Illusion of Mastery

It was almost a decade ago. With two dozen of my colleagues, I was anxiously waiting in a dimly lit conference room. So, that was the big thing. The company was going Agile and we were chosen to be trailblazers, first group of Certified Scrum Masters to carry the torch… Ah, who am I kidding. We wanted to learn something new and score brilliant, shiny, and – back then somewhat exclusive – certificates to show off on LinkedIn.

Two days went like a blast. We got to pass balls to learn optimization. We’ve heard the story of birds pooping all over Washington Monument (I still don’t know if it was true…) to think about root cause analysis. We were moving post-it’s in silence learning magic estimation. We got to experiment with some games to spice up retrospectives. It was fun. Then I passed some test over the Internet and certificate arrived in my mailbox. I became certified master of something new and exciting. Cool!

There was only one thing left to do: update my LinkedIn profile. Along with my colleagues (all of whom passed the test), I did just that.

Little did we know, that (at least back then – I really don’t know, or care, how it looks like now) CSM trainings weren’t standardized. It meant that their quality varied wildly. Some were great. Some weren’t. And some were just unfortunate. It was all dependent on experience of the trainers. So, in my case? Well, the guys were clearly quite competent trainers. Experts in Agile? Hmm. No. They did teach us enough to pass the test – on the other hand, I’ve never heard of anyone to fail it. Like, nobody, ever, worldwide.

It became clear once we actually started to use Scrum at work. I mean, we did sprints, meetings, all the magic – on the other hand, we had projects, with full half a year (or more) of scope estimated and planned. We measured our progress with three-page long PowerPoint decks displaying projections of burndown months ahead. The most pathetic part was that I actually co-created these monstrosities. That was expected of me. I was certified to be master of something, hence it was implied that I should know. Given I was taught this particular chart to be all-in-one progress tracking tool, why wouldn’t I do it?

In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I was the worst Scrum Master I’ve seen in my life. And, believe me, I’ve seen my share of truly horrible ones.

Soon enough, things deteriorated to a point when we were all sent to another expensive training – this time Professional Scrum Master, standardized around the globe. Now, mind you – I worked for outsourcing company, where both sides of each coin were thoroughly inspected prior to spending it. And yet, they spent another huge pile of money to train us again, properly.

I remember talking with one of my best friends shortly after this one. We were excited and humbled, along the lines of “oh, so this is how it should be done!” She made a remark that I remember to this day – that previous training felt like some very basic introduction compared to this one. Following another online test, we updated our LinkedIn profiles again and got to work. It went much better this time – though, admittedly, organization itself evolved over time.

Another year later, I got to participate in PSPO training. It kills me to this day, but I distinctly recall myself thinking “Had I known that as a Scrum Master, my life would’ve been so much easier.” At the same time, I had fresh memories of boasting with my certificate and allowing myself, my team, and my company to think that, well, NOW I KNOW THIS STUFF.

God almighty.

The name of the role itself brings a lot of trouble. Becoming master of anything after two days of training? Seriously? They cover no more than 5% of what you should know to be good at it. I mean, would you expect medieval kid to become master blacksmith after two days?

No. That kid would be an apprentice first. Few years later, he’d be promoted to journeyman. Then, maybe, one day he would become a master. After at least fifteen years of daily practice. Still, reaching the top rank was unlikely anyway. And with all things Agile, all the psychology, sociology, sales, personality traits involved – I dare to say it’s far more complex than smithing.

It’s not that the position name itself is the cause of all problems that occur. There are companies faking Agile. Others are faking not faking Agile. There’s a substantial training and certification business. There’s new commercial framework born every Tuesday. There are idiots pointing at practices that work and shouting “that’s not Agile!” There are others, recommending out of the box solutions to companies with very unique problems, saying “trust me, it’s Agile!” Sure, there’s all that.

You can say it’s implied that first two days are only the beginning of the path. I know trainers that actually say it straight. But others don’t. It’s bad for business. And if new adepts are not humble enough, they will not even know how their own ego has played them.

I was never a Scrum Master. Apprentice, at best. How about you?

Failure is Not an Option – Well, Really?

While the words in the title were never actually said in Apollo 13 control room, they are now forever interlocked with space travel. Many things can happen and are accepted – except for this one. I’ve seen many managers using the phrase often enough to trivialize it. More often than not, failure turned out to be a very viable option – the sole that realized. Even NASA, with all their hard work and technology, suffered some fatal accidents – usually quite spectacular.

Continue reading “Failure is Not an Option – Well, Really?”

Failing with Scrum (Video)

Typical pattern of becoming Agile – make a decision, decide to try Scrum, fail miserably, return to previous way of working (or reinvent the wheel). Here’s the news: you SHOULD fail with Scrum at the beginning. It’s specifically designed to highlight all the deficiencies
of your organization. Whether you do something about them or not – well, that’s your call.

Step Over Procrastination

According to at least a few of wacky internet calendars, last Sunday was World’s Procrastination Day. It’s obvious then, why I put off publishing this article till this morning. I’m actually surprised I didn’t wait until tomorrow.

Jokes aside, the costs of unbreakable wall blocking many of us from achieving a bit more are extremely high. Especially given we know that one day we’re going to have to climb it. And, ourselves, we add brick after brick, inevitably making sure the voyage uphill will be as costly as possible.

Just because we’re not prepared.

Because it’s so hard.

Because there’s a price to be paid.

Basically, because we decide to stay in safety of our comfort zones.

On the other hand, there’s whole slow movement, noticing the fact that at work and in our private lives, we put enormous pressure on ourselves to focus on things of little importance. With all the good intentions, it’s so easy to misunderstand the whole idea and use it as yet another excuse to wait a bit longer.

And, as we wait, the price relentlessly rises.

While I’d love to go and brag about my spectacular successes on this field, I can’t. There are areas of my life, which I decide to just sit through. Wait a bit longer.

So that I can be better prepared.

So that it is easier.

So that I can afford to pay the price.

Basically, so that I can stay in whatever’s left of my comfort zone.

There are some honest conversations that I put off. My taxes are always paid on the final due date (or so…). I take the elevator home, when I’m back from workout. I do all that despite living the lifestyle that many active duty soldiers would declare harsh.

It would be good to do something about it, then. And the strategies are countless. If you try googling it, you’ll be overwhelmed with plethora of options. Which, inevitably, leads all of us – including me – into the abyss of analysis paralysis, hence we make the cheapest of choices – we vote to do nothing.

Then, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

On Sunday, I had a pretty rough running workout, preparing for half-marathon in two weeks. It went bad, to say the least. I wasn’t dressed accordingly to arctic weather. Running (sic!) late, I neither stretched, nor warmed up properly. My nutrition choices of the day were foolish. All combined, I achieved truly pathetic results and returned home exhausted.

And this is what I saw:

The easy way of the elevator to the left. The smart choice of cooling down while burning extra few calories on the staircase to the right.

The choice was obvious.

However, as I reached out to press the button, a crazy thought wandered in my mind.

(Note: this is what happens when you run – and it’s the greatest gift I can imagine.)

Let’s just take one step. I can always walk back.

Seconds later, I stormed straight into my apartment several floors up, laughing to myself. Here’s why it worked:

I chose the smallest possible first step (which, in this case, was literally a step). Then I allowed myself to turn back if I want to. Then I decided to plough on.

That’s it. There’s no need for strategies or fancy approaches.

How to make that tiny step out of the comfort zone?

Step.