A few months ago someone I know and respect in the Agile community said that they do agile to make the world safe for programmers.
This phrase has stuck with me. I don’t know how seriously the person meant it. I suspect it was partially a joke and partially a stronger statement than one might think. I suspect it is a real driving force for that person.
And it is true that many implementers have had terrible lives, at least often, and making the world better for them is a very good thing.
But I think we should strive for more than that.
We need to make the world better for everyone.
For example, the customers do not want software (usually), they want something useful that will make their lives better. The managers need a better life. The project managers need a better life. The business owners need a better life. The testers need a better life.
Everyone around or affected by Scrum should be getting a noticeably better life. And one easily noticed, in terms of the improvement.
This is happening, although it is not happening as much and for as many people as it should. And when it is happening, it is not being noticed and celebrated as much as it should.
Well, I think one fairly important reason is that too many of us are being selfish. For example, we are so afraid that the programmer may have to work and be modest and admit failure, that we disable the mechanisms (velocity and demos, for example) that enable the customers and business people to collaborate with the Team.
Anyway: It is an odd request. We want everyone’s life to improve at the same time. No trade offs.
Can it be true every minute? Well, perhaps not. But can it be true every sprint, looking back at the sprint in total? Yes, I think so.
It is July 4th today. It is a great day to remember Freedom.
As I have said elsewhere, to my way of looking at the world, there is one word, love, that is greater than freedom. But perhaps only that one.
I was born in Virginia, and proud of it. One of the reasons is that Virginia is the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a great document for freedom. There are many great documents for freedom, but perhaps this is the greatest.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….
Jefferson was, rightly in our view, ashamed of having held the political office of President, and refused to have that office mentioned on his gravestone. That office is about power, among other things. But he was rightly proud of being author of these and the other words in the Declaration.
It is perhaps not clear enough, but Scrum too is about freedom.
It may seem odd to some managers to say that they are taking away the freedom of the workers, but it is generally the fact I find. So, Scrum is trying to establish a degree of freedom, and with it a corresponding degree of responsibility (always the twin of freedom).
It is perhaps true that some people are not worthy of that respect. But we find people in the Scrum teams almost all are worthy of that respect.
Freedom is complicated. Freedom is serious. Freedom is important. And yet Freedom is fun.
May the blessings of freedom become richer and deeper.
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.
Some people take the view that they will be lost in a team. And, to be fair, this can happen. There are bosses and there are teammates who want you to conform, to submit, to lose your identity. To a meaningful degree.
But in a real and good team, the opposite occurs. We each become able to become more of who we are.
We each can learn faster. We can be more honest. We can make mistakes and admit to them. We can learn faster from these mistakes. We can enjoy our colleagues, whom we come to know as more complete people.
Yes, there can be dysfunctions in a team. Some teams can learn their way from those dysfunctions. Some cannot.
So, we and Scrum are not in favor of collectivism, of people losing their identify. We are in favor of each person using his or her unique abilities to be creative. And struggling to find themselves within the context of the team. (Yes, one must face and deal with some compromises, which to the inexperienced or immature can seem really tough. May indeed be really tough sometimes. But unavoidable in our life as humans. ‘No man is an island’ it was once said.)
So, we are not talking about dysfunctional teams mainly. We are talking about good to great teams.
Perhaps most importantly, I get to contribute to the team making a great product that real customers will like (more). This is very satisfying.
So, it is funny how life can be more satisfying when you give to others. You get more for yourself when you are thinking mainly of others.
Now how are things for the so-called top performer?
Umm. Well, the good team should be able to recognize fairly the talents of all it’s members. (But it won’t happen every time.)
So, again, we cannot promise nirvana, but we think in good to great teams, even the top performer(s) can have a better life.
Some of this seems paradoxical to those who have been in bad situations. My sympathy to you. But do not lose the faith that some day you will see, in a good team, that it is true.
In my opinion, one of our deepest desires as humans is to be known for that person that we truly are, neither hiding nor boasting, both the good and the bad. It is a deep desire, and a good team can enable you to experience that in a far greater degree than we may have up to now. And it even happens while we are going real work. (ie, Not from some fluffy exercise from a consultant, not in some artificial way.)
