This is a repost of an article written by Lyssa Adkins that first appeared on my old Agile Thoughts blog, in March 2009. In the past few weeks I have had reason to quote from, and refer people to Lyssa’s words, so I figured it would be good to give this article a second life here. Lyssa addresses our tendency to map new ideas to old, and suggests this may not be the best road to truly embracing Scrum.
“…we all safely interpret dangerous things in ways that don’t require us to change our lives.” — Orson Scott Card
I was honored to co-facilitate an Introduction to Scrum session recently for sixty-eight Project Management Institute (PMI) folks, who were all willing and open-minded. Even the ones I had known in past years who were not so open minded to Scrum raised their hands high and proud when asked, “Who is excited to try this in their work?” Within an hour of starting the session, though, I was compelled to stop it. My co-facilitator was introducing the group to Scrum and hands were popping up everywhere. The questions being asked were all some version of “How does this match what I already know?” “So, the product backlog is your requirements document, right?” “You can’t really expect people to sit together. That would never fly where I work.” “I just don’t get what you do without a plan. How will people know what to do everyday?”
When I stopped the group, I asked that they give themselves the gift of learning something new without forcing it into the categories already in their heads. “Perhaps,” I said, “just perhaps you will need new categories to understand what’s being given to you. So rest for now and learn Scrum for the sake of learning Scrum – without relating it to plan-driven project management, without worrying about whether or not it will work in your current situation.”
As I peruse the submissions for the Agile 2009 conference, I see the same tendency in the community as a whole. It’s a fervent desire to map Scrum to something else, something more familiar and, therefore, at least seemingly safer. PMBOK, CMMI, Lean, Kanban, the list goes on.
As the Orson Scott Card quote says, there is something in us that desperately wants to “safely interpret dangerous things in ways that don’t require us to change our lives.” Is Scrum dangerous that way? Absolutely. If you are doing Scrum well it will require you to change your life. You will have to give away your belief that having a checklist makes things run smoothly. You will have to stop chasing the perfect process and, instead, start cultivating your ability to trust the resourcefulness of others. You will cease using line items checked off on a plan as your measure of value. You will face your fears, all of them, about yourself and other people. You will stop making progress and start making products.
If you must map Scrum to something you already know, go ahead. Use that door to come to Scrum if that’s what makes sense to you. Heck, for PMBOK, you don’t even need to do it yourself. Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick have done a fine job of it for you [ref]. If you come through that door though, don’t stop just inside the foyer. Keep moving. Immediately seek out people who allowed their brains and hearts to expand when they learned about Scrum and go learn from them. Allow the simplicity and depth of Scrum to rock your world and open your mind up to news ways of being in the workplace and getting work done, together. Try on some of the radical practices recommended by good Scrum coaches, even if you think, “Oh, no. I could never…” The practice you have that reaction to is the one you need most. So, do it. Let the dangerous thing into your life and allow it to change you. It’s absolutely for the better.
© Lyssa Adkins, 2009
Lyssa Adkins is a personal coach, a Certified Scrum Trainer and a PMP. She is the creator of the well-respected and oft-cited YouTube video The Road from Project Manager to Agile Coach and the author of an upcoming book in the Mike Cohn Signature series, Coaching Agile Teams. Lyssa presents regularly at Agile and Scrum conferences and gatherings, and tends to make friends wherever she goes — look out for her on your Agile journey :-)