So go ahead, try and make mistakes

None of us is born with a built-in skill set. We are equipped with evolutionary mechanisms that help us learn. Learning, most often through practice, allows us to grow and ultimately achieve mastery in a given field. Whether it’s learning to walk, grinding social skills, or writing good code, it takes time and effort to achieve mastery. Having that in mind, let’s look at how things work.

The Evolution

We all work in an environment where complex stuff is going on. We build advanced products, work with highly skilled individuals and constantly search for new technologies. We always try to meet business requirements so that our company may benefit from our work. It is hard, it has always been. Some of us remember the times, when big projects were announced, forecasted to last for years and even though we have always had a clear destination, no one could ever say if we can meet it. Milestones were often delayed, deadlines were pushing us and the goal was somewhat out of grasp. Our work was divided into phases, just as we were divided into isolated teams. Analysts, programmers, front-end developers and testers. The source of that division originated from a model of work highly popular at that time. The sequential non-iterative process commonly known as Waterfall.

Hoping to improve the process which failed us so many times, few Product Development managers started to popularize a different approach which was already gaining trust of several other companies out there. Scrum - an iterative and incremental agile software development framework for managing product development. We adopted it and just like with a touch of a magic wand, everything started to work. Right? Wrong.

The Tool

Scrum is a tool, just like a hammer. If you want it to work, you need to use it properly. The main difference between Scrum and a hammer is that they are used to solve different problems. Instead of hammering a nail into a wooden board, in Scrum we focus on working as a team to reach a common goal. Our goal is to deliver products of the highest possible value. Scrum helps us to achieve that with simple rules, one of which is that we have self-organizing teams who know how to accomplish their work. Product Owner, Development Team, Scrum Master - these are the people responsible for construction and maintenance of valuable products. And they can use Scrum as a tool to do that. But just like with a hammer, you need to know which side to grab and which side to hit with. Mess it up and you can expect poor results.

As a tool, Scrum can make you feel lost, angry and frustrated. However, just like with a hammer, do not blame the tool if you miss a hit and break your fingers. The feelings are yours and yours only. Of course they are there for some reason but still, they do not affect the tool. The cause is probably different and, believe me, Scrum can help you find it if you are willing to try.

The People

Even the best tools are worth nothing without the best people. Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for Scrum working or not. So what does it take to make it work? My experience shows that it is highly dependent on one’s individual attitude towards the whole framework. It may change with time but it takes several stages to reach the most mature: Product - oriented.

1st stage: Self - oriented. We all have it, it’s natural. But if we stop at that point, we are likely to undertake the “just let me code” attitude where you deny everything that happens outside of your personal workspace. Teamwork does not exist since we are all focused on reaching our own individual goals.

2nd stage: Team - oriented. Available to most of us with time. This is the stage where we work within a team to solve problems and achieve goals. We are aware now that working together is not a threat but a privilege. We trust ourselves and we boost our effectiveness with the help of others.

3rd stage: Product - oriented. A rare case. The ultimate awareness of the Product. This is the stage, where we realize that it takes more than just sitting in our own garden and watch things grow. The stage where we are aware that we have to reach beyond our team to develop the Product and we do it on a daily basis.

Below is a simple graph which shows how your perception broadens with the passage from one stage to another. You will not reach a higher stage if you remain in the previous one.

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The Challenge

Broadening your perception and the sphere of your influence can be hard. For most of us it may be difficult to attend meetings, speak up and interact with others. When using Scrum we work in an environment where we are supposed to do all this. No wonder we’re uncomfortable with it. But, let me remind you, it’s not the tool that is the source of these emotions and states of mind. If you don’t want to get out on a stage and sing, is it the microphone’s fault?

Give it some time. Trust the tool. Learn to use it and discover its benefits. No one expects that you will become a master scrummer in one Sprint. It often takes several months for Teams to mature and start to work effectively in Scrum. If you are committed to achieve Team goals, you will. If you have the courage to work out problems, you will. If you are focused on the work, it will be done. If you are open about the challenges, you can overcome them. If you respect each other, you will become fully capable to work in a Team.

The Effect

“When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts.”

The quote above comes from the Scrum Guide. The foundation of Scrum. Its sole purpose is to help you develop and maintain complex products. As I stated in the beginning, it takes time and effort to achieve mastery in any field you practice. The same goes for Scrum which is an empirical process focused on experimenting. So go ahead, try and make mistakes. Draw conclusions and learn. Once you master the tool, you will be amazed with the effects.