By Leise Passer Jensen
Sub-optimizing is becoming an excuse for not reaching your company’s potential. And imposition kills motivation.
Suddenly ‘agile’ boomed in the industry. It’s only a few years back that ‘every’ company went agile.
Or so they said. The companies. Their managers.
Photo By Cailtlin Wynne on Unsplash
Boom! We’re Agile.
They believed it. But hadn’t yet noticed the black smoke.
Maybe companies trust they’re agile because they have trained a lot of teams in Scrum or other frameworks. But this is clearly not enough.
One of my highly esteemed mentors recently reminded us that training is for dogs, but that the real goal for Scrum is to educate people with something beyond a Pavlovian response. . What was that again?
…the real goal for Scrum is to educate people with something beyond a Pavlovian response. 
My mentor knows I am also a dog trainer. I acknowledged the deepness of his advice.
You don’t ‘Go Agile’ overnight, just like that, by training the teams like a dog. The problem is that many companies still don’t realize that training is far from enough.
Can you help fix our problems with Scrum? A potential client asked.
Me: “What problems?”
“Well, our teams still don’t deliver what they have committed to. They do work in sprints.”
Sometimes, by asking a few questions, we can hint at whether they will achieve what they aim for. For example in this case: Are your teams cross-functional? May they self-organize and stay autonomous? Was agile ever imposed?
Q1. Are your teams cross-functional?
Client: “Well, we’re kind of semi cross-functional.
The nature of what we do and the type of internal products we deliver do not allow our teams to be fully cross-functional. We don’t have enough people. We need to keep the original back-end teams as-is. The UX’ers wish to sit together to feel connected and exchange knowledge daily. Our front-end developers are still inexperienced. We cannot split their team yet since they are all learning from the same mentor. And the DevOps team is too small to merge into the other teams.”
Me: “Okay — then go and fix that first!”
“We can work on it together”, I added, “engage, and involve everyone on what and how to change. But you have way too many hand-overs which slow down everything. That should be fixed.” 
Client: “What do you mean? I told you we can’t change that.“
Me: “Hm… but then you just won’t reach your potential with Scrum, and should consider doing something else.”
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Q2. Are your teams self-organizing and autonomous?
Client: “Well, we’re somewhere between self-organizing and autonomous.
We work in a highly regulated industry. We (managers) believe the teams need direction and control due to that, and we will not burden them with too much responsibility. Thus they must comply with the good- and best practices described in our company policy. We have given them a strict way of reporting progress to help their workday become more efficient. But they are free to do Daily Scrums up to 3 times a week.”
Me: “Okay — go and fix that first!”
I continued: “We have moved from the Industrial Revolution into a world of high complexity and uncertainty. In that type of domain, we can’t fix problems with policies. Your company works with complex adaptive systems: You have to take decisions without knowing all details. Neither best practices nor good practices fit your situation.
We can work on your challenges together. Experiment, engage, and involve everyone on what and how to change. But you are too strict on policies, and your level of control has to be fixed first.
People need to feel they are in control so that they can feel responsible for how they work.” , .
Client: “What do you mean? I told you we are in a highly regulated industry. We can’t go away from our as-is policies. They were pretty expensive to create.“
Me: “Hm… but then you won’t reach your potential with Scrum, and should re-consider if you can benefit enough from it.”
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Q3. Was agile or Scrum imposed on the teams?
Client: “Well, it was a corporate decision, so we had no other choice than mandate Scrum on our teams. “
“Therefore some world champions in Agile Transformations were brought in, told us what and how to do, documented the new policies, and trained the teams to become Scrum Teams.”
Me: “I see — I suggest you go and fix that first!”
Client: “That’s too late. It’s done and over with.”
I added: “Well, there are ways to invite, engage, and involve people . That is never too late. Unleash the intrinsic motivation of teams and individuals, and magic can happen. Continual Improvement is one of the cornerstones of Scrum. We can bring it in play, but it requires an effort from all affected parties. Not only the teams. But management as well.
Only then I will be able to help you. And work with everyone interested, so that we can grow your Scrum.”
As Mike Cohn once said :
Changing practices is one thing; changing minds is quite another”
The manager came back to me a few weeks later. “ I believed you could tell us how to fix our problems, but I realize now that we need to fix them ourselves. In small steps.
Can you tell me more about this Invite, Engage, and Involve people approach?”
And so we started by making his management meetings optional. We noticed how everyone showed up to his first meeting because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t. At his next meeting, however, they felt more secure. Some decided to spend time on something else which added more value for them and the company. No penalty. No blame.
This way they had experienced a new beginning in the management team. One day they could even rightfully call themselves Leadership. Slowly converting fear to trust. In small steps.
Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay
Soon we started working with engaging and involving the Scrum Teams.
Conclusion: Stop sub-optimizing! Get into the Spirit
Experiment and hypothesize to fix the real problems in due time. Face reality, but don’t make it an excuse for not being able to improve your Scrum adoption.
Learn about the true spirit of Scrum.
Invite — never enforce. Trust people and find ways to involve everyone. 
Then you will grow your Scrum. No matter what.
But stop sub-optimizing! And stop imposing Scrum and agile on teams!
 Coplien, James. “Scrum Patterns Course.” Copenhagen, 9–10 March 2020.
 Sutherland, Jeff & Coplien, James. Scrum Pattern: Cross-functional Team, http://scrumbook.org/product-organization-pattern-language/development-team/cross-functional-team.html, accessed 20-Sep-2020
 Snowden, Dave. “The Cynefin Framework.” By Cognitive Edge, 11. July 2010: https://youtu.be/N7oz366X0-8
 Sutherland, Jeff & Coplien, James. Scrum Pattern: Self-organizing Team, http://scrumbook.org/product-organization-pattern-language/development-team/self-organizing-team.html, accessed 20-Sep-2020
 Sutherland, Jeff & Coplien, James. Scrum Pattern: Autonomous Team, “A Scrum Book, The Spirit of the Game” 2019. Scrum Pattern: Autonomous Team, accessed 20-Sep-2020
 Mezick, Daniel & Mark Sheffield. “Inviting Leadership. Invitation-Based Change in the New World of Work”, 2018
 Cohn, Mike,
|© 2020 by Leise Passer Jensen|
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This article was originally published at https://baa.tco.ac/3EvL