Letting Go of the Past

February 23, 20092 min

Sometimes when I meet with people who want to do Scrum (or anything Agile), they have a hard time looking beyond the past to a new way of making products.  They resist any change to the way things are done because they are often times too wrapped up in their old patterns of behavior.  I understand where this form of resistance originates – these individuals have been so involved with their the organization and its dysfunctions, they have forgotten that things can be different.  They have forgotten that things were different some time ago and their organization used to be “cool”.  What many people do not truly understand is they really do have the power to make their organization “cool” again and that if they really want something to change, it will change.

It is no mistake that the very first line of the Agile Manifesto reads:

Individuals and interactions over process and tools

One of the main themes in Agile is about individuals making a better professional life for themselves.  Apart from our families, our professional life is the second largest use of our time on this planet.  The relationships and interactions we have at work have some of the most far reaching influences over our lives, yet we all act as if we are passive actors in our professional lives.  If we are unhappy about our work life, we own some of responsibility for current state of affairs.  The powerful thing about Agile is we can decide to make the future better.     

In a recent example, I was coaching a group of programmers on how they can use Scrum to develop a new product.  They were very early in the development of their project and we were trying to reach a consensus of  how we will work together in the future.  I was struck by how many of the obstacles they were discussing which were result of “marketing”.  If “marketing” only did this or provided us with that or gave us what we asked for – you get the picture.  It’s not us that have the problems, its them.  While there was some truth to their analysis, but as in any good dysfunctional relationship both sides share equal blame for the situation.  What I found surprising was these programmers had ceded all their power for change to “marketing”.  If you believed them, nothing would change until you got buy-in from “marketing”.  As a result, they were stuck.  

I think I made a breakthrough with these folks because by the end of the workshop, they were very interested in finding measures which helped them see if they were on the right track for change or off in the weeds.  Anytime the participants in a workshop want to stay for a couple more hours to define metrics is sure sign of ownership.