Measuring Agile Transformation

About two weeks ago, during Q&A session following Let’s Manage IT event in Łódź, I was asked a great question – how to measure progress of Agile transformation. Short answer – don’t measure it, as you’re missing the point. For a touch longer one, see the short video below.

Why Scrum Masters Have No Idea What They Do?

When I get to stage to talk about anything related to Scrum, you can expect me to do a few things. Sometimes I prove that most Agile companies are actually working waterfall style. In other cases, I ridicule the concept of becoming proficient at anything during a two-day course. And quite often, I prey upon Scrum Masters, in the most annoying way possible. All it takes is a simple question, flavored with a touch of surprise.

I ask them what they do.

And as I do that for a few years now, I’m still waiting for any single soul to provide me with some reasonable question. So far, it didn’t happen, which is odd. I mean, the Holy Book of Scrum has a whole section dedicated to the role. How hard can it be to remember any of that?

It might’ve been easier if any of Scrum Masters did what’s stated in The Book.

Let’s see what’s in there.

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The simplicity of this description is truly misleading. Unless you’re familiar with the Guide to the letter, you’ll have no idea what it means. As top brass in companies cannot be bothered with such minute details, Scrum Masters create what they understand as more clear descriptions.

Which makes all the executives to wonder why their well-oiled machineries would need anyone to remove impediments. The practice of propagating these alternative role descriptions is quite harmful. Nobody in the organization will be compelled to find out what Scrum really is. But, back to the Guide.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Servant leadership is one of the most ridiculously absurd concept I know. I mean, do you know any other approach that is known for decades, helps companies achieve great success, and is so counter-intuitive that almost nobody really attempts to do it?

Simply put, despite all the benefits, servant leadership strains managerial egos beyond what they teach you at business school.

Guarding interactions, on the other hand, is the most notorious thing that Scrum Masters claim to do. That’s something. But here’s where the Guide gets more specific.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

This is where the fun begins. The last point on the list is the most visible to external stakeholders. All the meetings, silly retrospective games, millions of post-its to recycle. Product planning can also score high on visibility scale, though only in organizations that are a bit more aware of what they do. It’s no wonder that this is what most trainers, coaches, and participants focus exclusively on these two.

The rest is to be honed on the battlefield, even though our Scrum Master is now professionally certified. In two days.

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

This part is clearly visible to the team, which has interesting consequences. With good intentions on all sides, Scrum Master is likely to drift towards the third and the fourth way. Often, they simply lack understanding and experience in leadership, coaching, and business to do anything more.

If they stray into this territory too far, they might pass the tipping point – which pushes them into abyss called Scrum Team Secretary. All in plain sight of their teams, which may – and ultimately will – question the point of the role. Scarily enough, if things get to this point – they will be right.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

Now, this is the sad part. Unless we’re speaking of a very small organization, nobody will want that to happen. It’sa  little surprise, to be honest. Would you like someone who has just finished two-day course to plan Scrum implementation in your company? Maybe, you would like them to lead and coach the organization during the adoption?

Some Scrum Masters catch that quickly. Many never do, believing – in good intentions! – that what they learned during these two days is enough. And not every trainer corrects that mistake.

After all, why would they rock their own boat?

How to become a good Scrum Master? It’s obvious, easy to figure out, difficult to actually do. It just takes years of humility, experiments, and hard grind. Regardless of certificate.

(And while we’re at it – do get to know the Agile Manifesto in the process. I know dozens of Scrum Masters who hardly ever heard of it. Now, that’s failure of training at its finest.)

Minimum Viable Agile

For years, I have lived in a belief that complex problems require complex solutions. If we’d like to hugely improve our business with agile, we should use some complicated framework, with multitude of tools, approaches, and processes designed to address every possible scenario. It backfired on me several times. The wake up call was almost three years ago, during Agile Portugal 2015 conference.

You might know it or not – 2015 was year of agile at scale. If you wanted to be treated seriously as a speaker, consultant, or coach, you just had to share your experience with it. Everyone was into scaling. Because, clearly, we all knew how to do it right on a team level… Obviously, having quite a background at large scale agile, I joined the bandwagon. My speech in Porto covered exactly this topic.

Then, during a break following my presentation, reality hit me with a sledgehammer.

You all talk about agile at scale, which is great, but we’re startup of ten people and want to do it. How?