You might well ask: Why is he talking about this song here?
And the answer: In work, we must recognize the importance of freedom, of self-organization. For their own sakes (these are human rights, after all). And because work actually gets done better if we recognize and operate on those principles.
Some of you will recognize that these are, in one way or another, key principles of Lean-Agile-Scrum also.
So, as we all make mistakes, watch out for when (not if) you treat others as though someone died, and left you king of something. The people that we do this to (we must forgive first, ourselves; we are only human)…they are usually too kind to sing us this song, or their version of this song.
Now I wanted to start talking explicitly about freedom and responsibility. The twins.
For most normal people, freedom and responsibility come together. That is, we are only free when we accept responsibility. This may seem a paradox, like saying, “we are only free when we become a slave.” But it is not.
So, if we are free we must take the responsibility to decide and act. In the team, for example.
And we must take the responsibility to explain this to managers. “Leave us alone until the end of the Sprint” is a phrase we must be adult enough to repeat often. (And forgiving enough to be willing to repeat again and again.)
Now, managers, contrary to what you were typically taught, God gave them freedom and you have no right to abrogate it.
In a relationship, no decent person wishes to be loved by a slave. One wishes the love, each day, to be truly given. Not required.
In a roughly similar way, in work the magic of the team operates at a higher level when they are free to give what they want, what magically comes to their heads. In the team soup.
Now, this is not foolishness. If the Team goes for a good while and comes up with nothing much, a manger might need to add something to the soup. But she is looking to add a simple constraint or an idea that will juice the team to freer creativity. Not to put an iron box around them to make them work hard.
So, let me repeat a few key ideas: 1. Workers are, by and large, worthy of freedom and responsibility. 2. Managers should be ashamed to assume, tacitly or explicitly, that workers have, even for one moment, given up any freedom. 3. Both managers and workers are human and make mistakes. 4. Neither managers nor workers, in general, are evil. (Yes, there are many managers who are poorly taught in the arts of managing. Yes, there are a few evil managers; but all managers do not deserve to be blamed because of the faults of a few.)
Very good people often misunderstand these ideas, when they try to put them into action. We saw this in what is now called the Place de la Concorde, with the guillotine. It is for us to forgive them, forgive ourselves, and remind.
First, a word about happiness. I am sure I don’t know everything about happiness, but I am still quite sure it is important. Mr. Jefferson included, in his draft, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And Jeff Sutherland says “if they aren’t having fun [with Scrum], they aren’t doing it right.”
Serious fun, fun that comes mainly from work. But still fun.
Umm. I think there may still be some of us who feel that things are good only when we are in pain. I guess if that is fun for you, go for it, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Anyway, do not put me in the camp of ascetics or stoics. Pleasure, if done right, can lead to creativity.
But the main subject is freedom! Freedom! What a great word. The second greatest word in the English language.
This is the day on which we celebrate the Declaration of Independence. A declaration for freedom. “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men a created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What glorious ringing words.
And still we are not free. In ways big and small, others try to enslave us. In ways big and small, we enslave ourselves. As Rousseau said: “Man is born free and everywhere is in chains.”
Managers: Never, never, never, never enslave your associates. They do not belong to you. You did not create them. Even if they ask you to, do not abrogate their freedom. God gave them freedom for many mystical reasons, the source and meaning of which you haven’t the least idea. You are a manager to help them fulfill their lives, not to take their freedom away.
Let me be yet more honest. You have been taught, and it is in the bones of most of you, to enslave your associates. I, as one, do not blame you; you have been taught badly and you are human (imperfect). I too have committed these sins. But do not be complacent with your imperfections. Try hard to stop doing it.
Workers: Never, even for a second, give up your freedom. You freedom of action, of speech, of association. Your freedom to be yourself. You never said “I agree to be a slave to this firm or this manager.” Don’t do it. In fact, most managers can feel in their bones the sin of abrogating your freedom; do not let them sin more.
