who highlight the discipline. The family needs to be good and to do that it needs to be proud of itself. It needs someone that can show a mirror even to a leader.
But most of all, mom and dad deal with things together. And that’s how it should be with Product Owner and Scrum Master. They should work together, not against each other.
And to achieve that I’m not going to use an example from the books, I’d rather use one from my personal experience and even experience of the other families out there. Other teams that are currently going through crisis mode or teams that are past that stage. That way you don’t have to do the same mistakes.
Because sometimes, it is easier to run, but the kids aren’t going anywhere. And the same way they always stay, your story stays with them.
If you can’t do that, don’t try Scrum.
Why did it go that far in those stories? Because people want to be nice, they’re afraid of giving a constructive feedback.
We often think a good team is created by having a positive energy. If you know anything about soldiers and their stories, you probably know that they became best friends in the hardest times. They became friends for life when the stronger needed help from the weaker one, where the leader would actually have to lead and actually be an example. Basically, when they had to go through trenches together.
The longer I am around Agile teams, the more I try to understand what’s so hard about Agile. Processes are so easy, I’d always think experts had to conquer them. But they don’t.
Agile processes are easy but they often fail because of some human factor. Especially in Agile teams, which are built on an intense daily co-operation and self-organizing.