If I remember correctly, my answer actually made sense. Something along the lines of starting small, using the least processes and formalities possible, just the kind of basics that make sense. Regardless, I was dumbfounded enough to quit corporate job two years later and joining a very small company to see how it really works.

But there’s more to it.

Just at the end of 2017, I was contracted to run series of trainings on basics of agile to over one hundred employees of a large state-owned conglomerate of very traditional sector. As if it wasn’t challenging enough, majority of the participants had little to none exposure to IT terminology, processes, and industry. Trying to grasp and convey the essence of what agile is was quite tricky.

To make things worse, I’m not really sure if they stand a chance to actually make it with the transformation. Reading between the lines, it was clear that management buy-in was dubious at best. Agile was yet another great idea they had, following (and perhaps preceding) series of other spectacular transformations.

Yet, I wanted them to benefit from my trainings regardless of what future could bring. Then, out of the sudden, I had my eureka moment. I found the Holy Grail of the least you could do to get all the benefits in the world. And it was hiding in plain sight, disguised as one of Scrum ceremonies.

(I seriously dislike the official, semi-religious terminology of Scrum. Artifacts, ceremonies, masters…)

Retrospectives, in their simplest possible form, are Minimum Viable Agile.

It’s that simple. Get your team for half an hour and ask them the most basic and most profound of questions: If we had a second chance to live through these last two weeks again, what would we do differently?

Hell, you don’t need to wait few weeks. You can ask this question every morning. The benefits will astonish you.

Why?

First, as human beings, we hardly ever reflect on our lives. Not to mention, on a regular basis. We only do this when things either radically change (think: you’re about to have a baby), or when they go really, really wrong. If neither of these conditions is fulfilled, we just fly ahead with staggering mindlessness. Nothing weird about that, we’re just humans, perfect in our imperfection. It is worthy to shed some light on whether we’re going the right direction or not.

Second, no currency is worth more than our time. Not only you cannot buy more of it – it comes in extremely limited supply. Given you’ve reached this sentence of this post, you’re about four minutes closer to your death than you were at the beginning of it. It’s one of the most uncomfortable facts people are ever faced with. You will have no chance of reliving yesterday. If you did something stupid, or pointless, or in an inefficient way – you will not have a chance to change it.

You do have a shot of making it differently today. Otherwise, tomorrow you will be even closer to your demise, with yet another wasted day. That’s your choice.

Third and the most important reason for starting with Minimum Viable Agile – it will get you somewhere else. Yes, there are thousands of prophets saying you must use Scrum, Kanban, or whatever else. Each of them has numerous examples of how, to a different extent, these things worked in the past. They are perfectly right about that! These approaches, in that particular conditions, in these particular businesses, gave very specific results. That’s a fact.

However, extrapolating these past experiences into your business can be nothing but a false prophecy. No company is out of the box, so applying off-the-shelf framework can only work to an extent.

By regularly inspecting and adopting the way you work, day by day, you can create your own agile. Tailored and customized to your specific needs, to the way your people work, to the very DNA of your business.

All it takes is to start small.

So, if you had second chance to relive yesterday, what would you do differently?

How Can You Tell?

If you work anywhere near software development, I can bet your organisation is Agile. Well, unless you live under the rock, work in some government institution, or your business is driven by grants. Still, monstrosities aside, nobody wants to admit working the old waterfall way. It is almost as cool as showing up in a car concourse in Skoda. Which, for those of you without a drop of gasoline in your blood, means utterly uncool. Agile has been the dogmatic new black for quite a few years now. Rest assured, I have no problem with that. In theory, it makes all the sense in the world.

Which is why I want you to ask yourself – how can you tell your organisation is Agile? What are the symptoms? What is the reason you want to give the only cool answer? Continue reading “How Can You Tell?”

Focusing Agile Transformation

I remember the first of my employers going Agile. These were fun days. Virtually all project managers, along with some upwards-mobile candidates, were sent to an expensive (more than half of my monthly salary back then) two-day long course. Then, we were all sent link to some website test somewhere. The fact that we all passed should’ve lit some warning lights for me. Back then, it didn’t. As soon as the certificate arrived in my email inbox, I did the obvious thing. I updated my LinkedIn profile. We all did. Officially, we became Scrum masters – hence, by association, the company became Agile.

Damn, I was stupid back then. Continue reading “Focusing Agile Transformation”