Scrumptious

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Scrum is the most popular framework used within an agile environment to convert complex problems into valuable products and services. In this blog, we will examine all things Scrum to shed light on this wonderful organizational tool that is sweeping the globe. There will be engaging articles, interviews with experts and Q&A's. Are you ready to take the red pill? Then please join me on a fascinating journey down the rabbit hole, and into the world of Scrum.

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The Great Pretender

Pretender

Most of you would probably have heard of the 1950's song with the same title. Here's the opening lyrics to that song:

Oh yes, I'm the great pretender
Pretending I'm doing well
My need is such, I pretend too much
I'm lonely but no one can tell

There are many pretenders in the Agile world. These individuals profess to be advocates for Agile, but either consciously or subconsciously exhibit anti-agile behavior. If I had a dollar for every person I've met in an Agile environment that talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk, I might have saved a tidy sum.

In a recent experience, I came across a manager at a major Australian institution. Agile was a relatively new thing there, but the IT department in particular had matured enough to adopt some semblance of structure and value that kept the gravy train in operation. The reputation of this manager was one of an Agile though leader, and the department's achievements had been celebrated throughout the institution, so much so that this manager's word was never questioned with regards to the future adoption of Agile. But upon closer inspection, I discovered that the grass wasn't so green on the other side.

It became apparent that there were murmurings from within the team of professionals that reported to this manager. At first glance, major initiatives and deliverables were being met, and these brought value to the relevant business units. So, what could possibly be going wrong in this recent incantation of Agile across the institution?

The answer lies in the Great Pretender syndrome.

The manager knew all too well that "Agile" was a strategy that this institution had bought into, and like anything bought into, people will carry on kicking and screaming before they admit anything is going wrong. This allowed the manager to lead initiatives with an Agile flavor (the talk), such as prioritizing deliverables, planning and documenting only what was required, involving the business at planning sessions, professing that teams manage their own tasks, and the list goes on. However, behind the scenes, the manager was not assisting teams to be autonomous, manage themselves, hold retrospectives and reviews (which would have uncovered errors, issues and anti-value), and continuously improve the adoption of Agile (the walk).

Yes, there were the occasional team meetings, but these were predominantly geared toward making the manager and the delivery of initiatives look as rosy as possible to internal customers. Further, while the manager professed to support transparency and open discussions, when push came to shove, their opinion was final and no one could dispute this. In fact, on one conversation, I recall the manager saying "we don't debate here" when someone pointed out an error the manager had made. In another example, the manager would often micro-manage some team members to the point that the deliverable was not met on time. So rather than remove obstacles and be a servant leader, this manager had become the biggest obstacle of all.

So how does the great pretender get away with anti-agile behavior? Well, there are several reasons, and here are some that come to mind.

The allure of momentum

When you have a few wins on the board, and those wins become consistent, it can feel like the momentum is moving in the right direction. But if you are a puppeteer, you can make the puppet appear to be anything you want it to. De-prioritizing projects that you believe may be politically hot, diverting resources from one project to another to ensure it succeeds at the expense of another, and managing resources with the threat of consequences are just some of the ways to make value only skin deep. Sometimes, it may look like progress, but progress at what cost?

One-way feedback process
How any serious Agile transformation can accept a one-way feedback process between managers and subordinates is beyond me. Yet this is exactly what was happening in this institution. You simply cannot champion a transparent, innovative and fear-free working environment if the feedback process only allows managers to give feedback to subordinates, and the feedback from subordinates stops at the supervisor, and is only in a one-on-one setting. Who in their right mind is going to give honest feedback when the only judge of that feedback is the person you are giving it to? 360-degree feedback must be the hallmark of any good Agile environment, and that feedback must flow up the ladder to at least 2-3 management levels above the subordinate. This greatly reduces the chances of the pretender becoming a toxic leader, or their immediate manager protecting them from senior management review.

Emotional debt
You can only stomp on people for so long, even if it is ever so effortlessly. Just like technical debt, emotional debt can build up over time and bite you back. This is precisely how revolutions begin. A project may be tracking well on paper as evident through the deliverables being met, but festering within the belly of the collective can sometimes dwell resentment, anger and demotivation. Fear may drive human motivation in the short term, but in the long run, the human spirit yearns to break free and be what it is destined to be: Agile.

Can you think of any examples of the Great Pretender in your workplace? Is your Agile environment really only skin deep? Is your servant leader really just a leader of servants?

"He who is not a good servant, will not be a good master." - Plato
     


Thank you for your interest in the Scrumptious blog. If you have any ideas for Scrum topics, please message me here. Until next time, remember, projects can be Scrumptious!
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Posted on: March 31, 2019 02:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Meet me in the Middle



In early 2017, I was assisting an organization with their Agile transformation. The initial meetings went well, with the Board of Directors approving the overall strategy for implementation, and were excited about the possibilities for better ways of working.

In typical fashion, we began with a few small pilots with the delivery teams, which went very well. After six months of various team formation challenges, mainly to do with former team leads reluctant to relinquish control, these teams became for all intent and purposes, Agile.

When the Board saw such great progress, they were keen to move forward with the organization-wide Agile transition. If the techy people in the company can become Agile, and senior management were also on board with the program, surely other business departments riddled with friendly middle managers wouldn't present much of a problem, right?

Wrong!

The first major challenge in any Agile transformation is changing the mindset. Why? Because there is often resistance. Why is there resistance? Well for a number of reasons, but they are all related to fear or ignorance in some form or another. The most common three reasons middle managers' resist an Agile transformation are:

Loss of control/influence
By their very job title, "managers" manage people, which affords them a degree of control that for the most part served 20th century corporations very well. Regardless of the severity of their autocratic style, managers almost always had control over what the employee worked on, how they worked and where they worked. Agile takes control out of the equation, which means hierarchy, conformity and fear are no longer used as weapons to get work done. When that occurs, innovation, collaboration and flexibility can thrive.

Threat of losing their job
As organizations become more Agile, middle managers find themselves managing less and less people. This may not be such a concern to them if only one or a few departments become Agile, which is the case in most organizations. They could simply slip into other middle management roles. But what about the company that is very serious about making an organization-wide move to Agile and better ways of working? In this scenario, many middle managers will metaphorically barricade themselves inside their various departments and start stocking up on ammunition to resist the Agile revolution.

Hanging on to the past
This phenomenon is more common than you think. Human beings naturally gravitate around the status quo, resisting change, holding on to the past. The past is comfortable, familiar, and a good friend. Unfortunately, the status quo in today's business environment will render the organization: state zero. There is something to be said for the traditions of the past. They help us define who we are as a society today. However, if changing traditions were always taboo, we would still be burning people at the stake. Traditions are great, but when it comes to an organization's survival, I'm afraid they have to take a back seat.

The age of continuous improvement, incremental value delivery and iterative feedback, inspection and adaption is upon us. Agile isn't coming, it's already arrived, and the train has left the station. Many middle managers will miss that train, not because they were late to the station, but because they don't have a ticket. My advice to them is to become more Agile, because in an Agile world, it's all about meeting in the middle, not being middle managers.
 


Thank you for your interest in the Scrumptious blog. If you have any ideas for Scrum topics, please message me here. Until next time, remember, projects can be Scrumptious!
Sante Vergini Signature

Posted on: August 16, 2018 03:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (40)
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