September 5, 2010

I’ve been a certified scrum master for about 5 years now. I’ve learned a lot from the scrum community. There have been things that I liked and more than a few things that I had quiet reservations about or outright disagreements with. In my scrum master certification course, Ken Schwaber made it clear that we were joining a community and if we deviated too far from the accepted standards held by that group, we could be rejected by that community. If we were judged to have violated the principles of scrum, or tried to take advantage of the process, he or the community at large, would take some sort of action, legal or otherwise, to protect itself and cast out the offender. He even went so far as to give us an example of specific case where he and others had done exactly that.

At the time I put this in the context of other communities that I was a member of like the PMI. These communities generally define some set of values and then ask you to agree that if you violate those values or are found wanting in some way, you will be excommunicated from the community. The way that I see it, this is integral to the very process of creating a community. At some level it’s all part of defining the membership of the community – its all part of defining the difference between “us” and “them”. Fair enough. It’s not a problem if you never find yourself pushing those boundaries – and fortunately those boundaries are usually defined very loosely.

I joined the scrum discussion group and even contributed to the discussion from time to time in some small way. There were lively debates that went on and I found the discussion, while often pedantic, was generally entertaining and occasionally enlightening. Then one day a group of people were formally cast out of the discussion group by the moderator, Ken Schwaber. They were people whom I respected, but they had an apparently annoying habit of calling things into question – especially scrum itself. Apparently Ken got frustrated with this, and kicked them out of the group. To me, this really came down to intolerance. While there was a reconciliation that took place and some of the people where permitted to return to the group, I quit the discussion group. I was offended by what I had seen. I didn’t want to belong to any group where I could be rejected for asking the wrong question. Ultimately it was a minor thing for the group, but I discovered I had a sensitivity to that sort of behavior that I hadn’t realized before.

Around that time I worked for a body shop/project outsourcing/consultancy that prided itself on its adoption of scrum. As with many groups, they went through a period of orthodoxy and testing for conformance. It seems to be part of the agile adoption life cycle. It doesn’t matter what the process is. It could be scrum, XP, or Lean. At some point, the corporate enthusiasm rises to a level where people start to say, “We should ALL be doing this!” That usually leads to testing for conformance. It’s surprising the kinds of things that people will test you on to see if you are agile or not. The questions include, but are not limited to: practices, ideology, technology, behavior, values. Nothing is out of bounds. If you’ve ever experienced this you know exactly what I’m talking about. People put together assessments in order to test your conformance to the principles of your process.  Then, to quote Project Runway, you are either “in” or “You are out!”

I went along with this for a while, but I found myself getting increasingly upset with the whole assessment thing. It was a difficult time for me for a lot of reasons. I remember stating my fear explicitly once, “What if they find out that I’m not Agile enough?” I know it’s a ridiculous question, but it’s how I felt at the time. I recall having a meeting with the folks who were in charge of compliance where I got very emotional – perhaps unreasonably so, as I tried to express how damaging I felt these kinds of assessments were. I was never assessed as not agile enough, but then again I did eventually get laid off. Hmmm…

I keep bumping into this issue over an over again with the scrum community. I find myself questioning things – the value of scrum, the value of what we are trying to do in the agile community. I write blogs like this one where I express my reservations and doubts openly and honestly. Having been fairly successful with agile projects over the years, I decided to try and apply to become a certified scrum coach. No dice. I couldn’t meet the standards for that group. I didn’t agree with the assessment, but I found that the process was very opaque and there was no allowance for discussion or debate on the assessment. No response at all. I was simply shut out. So I was done. Come back next year. With better answers next time.

For some reason I just couldn’t summon the energy to go through more of that. I decided that I didn’t want to be part of a group that wasn’t willing to take the time to genuinely engage with me. These days anybody can put the words, “Agile Coach” on their business card and people don’t ask a lot of probing questions. So I really don’t need the certification. Furthermore, I’m not sure that I want to constrain myself to just coaching scrum. I’m fascinated by a lot of other processes that have nothing to do with scrum. Some are even counter to scrum. So I found myself rejected by a part of the scrum community and questioning my motivations for being a part of that community in the first place.

