Marriage, but

This article has been removed. An edited version appears in the book, The People’s Scrum, published by Dymaxicon, May 2013.
Read original comments…

Marriage is a wonderful concept. It is a promise of love, togetherness, mutual nurturing and the creation of family. It exists in one form or another in all cultures, and it appeals to the majority of people in the world, each of us dreaming of a long-term mate, and the promise fulfilled.

And yet marriages fail. All the time. Why is this? Well, of course there is a myriad of reasons, but usually it comes down to the fact that the conditions—the rules if you like—for making marriage work are cast aside, or reformed to suit one or other of the individuals.  If we listen closely to the language of a particular marriage we may hear words to the effect of… “love is good and everything, but this honor thing doesn’t quite work for me”, “till death, hm, that’s an awfully long time”, “faithful really means just not telling”, “I see the value of the ‘in health’ thing, but this ‘in sickness’ part isn’t adding much to my personal happiness”, “can I rephrase that as ‘for richer or not quite so rich’? If you’re going to humiliate me by being poor you’re on your own”. And so on.

MarriageBut. It is the root cause of marriage failure: the inability or refusal to honor the contract. The contract is a very simple one, and there are many variations on the vows [ref], [ref], so we are not asked to say things we don’t believe in. We agree to live according to the framework, but so often when it starts to get difficult one or both partners start shifting the rules to suit themselves, undermining the foundation and ultimately causing the structure to fall apart.

The pertinent question for this blog post is this: Does Marriage fail? I’d argue strongly that it does not. Marriage as a framework, as a promise is strong and robust. It has served humankind well for hundreds of centuries. There are tweaks and incremental improvements we can (in fact do) make, e.g. the removal of the words “to obey” from the woman’s script in many modern Christian ceremonies, but for the most part the framework has been strong for a long time.

It is the instances of marriage that fail, the individual implementations. Few, after a failed marriage, would say that the concept itself is wrong. They may apportion blame to one another, or to outside forces (e.g. in-laws) but in the end they move on and often try a new implementation, learning from their previous experiences.

Marriage doesn’t fail. Some marriages do. It is important to separate the model from the implementations. In this, and other aspects of our lives. If I build a house for myself using shoddy materials and poor techniques, is the concept of Home a bad one? When a government is run by disingenuous, dishonest individuals does it make the concept of Democracy a failure? I think most would agree that the failure is in the implementation rather than the idea.

Many are quick to knock the concept of self-organized business as a fad, or the Scrum framework as too rigid, and point to a few failed implementations to discredit the concepts. But in essence these concepts are good ones. They speak to the natural rhythms of our lives, and our very human need to collaborate and trust. Scrum, like marriage is a contract, rooted in sound values. Each is a promise of an improved quality of life. And yes, we’ll screw both up time after time. And still the ideas are strong.

28 responses to “Marriage, but

  1. Tobias,
    Very nice way to lead up to the point. Can’t argue with you at all on this one. Anything, done poorly, will fail. The question is if the underlying concept is sound or not.

    Of course, I would argue that the same could be said for Project Management. It’s not the base concept that is bad, but how (and when) it is implemented.

    Picking the right tool, for the right job and then using it correctly (Don’t hold the pointy end of the sword) is an art and science. I firmly believe no one tool is right for all situations. Scrum is certainly a good tool, when used right, in the right context, it can do incredible things.

    • Hi Joel. Yes, good point, we need to assess whether or not the concept is sound. In this case I believe it is. So much modern research ponts towards Scrum (and similar ways of working) to be aligned with the way humans naturally interact. So much of the Tayloresque tradition on which the PMI/Project Management model is based works against that.

      Coincidentally, this quote just emerged on the #LSSC11 twitter stream from Dave Snowden’s keynote: “Work with how humans have evolved to be, not against it, @snowded” As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a wealth of research now on the application of complexity science to human organizations. This is not a tool, it is a way of being in the world.

  2. Saying nothing about agile, I must say that if 50% of the implementations of some strategy fail, it doesn’t look too good for that approach. Granted, it could be that it’s the best game in town nonetheless. Could be that the other options are even worse. But this is not a given and it might well be that the strategy, the concept, is just in need of some serious rework.

