My Light Bulb Moment

Thanks to Michele Sliger for asking me to write it all down!

I started out as an ”Agile Project Manager”.  I accepted a contract for an IT project (my first) and was told it would be run as an Agile project.  I had no idea what Agile was and I was a Project Manager.  I had a great track record as a PM of driving results.  I googled Agile and was thrilled to learn my entire team would be in the same room, everything they were doing would be on the board and we would only have a 15 minute meeting once a day to discuss the project.  Oh….how very wrong I was.  Mind you the team delivered after slogging through entirely too much overtime, continuous pressure from me and the business and constant driving.  Unfortunately, their work never saw the light of day – two weeks before launch, the project was pulled.  What had worked for me before didn’t work this time.  I heard a lot from the people on the team who knew what Agile was and I was decidedly NOT a Scrum Master.  I cared, a great deal, about the people on the team and there were certain things I began to grasp but not enough to make a difference for them.  Honestly, why I stayed in IT after that project is beyond me but, I did.

Following that project, the next team I had was already formed and doing well on their own.  I still hadn’t had any training but, was asked to be the Scrum Master.  I started reading more and asking more questions of those around me who seemed to get this whole Agile thing.  I came into the team sure I would make them different and better.  I came in without acknowledging or respecting their history.  I asked them all kinds of questions about the work they were doing, why they were doing things the way they were doing them, pushing them a little so, in short, I didn’t really learn much and it still wasn’t clicking for me.  It was not a very comfortable place to be for anyone.  Then, someone had the brilliant idea to combine two teams together – mine and another – and that was when things started to get interesting.  The team that joined my team DID get Agile and they were not at all OK about how I was running them.  They pushed back.  I went to CSM training.

Joe Little and Jeff Sutherland were teaching the course and, as I sat there, all the pieces started coming together.  I understood how it was supposed to work and how I wasn’t doing anything AT ALL to make it easier.  Jeff Sutherland made the point that I still true back to all the time:  Protect The Team.  I came back to work energized and excited.  It clicked and I couldn’t wait to get going.  That said, there was this HUGE team which was really two teams trying to keep their individual team identities in place and continue to be the good teams they were separately.  It wasn’t working. I knew, in theory, what I was supposed to do but I didn’t know HOW to do it.  They fought over desk position, norms, how stand up should be run, how planning should be run and we were all incredibly miserable.  I thought I was doing the right things and protecting the team.  I wasn’t.

I asked another Scrum Master for help.  He came to observe a retro and, at the end of an hour, told me I couldn’t stop.  I had to keep the team talking for as long as it took for them to work their issues out.  The retro lasted all day.  Seriously,  Everyone was open and honest including me.  There were things said which were really hard to swallow for me.  I really had been trying to do the right things.  They made me question everything I had ever thought about my abilities. However, after that retro there was something different.  We all realized we were all trying to do the right things.  There was no malice or ill intent.  We trusted each other a little and we had overcome a decent amount of pain together.  After that retro, I started reading, researching, asking and experimenting and the team let me.  I would tell them what I wanted to try and why and I knew they would tell me when I was off track. They would tell me because they knew I was trying and I wanted to get better.  They also wanted to be better.  We all wanted to be the best team possible.

So, we’re all on an upswing now and someone decides to split the team back up.  Yes.  After ALL that pain we needed to split.  I remember being in the room with several other people figuring out who would go where and they were all looking at me to make the new teams.  It tore me up though.  I had gotten close to everyone and they were doing so well but, I did it, and I chose the team I was going to stay with.  The team was named BOB.  We worked together for about a year and it was the single-most rewarding and fun time of my career.  What I learned from that team in terms of trust, what empowered teams can do, what protecting a team meant and what the role of a Scrum Master really was is what has shaped me and guided me to where I am now.  It is an experience I hope everyone working in Agile can have.

We were nearing performance management time and I was writing my self-appraisal.  I didn’t have anything to write.  I didn’t have any results.  There were no “BIG WINS”.  In fact, I sat there thinking I hadn’t had to do much with the team at all.  I started to get truly worried about what was going to happen come end of year.  With none of the usual problem-solving, risk mitigating, implementation strategizing and scheduling management-type-stuff my piece of paper looked really empty.

“Scrum Master for a team who has delivered more scope than originally requested within the same amount of time.  No defects released into production.  Team has created automated test harnesses to enable faster identification of defects and leverage the QS resource more effectively.  Team members have learned new skills to be more efficient in their delivery approaches.  The team manages themselves, including removing most impediments. The team has created a build book to be used by the platform and serve as guidelines for UI development.  The team is able to respond quickly to change and is frequently sought after by the business to help shape strategy and inform intent.”

The TEAM had done great.  They had knocked everything thrown their way out of the park.  They were having fun and everyone wanted them.  Then it hit me.  They did it!  They were a self-managing, self-organizing, high-performing machine.  That’s what is supposed to happen.




The Bond Between a Scrum Master and The Team

I was asked yesterday to describe the difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager and an odd metaphor popped in my head.

When a team has just won a game and the coach is interviewed afterwards they don’t say “Yep.  The team followed my instructions and plan exactly.  They executed what I wanted them to, when I wanted them to and how I wanted them to.  That’s why they won.”

They say things like “The team gave their best today.  They have been working hard together all season and, today, it all paid off.  They were amazing out there.  They deserve this win.”

I’m not saying a PM would actually take credit for the end-product of a team.  I am saying that the coach puts the emphasis on the team and the PM puts an emphasis on the plan and the execution of it.

This mind shift is essential and not an easy one.  I have found the relationships between me (as a Scrum Master) and the teams I have worked with are all very different with one exception.  Every single one has been based on trust.  When there’s a strong bond between a Scrum Master and the team, from my point of view, there’s nothing more fun or cool.

The team helps you grow by challenging you to be better and think differently. Their learning outpaces your own!  And they’re learning because they trust you, their Scrum Master, to make good suggestions and they’re willing to try things.  Sometimes, in my head, I will think “I dare you to be even better than you already are.”.  You can see them as a single entity and the possibility of the whole.

Scrum Masters also connect with the individuals on the team.  Many of my good friends are from previous teams and they are not people I would have known well had we not worked so closely together.  A Scrum Master can see things that are possible in an individual that the person may not even be able to see.  The same is true for the team member.  Often, team members have taught me things I never would have thought about or seen in myself.  Some good and some not so good but all said with the best of intentions.  The team members and the Scrum Master can help each other learn and grow individually.

I can’t speak from the team member perspective on this final point.  I feel very protective of my teams.  When they have great things going on and happening, I want everyone to see how awesome they are.  When people are messing with them, in any way, I feel very Mama Bear.  I may actually get a little too “bear”.   When they achieve greatness, I don’t want anyone or anything in their way.  When they’re on their way, I want them to have the space and room to work their way towards it.

When people ask me now why I am so passionate about Agile, the answer is simple.  It’s the people.  I can name them all.  I can tell you why each one is special.  I can tell you everything each one of them taught me.  The bond is built on trust and is powerful because you learned so much with each other.