So recently my certified scrum professional certification expired. I went to the website and discovered that if you have been a CSP for 2 years, you must re-apply for the certification AND pay $250 for the privilege. Now really it’s just a formality (and money), so why should I be concerned? I’m having a very hard time with this decision. I have a lot of very good friends in the scrum community, but I’m honestly getting pretty tired of the BS. I really don’t want to be assessed again. I want to be part of a community that accepts me for who I am. I’m tired of fearing rejection. I’m tired of paying money for the privilege. I really don’t believe that it serves to improve the community. Maybe it’s time that I just moved on. Something tells me that as a leader and a follower, my world would be a whole lot richer if I spent a little time away from the narrow pedagogical confines of scrum. It could be a mistake. This could be the dumbest thing I’ve written in a long time. Call it Shu Ha Ri. I’m going Ha for a while. Ha.

Personal Value Stream Mapping

September 3, 2010

As a project manager, a scrum master, a team lead, or even as an agile coach I’ve wondered from time to time about the true value that I bring to a team. You see, to me it is entirely plausible that a team could work just fine without any of the aforementioned roles being present. In fact, I know that there are many teams that are quite successful without a project manager on the team. That goes for scrum masters too. It has always been a difficult question to face with any intellectual honesty.

Recently I picked up Mary and Tom Poppendieck’s latest book, Leading Lean Software Development. She uses frames to illustrate some of the successful and unsuccessful approaches to software development over the last 40 years. She deals rather harshly with what she calls the Project Management Frame. Basically, if you accept their take on modern project management it is wrong-headed on a number of different levels and is the source of a great deal of waste and very little value in the overall business value stream. Speaking as someone who basically operates in this role, it’s a pretty harsh toke. Having spoken with her about it, I get the impression that when she talks about project management, she doesn’t make any distinction between scrum masters, XP coaches, or traditional project managers. They are all separated from the work and using “management” to manipulate or measure the teams with metrics that at best serve no useful purpose and at worst cause a great deal of harm. Now I know there are those who might argue these points vociferously, but Mary and Tom are pretty darn smart, so I think there is some merit in considering their viewpoint seriously.

What value do project managers provide to the business value stream? Please note that I’m using the term project manager very loosely. It includes Scrum Masters and other leaders of that ilk. Well, perhaps the best way to answer that question would be to build your own personal value stream map. Take a recent project and see if you can list all of the activities that you engaged in as part of delivering that project. Line ’em up in chronological order, identify the wait steps and the queues and see what your personal efficiency, from the perspective of the team value stream is. It might look something like this:

  1. Release Planning
  2. Sprint Planning
  3. Daily Standups
  4. Retrospectives
  5. Reviews/Demos
  6. Resolving Impediments
  7. Release Coordination
  8. Change Control
  9. Tracking (taskboard, etc.)

So…if I look at that list, what activities are value adding from the customer’s perspective? Oooh, that might be a pretty short list:

  1. Reviews/Demos
  2. Resolving Impediments
  3. Release Coordination

All the other stuff is just “process” overhead without any intrinsic value. That leaves a pretty darn short list. Facilitating reviews/demos is certainly not much of a unique skill. You can do that without a PM. Easy. How about resolving impediments? Well, that sort of depends on how many you resolve…and even then, resolving impediments is not the exclusive domain of the PM/Scrum Master. Finally, there is only release coordination. Some people do that, others don’t – it depends on the organization. And does release coordination represent value to the customer? Would they pay for it? Maybe…

Perhaps that’s a brutal assessment of the value of a team leader. I tend to be that way. Others may be more forgiving. What it tells me is that, at least in my case, if I’m not eliminating a LOT of impediments, I’m probably not contributing much direct value to the team. They really don’t need me for those other activities. It’s the impediment removing that represents the real value. And you don’t need a PMI certification to remove impediments…or a CSM certification…or a title…