Scrum: Does it engage or enrage?

Uncategorized Mar 10, 2017

Values of Scrum

Commitment Team members individually commit to achieving their team goals, each and every Sprint.

Courage Team members know they have the courage to work through conflict and challenges together so that they can do the right thing.

Focus Team members focus exclusively on their team goals and the Sprint Backlog; there should be no work done other than through their backlog.

Openness Team members and their stakeholders agree to be transparent about their work and any challenges they face.

Respect Team members respect each other to be technically capable and to work with good intent.

*(Wikipedia Scrum Values https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_(software_development) )


 Let’s start with why and what a Scrum is. A well run Scrum is for the technical employees doing the actual work. The purpose is to help the contributors be more effective creating the deliverable as a team. The addition of manager’s or stake holder’s doing anything but listening only serves to change a scrum into another management meeting, not the contributors working session it is supposed to be.

At it’s core, a scrum is just a fast roll call meeting with each project contributor answering 3 questions:

What did you do yesterday?

What will you be doing today?

Is there anything blocking you?

Seems as if it should be pretty easy for anyone to accomplish. The interesting twist comes when we stop thinking about what scrum accomplishes and how it is implemented and start thinking about the interaction required and the abilities of the participants to engage in this type of interaction.

 Who are the people actively participating in a proper scrum? It is the technical workers who design the product, create the software, or build the infrastructure. Being one I can say this, basically we are the geeks and nerds. You know some things about us quite well. We are the ones at company events who stay off to the side because we struggle with social interaction, find small talk difficult, and make honest, but inappropriate observations. We also may talk with an abnormal tone, volume, or pace, not read body language and cues, avoid looking in your eyes, and have an emotional incident determine our mood for the day. You may recognize these characteristics as some of the common traits of Asperger’s Syndrome.

 I have worked in IT as a developer for 20 years, but I was completely unaware of both the condition Asperger’s and how prevalent its traits are in technical workers. Even more surprising was learning I had it and most of the other tech workers I know have very strong traits or the full blown syndrome. On the good side Asperger’s gives us the thought processes and way of seeing the world which allows us to create reality and work on real things before they are real. Exactly what you need to be an engineer, developer, or financial spreadsheet wiz. On the down side are many communication, behavioral, and physical challenges associated with it.

 By now you are probably asking, what does this have to do with scrum? Here is my thought. In scrum we take a group of people that often have communication or social interaction challenges. We make them stand in front of not only their peers, but frequently managers and other non-technical people. Then we make them address the group. Imagine if your brain struggled with filtering what you say, responding to questions in real time, or just shut down in social situations. Doesn’t matter if you are a technical genius, the process of scrum is going to cause you anxiety and probably some hostility and anger for having to do it.

 What's the problem? For most it would be something to just move on from. But for tech heads with a tilt towards Asperger’s this can be the mood setter for our entire day. So instead of scrum serving, it may be taking some of your best and brightest and putting them in a mood that kills their productivity and ability to create reality. My cluster of traits does not include public speaking or real time response issues. I personally find scrums to be engaging. But many techies I have worked with find scrums to be stressful, unproductive affairs.

 So what do you think? Is it really such a great idea to take our best and brightest and piss them off every morning in the name of productivity? I think it is time we start to consider not just the hard skills, but also the soft skills and communication abilities of our team members. Then adjusting our process to better suit the social and communication skills of the team. Allowing an emailed answer to the 3 questions which the scrum master reads could be the little switch that turns your angry, frustrated, brilliant developer into the “make it happen” rock star you really want.

Copyright Tim Goldstein 2017

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