    Regarding the given example, I don’t buy the concept much at all. Humans used to live in hunter-gatherer tribes and used to breast feed each others’ children. I’m quite sure that it wasn’t the only thing that was shared. I guess that these mammals, were they still around in the same form they once were, would look at us like we were mad if we told them about our great concept. They would probably point to us that even with great effort half of the implementations would fail and even the ones that would kind of work wouldn’t necessarily lead to lasting well-being and comfort.

    So, from you saying if A then B, I’m just saying not A. I agree to if A then B and to agile. I’d rather see agility in the marriages than marriage-like structures in agile. The big M sounds too much like waterfall to me with all that goes with it.

    Good post, though. I just disagree with your comparative concept of choice.

    • Hi John. The basic tenet of Communism is “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability”. There have been zero successful implementations* of Communism, and yet I believe the principles underlying the concept are sound. The core tenet is humane, logical, fair and absolutely common-sensical. Failure of implementation doesn’t prove failure of concept.

      * in my opinion; others would argue against that.

      • What *does* continual failure prove? Scrum after all is accepted/popular because of it’s success – or the success that it has enabled – or…

  3. Nice post, Tobias. I wonder if the metaphor extends to:
    People who are unable to fulfill the marriage concept but try anyway.
    People who are not really compatible with marriage (or each other)but try anyway.
    People who get married for the wrong reasons.
    People who should never get married.
    People who should try a different relationship status other than “married.”
    People who expect marriage to solve all of their problems.
    People who think marriage should be something other than how it is already defined. (hot topic, I know, I’m not expressing an opinion one way or the other)

    • Hi Charles. One can play around with this metaphor quite a bit, but like any metaphor or analogy, it will fall down at some point. But let me take a few of your points…

      > People who get married for the wrong reasons & People who expect marriage to solve all of their problems.
      People adopt Scrum in this way all the time. If the motive is a quick fix, is purely profit-focused, or is used to micromanage employees it usually fails.

      > People who are unable to fulfill the marriage concept but try anyway.
      I played around with trying to include this group in my original post, but couldn’t find a way for the metaphor to be meaningful here. But let’s see… if such a couple separate in an agreeable way we could consider that marriage a success (although not the success we originally sought). Sometimes with emergent product development we get an unexpected result, which is better than what we originally hoped for. Maybe the individuals seek a new implementation with another (with other team members?) or may =be not. Either way there is likely to be useful learning. But I think I am straying from my original metaphor.

  4. What a a load of bolony.

    Of course marriages fail and Marriage fails.

    To assume the model is infallible is to perpetuate the injustice that when ‘marriages succeed it is the model that enables it to, yet when marriages fail it is the implementation’.

    Marriage is one framework that is based on a different time with people with different challenges. It hasn’t evolved with the times nor the people and is increasingly at odds with both.

    Draw lines from Marriage to Project Management and you will find similar situations. Project Management is strongly aligned to old school production line mechanics when labour was dirt cheap and human beings were far more dispensible than laws now protect. It is the pursuit of these archaic values that have fueled offshoring to some extent.

    Actually Scrum is quite a crappy framework. There I said it.

    For all its crappiness though, it encapsulates one simple goodness – it creates the conditions for self organisation. Everything else is gumph.

    Since when has anything in life been as simple as 3 roles, 3 artefacts and 4 rituals. C’mon! We are dealing with people and the only way people get anything done using all they are capable of is self organisation. Even this predates Marriage. But you don’t sell ‘frameworks’, methodologies and certification with the simple message of self organisation. You need to fluff it up with stuff.

    Marriage was a tool of religious and social control, Project Management is a tool of organisational control on people who have traded (poorly) their time for money. Would Project Management even exist as we recognise it today if people got paid by what value they generate and are given the freedom to collaborate?

    As you were.

  5. Hi Mike. Thanks for your thoughts, and the different perspective.

    > [when] marriages succeed it is the model that enables it to…
    No, it is the people that make marriage succeed not the framework. The framework is the starting point, the contract a foundation for dialog. Likewise the Scrum contract is a starting point for self-organization (we seem to agree on that). What emerges depends on the humans and the context, and again the contract is a foundation for dialog.

