Knowledge comes from experience and experience comes from being exposed to many different situations. Well, it’s obvious, right? Most of us work (or at least value more work) in cross-functional teams. Such conditions create great opportunity to play different roles, learn more and quicker. In the end gain more experience. In my career I played many different roles – software engineer, architect, project manager, board member – for sure I learned a lot. But what I value the most is reflection on how all those roles and duties created one common thing in the end – new increment of some product.
Most of you know Conway’s Law – ‘organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.’ You may agree or not with this Law, but I believe we can find a lot of examples of such structures in our companies. I’m not only talking about software systems here. Every time you set boundaries – you will get two different perspectives on the same border. This approach has huge advantages and ther’s a lot of situations in which we seek for such results. E.g. Lidership PO (and a very ambitious goal), appropriate organizational conditions (enforcing team’s independence) and Scrum Masters work will help to create a certain, individual team identity. The team has its own name, own rituals (common lunchtime or coffee breaks) and so on. This are foster closer collaboration and focus on obtaining goals. We can find similarities in launching a new product line – dedicated teams, closed structure, different rules and policies increase innovation and speed up learning. You probably won’t achieve this by applying the same rules as you would apply in a core, old business.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Unfortunately Conway’s Law has mostly negative consequences. Created boundaries immediately bring different goals and optimization techniques. I’ve heard a good example of that many years ago from Alexey Krivitsky. It was about fries company which was divided into three departments: Preps (cleaning and potatoes peeling), Cuts (cutting potatoes into fries) and Fry Makers (frying, packaging and serving customers). When new business target was set: increase # of sold fries packages, the magic started to happen. Preps wanted to achieve targets so they increased the number of cleaned and peeled potatoes. They didn’t change the process so in the end there were more potatoes but not cleaned and peeled well. Cuts saw this and had to fix some of the potatoes. They still wanted to hit business goals so the fries became bigger. As you know bigger fries fry a bit longer. Goals of Fry Makers were not achieved. I find this simple story very useful in many contexts. As long as you do not see the whole, optimizing the parts will end up with suboptimal results. This brings ‘we versus them’: ‘we developers vs you testers’, ‘we engineers vs you operation folks’, ‘devs vs infra’, ‘product vs tech’, ‘business vs engineering’ and so on. Again, everyone doing their best but the overall results suffer.
WHEN IN ROME DO AS THE ROMANS DO
As a Scrum Master, agile coach, leader, engineer or whatever role you have in your team, you will lose a big picture. The more time you spend with particular group the less issues and bottlenecks you will find. That’s how it is. Have a look at your energy level when you were just starting your work. All the things you located as ‘to be fixed’ – how many of them did you get used to? Sounds familiar? For me too! This is what I call the blunt saw.
STEP OUT AND STEP IN
Are you stuck in some area? Try to change the perspective. The only way working for me is to take a step out, look around and decide where to take the next step. You can try to do this in your workplace – find an issue that bothers your team and involves other teams. Go and spend few hours or days there. Look at the flow of work, hear and feel what is happening when hot topic from your team is being on hot spot. What arguments do you hear? Do you agree with your team now? Or maybe your perspective has changed? Dear Scrum Master, think about switching with someone – we call it ‘scrum masters swing’;) – go somewhere else, act as Scrum Master for some other team (for day, week, month, quarter – dependably of what you can afford). You will meet new people, you will exercise your toolbox and get a breathe of fresh air. You will come back changed. Your team will also be different – you can’t predict what will change. Are you afraid what will happen? Or maybe you are afraid your team may become better without you?
FIND A MIRROR
Some time ago I invited a colleague to one of my regular team meetings. He sat in corner doing some stuff – almost being invisible to others. After the session he took me on side and asked a few simple, eye-opening questions .I became blind to the issues we had. It was like an eye opener – what is the situation? who am I in this context? what should I do? If you have never tried this – you should. Ask other Scrum Master to visit you and ask him to be your mirror. What did he/she see? What did he/she hear? What word did you use? What was your body saying?
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FENCE
During one of Scrumvivals about Scrum Master toolbox we started to discuss how we do similar stuff in a bit different, context dependent way. Those context aspects were crucial but understanding it wasn’t trivial. This is how the idea of visiting different workplaces was born. Simple concept (not so easy in terms of company’s intellectual property:)) became viral. Couple of companies already done it and the results are positive. Scrum Masters can experience different contexts, see different products, different styles of leadership and reflect on how same issues can be tackled in different ways. If you are interested in such possibilities, drop us a message and check scrumvival page.
Everyone knows who the devil’s advocate is. Someone who pisses you off every time during arguments by having different point of view on the same situation. It’s frustrating, can make you crazy, angry or furious (or all at the same time). I’m one of those. Sometimes I do it just for the purpose but most of the times I try to show different side of the same coin. Why do I do it? Well, unfortunately it’s in my nature. The other reason is that I know the feeling of being blindly wrong about things I was a 100% sure I was right. But in many case understanding this wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t changed the context and saw the other side of the same coin.
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