Does enforcing scrum process not contradict the Agile value of people over processes?
Welcome to part 33 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of Scrum Masters in interviews and client engagements.
I quiet like this as an interview question. Yes, enforcing scrum does contradict the agile value of ‘people and interactions over processes and tools’. Absolutely.
Agile Value: People and Interactions over Processes and Tools.
When I’m teaching the Certified Scrum Master course, we take people through the agile values and principles – as described in the Agile Manifesto – because it is critical for them to understand how agile is different from traditional management and project management.
This value is important because in a complex, product development environment the problems we face are intrinsically hard. We don’t know the answer and must discover and develop the answer, so processes and tools are going to help but they aren’t a formula for success.
Simply following a process or using a tool will not give you the answer or create the solution.
A great team will create the solution or solve the complex problem, with or without a specific tool or process, often they will create their own. So the tools and processes you employ MUST support the people and the interactions they have if they are to be effective in product development.
Most people who identify scrum as a potential agile framework to solve complex problems, and then enforce the framework on a team, are missing the point.
In a simple or complicated environment, someone can figure out the best way forward, map that out, and then simply tell you to follow the steps from A to Z. They can insist that you do things this way and in so doing, you deliver the outcome they desire or need.
In a complex environment, it simply doesn’t work that way.
We have never solved the problem or built the solution, and so we need a different way of doing things to create an environment that empowers people to creatively and collaboratively solve complex problems.
So, our focus must be on inviting people to explore the opportunity of scrum.
If we take the time to explain the framework, demonstrate how it has helped other teams successfully achieve their objectives, and show them how it will solve the problems the team currently faces then we have a solid chance of adoption.
If the team are hamstrung by current processes and tools, and are pitched a solution to those problems in a way that will help them be more effective in their roles, they are likely to commit to a trial or experiment to test how effective it is and whether it is a viable solution moving forward.
Simply enforcing the framework will create resistance and resentment.
A context for adoption.
If you think back to your school days, you and others were often forced to play a specific game.
Some people loved football, whilst others despised the experience.
For those who loved the experience, they were fully committed and gave of their best. They took the time to learn the rules, master the basic skills necessary to perform well, and used each experience as an opportunity to learn and evolve.
For others, they would stand where they were and make no effort to engage.
It isn’t that they wanted to sabotage the experience for others, it was just that they would rather be doing something else and wanted the experience to end as soon as possible.
They didn’t learn the rules of the game, they didn’t try and master any of the basic skills, and they had no intention of interacting with others or engaging as a team in any way, shape, or form.
Enforcing scrum is very similar.
Some will commit and engage, others will disengage and dodge even the most basic elements of the framework, whilst others will actively sabotage the experience.
Not a great outcome.
So, look to invite others to explore the opportunity of scrum and make yourself, as a scrum master, available to teach, coach, and mentor people through the necessary evolutions.
Let’s say the team fail to understand the value of scrum initially, and you have committed to a path of increased agility, what do you do?
For me, let’s find a way that isn’t scrum.
Does it make sense for us to meet for 15 minutes daily to check in with each other on what is happening, what we aim to do next, and what potential obstacles or impediments are in the way?
Yes, great, let’s do that.
Does it make sense for us to show our customers what we have created, and allow them to review the product/feature with the intention of providing feedback on what we have done, what we should focus on next, and how well the product/feature has solved their problem?
Yes, great, let’s do that every 4 weeks and call it a review rather than a sprint review.
Does it make sense for us to come together as a team, once every 4 weeks, to explore how the past 4 weeks have been, what worked for us, what didn’t work for us, and select one thing that we can do to help the team improve next time around?
Yes, great, let’s do that every 4 weeks and not call it a sprint retrospective.
Let’s just take the things that make sense, implement them, review their performance over time, and decide how we want that to evolve. Let’s examine what isn’t working, identify why it isn’t working, and if it consistently fails to work, let’s bin it and try something new.
So, you don’t have to enforce scrum, you can start the path to agility by adopting things that make sense and discarding things that don’t make sense. Learn through each iteration and keep experimenting with tools, processes, ideas, etc. with the aim of continuous improvement.
About John McFadyen
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For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.
If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.
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