    > Marriage was a tool of religious and social control…
    Marriage pre-dates religion by a long way. It’s use as a social control mechanism also came late in the game. The concept of self-organization is as old as humanity, likewise the concept of love and partnership. Commitment and faithfulness is a more recent concept. Again entirely independent of religion, although there is likely a social aspect that extends from the development of kindness, consideration and empathy.

    > But you don’t sell ‘frameworks’, methodologies and certification
    You may be confusing Scrum with the Scrum Alliance. Scrum itself has nothing to do with certification, or selling, or promotion of any kind. In fact, Scrum done well tends to be an attractor.

  6. Might not hurt to read this:

    “There is no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings.”

    • Thanks for the link. Certainly some marriage circumstances support polygamy. This could be considered an extension to the basic idea. It need not break the essential contract though. Providing both parties agree to the arrangement the marriage can still respect such concepts as love, loyalty and honor.

      Scrum implementations vary greatly from team to team and organization to organization. What works in one circumstance may be useless, or even offensive in another. Again, I believe it is the principles that underlie Scrum that matter, not the process. There’s a nice paradox here: a team doing Scrum really well, won’t be doing Scrum at all.

  7. What is the tipping point / is there a tipping point where we start to question the framework rather than the implementation? Or is this a question of faith?

    • Hi Phil. Good question. There may be an aspect of faith (I know some readers will hate that concept!) but more likely the need to focus on the framework will evaporate. Mature Scrum teams may not have formal meetings, may have dispensed with the ScrumMaster role, and many of the formal practices new teams are encouraged to adopt (e.g. tasking out stories, velocity tracking…) may be dropped. As I said above, a team doing Scrum really well, won’t be doing Scrum at all.

      But in terms of the tipping point you mention. At which point in your marriage do you question the whole marriage concept… and if you do, is it reasonable, or just an excuse to not focus on your own dysfunction. Often it is easy to blame Scrum for an organizations failure, but this is much moe likely to be scapegoating than reasonable analysis.

  8. Wow. Interesting take on marriage… and interesting comments. It sounds… or rather… the whole concept can get into “religious debates.” Preconceived notions of whether humans are even “marriage-centric” or not. Those arguments are a waste of time. Good points here all around Tobias.

  9. “A team doing Scrum really well, won’t be doing Scrum at all”: I couldn’t agree more with that. Following your marriage metaphor that might be a couple of an old man and an old lady who has been together for 60 years and never went to a church or something like that to fully apply the framework, and never talked to each other about marriage at all, being together under love and loyalty values is just their way of living 🙂

    (Sorry if my english sucks, I think the idea is the idea is understandable)

  10. Very intereseting and thought provoking post .
    In my opinion implementations of marriage fail becuase of underlying dysfuctions with the team members and organizations ( families ) involved . We could apply Scrum ~ continual improvement to make struggling marriage implementations work -:) . I like that thought , using two framework that I believe are natural way of being / living / working together to create good implementations.

    Thanks Toby for shairing your thoughts . Enjoyed the comments as well.

  11. To continue the analogy, when you start out in a relationship / marriage you start on a journey, and as the people involved evolve, the relationship evolves. I don’t think anyone has ever asked a couple on their 50th anniversary the secret of their success and heard “we stifle each others growth and refuse to let each other change.”

    I think any Agile / Lean implementation has to be the same. You start off with a bunch of fairly likeminded individuals, choose a set of rules, then inspect and adapt your way through to something which is of that team and that team alone. It doesn’t matter what the official / original rules say, the team writes and rewrites its own rules and continually evolves. You can call it Kaizen, you can call it emergence you can call it growth, evolution or anything you like.

    My point is that you start the journey with a vision and a commitment to see it through no matter where it ends up, and then you agree your own rules as you inspect, adapt and evolve. In this successful relationships and successful agile / lean teams are very similar.

    “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” The people involved are more important than the rules the people live by, so the rules need to evolve to accomodate the people, not the other way around.

    That’s what I believe in anyway.

