Don’t send people to my Scrum Master classes

The other day a manager called me and asked if I would recommend sending one of his people to one of my Professional Scrum Master classes. I told him no.

Actually I asked him a few questions about their situation and their goals first, and then I told him no. Not that it would be a bad idea, but for a company like theirs, starting out exploring agile it would not be my first recommendation.

A two day scrum/agile class for one or two persons per team is a strategy a lot of companies have tried for many years now. Thus, we know a lot about the type of results that this strategy gets you. It usually results in some improvements, and people are generally happy, but most things in these companies are exactly like they were before scrum/agile. Thus, results are also pretty much the same. More troubling perhaps, initial improvements in these companies often fade away with time as people driving the initial change move on.

The last years, a few companies have noticed this and have moved on to get better results with other strategies. Here are some ideas on tactics that could be included in a second generation agile improvement strategy:

 

  • Start by training your complete team together, including all managers, developers and other stakeholders. Why? To create a common set of experiences and enable discussion. Remember, people mostly care about their own ideas. Common training makes it possible for everyone to have an opinion and to contribute to the discussion. That way it will be everyone’s ideas and sustainable change and continuous improvement is enabled.
  • Get expert coaching during a startup period. Even if you get the very best training you can find, It will probably just be a few days. Most people will find it valuable to get some assistance when returning to work and new ideas collide with years of habits and experiences.
  • Work on increasing the role-based skill set on the team. For Scrum Masters and Product Owners, this could be the time for specialized courses for their role, like the Professional Scrum Master/Product Owner I offer. For other roles this means other things.

 

The third generation change strategies recognize that a broader effort is needed to avoid having changes fade away after a few years. We need to deal with the whole company to make sure all its pieces are aligned. I’ll get back to that later. If you can’t wait, pick up “Leading Change” by John Kotter and/or “The Enterprise and Scrum” by Ken Schwaber.

So, to summarize, Don’t let me scare you away;-) I actually really appreciate the opportunity to work with motivated professionals in my Professional Scrum classes. Individuals that I had the opportunity to watch have also been doing very well at work after passing through our latest training and assessments. My point is that I’m also happy to see that more and more organizations are realizing that individual training for a single role is just one piece of the big puzzle that needs to come together to enable sustainable improvements by applying the ideas from Scrum and agile.

What type of strategy is your organization using? What are the results?

– Henrik

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Cake-mix and improving life at work

In the early 1950’s, cake mix was introduced in the U.S. Take some mix, add water, and put it in the oven. In ten minutes you had a homemade cake. Great idea, right?

It wasn’t. Really bad idea actually. Huge failure!

Until one of the vendors figured out what the problem was, took action accordingly and left their competition behind in the dust, wondering what happened.

So what happened, and why should you as a software development professional care about that?

What they figured out was that the original mixes made it too easy. Housewives of that time took great pride in their occupation. Clearly, just adding water would simply just not qualify as baking a homemade cake.

The solution was to have the housewives add a fresh egg to the mix. Fiddling around with an egg was messy enough that the housewives now felt like they contributed to the baking. Now this was something that they could serve as homemade!

And it works the same way with ideas! If you have some great improvement idea you would like to promote, you need to make sure that everyone affected by your idea will have the chance to contribute something to the mix! Then it will be their idea also, not only yours.

So, if you have worked out a brilliant solution to some problem, don’t tell your co-workers! Instead, ask everyone involved to join you, working on solving the problem. Carefully facilitate the meeting so that everyone gets to contribute their thoughts, and see what the group comes up with. (I’ll be writing more about how to do that in another blog shortly.)

But, what if the group discussion results in a solution that is not as good as one you have already worked out? Well, one advantage is that the group solution may actually get implemented. And that’s a start! In contrast, the chance that a prepackaged solution, offered by you, is sustainably implemented is very close to 0.

Also, often when I do this, I’m surprised to see that the solution crafted by the group is actually better than mine…but maybe that’s just me 😉

Wait! Someone says, maybe it was that adding the egg to the mix actually did make the cake taste better? Well, I have further proof for you skeptics, and I might do another blog on that later. But the only way to truly learn something is to try it out yourself, so next time your about to sell some new solution to your team, just consider that this may be true:

People do not like other people’s ideas, they like their own ideas!

Change your tactics accordingly and just see what happens…

-Henrik

Credit to Gerald Weinberg, in whose fine book “The Secrets of Consulting” I first learnt about this idea.