Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Daily Scrum - a question

Srinivas sent me the following note:
"Thanks to Joe and all of the attendees – I have learned a lot from all of you. I have a simple question – in the daily scrum meeting – if I understood it correctly, team members are expected to answer the 3 questions to the team – and not the scrum master. Yes? How did you get them to do it? What I am finding is that the members are reporting to the scrum master."

Here is how I replied.
Yes, the 3 questions are answered by each 'pig' (including the Product Owner). To the whole team, not to the SM. (We don't need to get too concerned about exactly where the eyes look, as long as the attitude is right.) The SM is the master of ceremonies of the meeting...trying to keep it good, to the point, quick, useful.

Explain the purpose: To give the team members enough info each day to make mid-course corrections to 'land' all the promised stories by the end of the sprint. Everyone can help make mid-course corrections. Of one sort or another.

To stop the behavior you mention, sometimes the SM has to remind them to report to the team. Remind them of the purpose. And sometimes avert eye contact. And sometimes step 'outside' the semi-circle of pigs.

If the SM is the former Project Manager, this is a hard switch for everyone, since the habit of 'reporting' to the PM may be well engrained.

Help enough?

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In my last post, I talked about responsibility. Or mentioned it briefly.

As I was walking my dog today, I was thinking of what I would say. And I thought of the famous line from that movie: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." (Network) [This is a rather complicated allusion, so apologies to those expecting a simple one.]

So, if we are free, we have to also acknowledge our duty, our responsibility. This is an ancient concept in all cultures. Freedom to be completely irresponsible is not a thing any civilized person wants.

At the personal level, responsibility means first we must take care of ourselves, without violating the freedom of others. And take care of our immediate families and friends.

But, and perhaps in this season and in my culture influenced by Christ, we may say responsibility joyfully also includes: It is more blessed to give than to receive. More broadly to our, as it was quaintly phrased, to give to our neighbors. To those we know but have no real connection to.

In business this may seem a paradox. And for me for most of my life this seemed hard: That I should give more than I get. But it does not say that. To me it says: by focusing on the giving, you actually receive more. Not unlike what Peter Drucker said (that the purpose of the firm was to serve the customers).

Receive more of what? Ah, yes, of the more valuable things. Let me leave it at that. No doubt in some way you have experienced this.

Business is a wonderful transaction, where each side gives less than he gets. One side pays less than the object is worth to them. And the other side gives up a (to them) less valuable object (or service) for the money they need more. It is wonderful magic. The magic of freedom, and free enterprise.

So, what am I mad about? I look about me and see, so plainly, so much imperfection. So much want. So much need. So many tears. So many who deny such large parts of their full humanity. As though life or the world is so dreadful, they must hole themselves up inside a 'resource' that is barely more than a thinking machine that drinks coffee. They willingly give up such large parts of their full humanity. I too have done this. We are so much more than we have yet become.

So, if you are a little bit free, if you have a little bit more of material wealth or perhaps that greater wealth, confidence that in life (as in death) all will be well if we stride confidently toward our dreams, then you have the responsibility to give that to others. Make them more free. Make them more confident that they can make of their own lives a better life. And themselves do that too, for others. Not abstractly, but one moist, shaking, confused, imperfect, animalistic, feeling, breath-inspiring, mistake-making, incompletely understanding child of god at a time. Make ready one person waiting to shine as the paragon of animals. This is where the real value is.

Now, I am not against money and business. Far far from that. I believe in money, as one of the more useful illusions of man. But money and business were made to serve man, not man to serve them. I am speaking now of the music that plays beneath all the MBA stuff you may have learned.

You have the responsibility, as you well know, to serve a higher purpose.

I do not sound this call to ask you to make an unreasonable sacrifice, which would most likely be only an ego-trip. No, within the real humility of your real self and station, neither too high nor too low, you can do more easily. If you put yourself in the flow of the truth and the way. Easily. If you stand upon the truth, and act in concert with your friends and colleagues, the world cannot resist you. Fearsome as it may seem sometimes, it cannot resist you. We have so many examples, do you need to hear them again? I will mention, as one overwhelming to me, the falling of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

So, this is our responsibility. To act somewhat more greatly than we have till this day. And yet to recognize that even our enemies are our friends. Fight them if we must, but fight them as a way of saying they are worthy of our fight. They are humans who deserve the help of correction.

The first shall be last. And the greatest wash the very feet of their friends. These seem paradoxes, but the wise know that strongest action comes from quietness and balance. You can do it.

Perhaps you do not like, or do not feel called to be responsible to, the purpose I have tried to articulate. No mind. Articulate for yourself and others a yet better purpose.

PS. For those looking for concrete agile ideas, see the next post on Sprint Planning. (Although the ideas in this post really are also agile ideas you can act on.)

Friday, December 10, 2010


We have written here about freedom before. But, as Rousseau said, man is born free and everywhere is in chains. So, it is a topic that bears repeated discussion.

In business and in life, too many people want to think that they own other people. Other 'resources' or whatever they may call these people. These owners might be managers, generals, admirals, spouses, older brothers.

The more correct attitude should be as a manager or as a person: 'Thank you for graciously allowing me to work (or live) with you."

No one owes us anything.

Yes, I know it is hard to accept. But there is no amount of anything that we 'gave' them that makes them our slave.

Not an employee, not a spouse, not a friend, not a child, not anyone. They always have the choice to work (or live) with us or not. We never, in any way, own or command them.

(Yes, perhaps in wartime, it may be useful for the commander-in-chief to command from time to time. But almost always, according to good military ideas, it is setting a mission rather than commanding a specific action. Cf. Maneuver Warfare in Wikipedia, as one example. Thus, even in this situation, there is much scope for freedom. And few are the successful generals who lead troops that do not choose (freely) to accomplish the mission.)

Least of all should we contravene their freedom for their own benefit -- for our view of the 'benefit' for these employees (except perhaps for children who are 17 or less).

We have to respect that God, in his infinite wisdom, has given them their freedom (and given us our freedom). And allowed them to make mistakes (and us to make our mistakes). And we have no right to control what God has made free.

Now, this does not mean we can not give our friends advice or our employees (or others) advice. But, real soon, if they don't take the advice, we have to let them be free. Leave them alone, as we say.

"People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do." Little's Second Law

Meaning: They will do what they want. And they won't do what they do not want to do (what we wish to 'force' them to do).

It may seem like a traffic wreck to us, sometimes, but we have to let them do it. Often we (who think we are so smart) are wrong. It does not become a traffic wreck at all. Sometimes we are right, that it does become a traffic wreck (of some proportion). Usually even that actually ends up good -- they learn from that. Far better learning than what would have come from our so-called brilliant advice.

So, if your team trusts you, from your actions in removing their impediments perhaps, trusts that you actually care about the team, then, surprisingly, they may actually listen to your advice more. But you have to accept, as a manager, that it MUST be only advice, and not a command.

Sorry! It seems so much harder than just commanding.
In fact, it is so much better. (So, the 'sorry' is retracted.) Even for you as a manager.

Many are the men who bob their heads, saying by that action that they believe in freedom, perhaps even that their lives are dedicated to freedom. And then in the next hour they try to abridge the freedom of another. 'As you from sins would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.' I too of course have made this error; and so I can forgive.

PS. Not only is freedom still to be learned by those who wish to command. Equally we who continue to be commanded must learn that we really are free, and we cannot put up with abridgments of our freedom. This is the path that humanity has been on for only a millennium or perhaps two, so we still have far to go.

PSS. As soon as we talk about freedom, we must immediately speak of responsibility. It seems paradoxical, but it is not. On that topic next post.