  12. Tobias,
    Very insightful and though-provoking article. I can’t disagree with anything you said, but I would expound on it. I believe some marriages are the equivalent to trying to build a house on shifting sand—(unsustainable foundation). The couple decides to get married based on physical attraction and visceral feelings only, instead of a marriage based on similar values and belief systems, e.g. (religion, financial, political, health, morals, etc). Once they realize they were buying into a “fantasy” rather than really knowing the actual person, it’s too late. Marriage doesn’t change who you are, it just gives the person the ability to see your “dirty laundry”.

  13. Analogy does not proof anything. It is a nice and interesting way to come up with new ideas and have a fresh look at the problem, but you just can’t say something like “If Marriage works, Scrum works”. You can’t even say that “Marriage is a contract, Scrum is a contract, so Marriage is similar to Scrum”. Marriage may be a good contract while Scrum may be a bad one easily. I don’t think there is any evidence in the post that prove that Scrum works as a framework.

    While I definitely like agile in general, I am pretty sure that Scrum is NOT the BEST possible framework. We will invent something better in the next couple of decades for sure.

    • Michael, I agree. Analogies are not proof. The point I am attempting to make is that one needs to separate an idea (or ideal) from its implementation. Ideals don’t succeed or fail, although (as you point out) they may be replaced by better ideals. I stand by this statement: Scrum, like marriage is a contract, rooted in sound values. It is. And the statement doesn’t imply that either marriage or Scrum are the best contracts we can ever come up with. Both will do for now now as we seek better. My job is take the Scrum ideal and make it actual. It has worked reasonably well for me so far.

      And in case it isn’t clear from my other writings, I don’t view Scrum as a prescription or a process, and have little interest in either. Scrum is a starting point in a long journey to change the way we do work. It needs to be understood as a foundation, not a band-aid.

      • > Scrum is a starting point in a long journey to change the way we do work. It needs to be understood as a foundation, not a band-aid.

        It is hard to disagree. In fact I am thinking that we can define the simplest agile framework as “reflect and adapt” 🙂 In this case there are no prescriptions at all, but team should review process and find weak areas. While this will work for sure for experienced team, it will fail miserably for novice team. There is always balance between “complete” framework like RUP and light framework as Scrum or Crystal Clear. Teams need at least some knowledge about
        1. How to spot and find root problems
        2. How to solve problems

        Scrum provides no help about 1 and a little help in 2. I personally feel lack of problem discovering/solving techniques in all agile methodologies, but it is one of the most important skill in agile team…

        That is why we need to learn from other disciplines like system thinking, TRIZ, etc.

    • By the way…
      > I am pretty sure that Scrum is NOT the BEST possible framework.
      What is it about Scrum you think makes it an inadequate framework for improvement? Here is why I think it is a effective one: Simple Scrum.

      • >What is it about Scrum you think makes it an inadequate framework for improvement?

        I didn’t say that. And I don’t think that Scrum is bad. It works. But I just don’t believe it is the best thing we can invent.

  14. Michael,

    Do you think anything currently in existence in the world right now is the best thing we can invent?

    I find your “…we can invent” statement to provide very little value to the conversation.

    • Yes, you are right. It is quite pointless 🙂 My vision is that agile community should pay more attention to
      1. problem identification and problem solving techniques (system thinking, TRIZ)
      2. User Experience
      3. Shorten feedback cycles an ALL levels

      and pay less attention to Certificates and NOKIA-tests.

      • > and pay less attention to Certificates and NOKIA-tests.
        OMG! Yes indeed. But surely you know that I absolutely don’t support either of those stupidities.

        The sad thing is that most people’s perception of Scrum these days is of a coercive, prescriptive, certification-driven process managed by hard core zealots with no desire to be flexible or to embrace new thinking.

        And you know what? I’m beginning to think they are probably right 😦

  15. Tobias, I know about your approach to Scrum and to be honest I think it is one of the best approaches to Scrum possible. That that was not personal, just my own vision, so I agree with “The sad thing is that most people’s perception of Scrum these days is of a coercive, prescriptive, certification-driven process ” and I don’t like it either.

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