Three years ago, I started a new and exciting career: I made my first steps in becoming a scrum master. It was difficult at first, because it required a shift in my way of thinking. However once I understood the basics, all was well.
…or was it?
Initially, when I first learned about scrum, my thought was: “This is great. There is nothing revolutionary to it! This is nothing more than common sense!”. And I still believe that.
Scrum is about opening up the development process to customers. It’s about having regular check-ins, showing them the latest state of the product every few weeks, instead of hunkering down and working for years without receiving input from the people who actually use the product.
Scrum is also about making people awesome. From an employer’s perspective, it’s about making people’s work life less terrible: clarifying issues, preventing overwork, adjusting employees’ work processes to their respective working style. From a company’s perspective, it’s about creating a product that solves the everyday issues of your users: looking at problems from your users’ perspective, delivering early and often, and adjusting the product as you learn more about your users and their needs.
It all sounds nice and sound. And I, as the scrum master, am in the middle of it — or so I thought.
So I went off. I evangelised about scrum, conducted retrospectives, had one-on-one’s, learned about coaching, promoted workspace security, learned about other approaches like lean and kanban and UX und all the other methods…
Three years and one burn-out later, I realised what scrum is really about. It’s not about removing impediments and making teams go faster. There are a lot limitations as to what I, a lonely warrior, can do — most of the work has to be done by team members. I can educate them, remind them about our agreements, ask “clever” questions, and make it as easy as possible to take actions. But ultimately, other people need to complete these actions on their own — I cannot make them do it.
My real job is about making problems visible. It’s about removing the veil that conceals the ugliness beneath teams. It is about ripping open a wound that seems to be healing well to take care of the pus underneath. My job is to make the filth obvious and bring it as close to people as possible, so that they cannot ignore or hide from it anymore.
If I could go back in time and give my past self some advice, it would be this: do not go and try to convince people about scrum or kanban or agile or whatever. Go out and ask the uncomfortable questions. People will hate it. And that is fine. Some people might actually hate the questions so much that they will want to go into discussions about it. When the ugliness has been made painfully obvious — people cannot sugarcoat it anymore. Sometimes they will refuse to do anything about it and just live with the ugliness. But most of the time they will go ahead and change things. That is my actual day-to-day-work: seeing the ugly things and talking about them. A lot.