Exposing our faults, and learning to embrace the pain

I recently heard the following statement:

“Scrum does not solve your problems, it exposes them.”

That simple statement is incredibly profound, and it struck me immediately.  Read it again and let it sink in.

That simple sentence cuts right to the heart of things. Too many times, I hear from teams that they wish they had a finalized design before they start coding, or a fully defined architecture and detailed plan for the next several weeks.  I have seen crestfallen looks, heard audible sighs, and witnessed eyes rolling when I have to gently break it to them that these things just won’t be happening.

That’s not how any of this works.

Scrum works not because it’s a magic bullet that will suddenly make everything in your dev shop perfect.  It works because it shines a light on where the problems are and empowers you to make the corrections that you need.  It gives us, as a Scrum Team, opportunities to continuously inspect our progress and make adjustments.  It encourages all of us to try things, and gives us space to fail.  In fact, a certain amount of failure is a good thing.  When we look at all of the Scrum ceremonies (Daily Scrum, Planning, Review, Retrospective), we see a chance in every single one to make changes based on the empirical evidence of how the team is performing, and the challenges they are facing.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

We aren’t comfortable seeing our problems and facing them.  Our instinct is one of preservation, and you’ll see team members get defensive when the weak spots are made visible.  I’ve seen all of these things happen:

  • Members offer excuses for why something went wrong, rather than working on solving it.
  • People wish we could “do things the old way”.
  • Team members get angry, or worse, throw another member of their team under the bus to protect themselves, because they feel like there is a risk in being anything less than perfect.
  • Your coaching skills will be tested to their utmost.

I can say, from experience, that there have been moments when I’ve been tempted to just walk away from the hard work because I feared confrontation, or had reached the end of my rope with someone who just didn’t seem to get it.  Scrum exposed MY problem, and I was able to step back, reflect on what was actually happening, ask myself the 5 whys, and come up with a way to work through the issue and get everything back on track.  I can honestly say that I am a better Scrum Master because of it.

This was HARD.  

Seeing team members going through the same thing – team members you work with every day and have a professional relationship (if not a true friendship) with – is no easier.  Because we care about our teams, we want to protect them from all of these issues.  In truth, we aren’t doing them any service by shielding them from themselves! Yours is the voice of reassurance.

Fortunately, we have plenty of tools at our fingertips to help us with all of these things…

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