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?

My Trip to Portugal – A Nightmare I Am Grateful For

Just two weeks ago, I was traveling to Lisbon to attend the Agile Portugal conference. While the event itself was fantastic, my path to it was an ordeal. Majority of things that could go wrong, did just that. I caught a bad cold two days prior to the trip. My first flight was cancelled and I was boarded for an alternate route – I had to embark a plane going in the opposite direction. Then, while switching terminals in Madrid, I missed my flight. It turned my three-leg journey into four leg one, as I had to fly to Porto first. Finally, on a plane somewhat resembling World War 2 bombers, I arrived in Lisbon mere 12 hours late. As you can expect, my luggage arrived two days later, just hours in advance of my return trip. On top of that, just after delivering my talk, my vocal chords finally gave up and I literally lost my voice.

The whole trip was essentially a nightmare. I will, however, reminisce it with smile on my face. It was one of the best lessons on life, for three reasons. Continue reading “My Trip to Portugal – A Nightmare I Am Grateful For”

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”

Personality Trait to Enable Agility and Leadership

Just previous weekend, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on “that whole Agile thing” on a conference in Cracow, the capital of Poland for majority of its known history. While explaining the Agile onion concept, origins of which I couldn’t find (though I would love to buy whoever thought it out a beer or two), I made a comment that the single personality trait that makes the actual agility possible was humility. Which, contrary to what you might think, is nothing about religion and is not, in any way, related to modesty. Especially the popular, false one. Coincidentally, I have a strong belief and evidence that humility also enables one to be the proper leader.

Isn’t that what we all want? Agility, leadership – widespread, across our workplaces? Now, that would make sense, wouldn’t it?
Continue reading “Personality Trait to Enable Agility and Leadership”