Yes, you do not have to tell me all the temptations you face to give away your freedom. On some days, it seems a good trade, and it seems that we might pawn it and get it back later. It is hard. But having fun is hard too. You, your freedom are worth the pain of this hard passage.
[Yes, of course, there are certain social constructs that limit our freedom. We don't yell "fire" in a crowded room, etc, etc. It is a complicated subject. So, study it!]
So, how does Scrum instantiate freedom. Well, one way is that each person reports for himself or herself in the Daily stand-up. One way is that the Team gets to choose how many Product Backlog Items to commit to in the Sprint Planning Meeting.
More broadly, in Scrum we accept (well, more) that a person brings everything he or she is to a Team. And thus has much more to offer a team (yes, and, well, maybe a bit more to deal with too). We are free(er) to be who we really are.
Immediately after mentioning freedom, we must also mention responsibility. If you are free, you are also responsible for yourself. This is a great lesson of life. Mysterious, just as God gives us responsibility for ourselves, he also makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the wicked and the good. Consider the lilies of the field, we might say. In a free economy, much is magically provided for us. Still, we must work, we must learn that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We must learn that we must still get along, in business, with even quite disagreeable people (the simple version of “love your enemies”).
How does this work in Scrum? So, in Scrum, the team at the end of the Sprint Planning Meeting commits to 8 or 12 or 15 Product Backlog Items. They become responsible for delivering those by the end of the Sprint. They are free to do it anyway they want, but they have committed to deliver. They are responsible.
“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it…” Yes, and this is the slow, painful path we are on in abolishing Waterfall and all its associated bad thinking. We have this right. We have this duty even. We must fix it. May it be that the lean-agile-scrum with which we wish to replace waterfall are worthy successors and worthily practiced by the players.
So, on this beautiful day (and are not they all beautiful) send not to know for whom the bells toll. The bells of freedom toll for you. The fireworks of freedom are lit for you. Whether you are in Demorest, GA, or Ottawa, or Bangalore, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or South Africa, or Lima. No man is an island, because each of us is involved in mankind.
There is no doubt that some take freedom in a wrong way, and what they get is more like anarchy, which is not freedom. But, from what I see, most people don’t really understand freedom. Based on actions, they seem to think it means: “I am free to do whatever I want, and you are ‘free’ to do a lot of the things I want you to do — because I know what is best for you.” In other words, they accept that others have some degree of autonomy, but “they still report to me” (as one example), meaning they must — in the end — do what I say.
Well, perhaps I am putting too much attention on where freedom is abridged and not counting enough where it waves free, but the abridgment is where we need to be fighting.
We must accept that in business we must make some decisions, many decisions are difficult and are ones where full consensus is not possible, and so we must have some way of deciding quickly. And hopefully the decisions have a good chance of being better (than doing it another way).
So, some say the ‘manager’ has the final authority. Umm. Ok, that is one method. When implemented, it is not always a method that seems to recognize the freedom of the ‘workers’.
Also, still managers forget too often Little’s second law: People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do. Frankly, I forget it too, on a daily basis. And, at least with knowledge workers, this voluntary consent seems to be necessary.
At least managers should let people have their say. Each worker (for lack of a better word) doesn’t require that the team do exactly what she says, but she can go with the decision more if she feels the group heard her. The Team took the time to listen. You can learn a lot just by listening. (Apologies Yogi.)
Who should decide or how should the Team decide? Well, first, I would let the Team discuss that.
But, for a given decision, after everyone in the Team gets a chance to express what they know or think, then maybe one person decides. That person might be, depending…, a manager, the best person in the Team to decide that issue, or something else.
Now I come to political correctness, which I see in the US as mainly a corporate abrogation of our free speech rights. Yes, we could agree that some people say ‘evil’ things. But speaking and thinking are different than acting. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
So, IMO, the corporate “PC” codes have, in many cases, de facto gone way too far. Maybe the PC codes as written are ok, but the de facto effect is very bad. At least where I see them. (There may also be a good effect — I have not studied that and it is not as apparent to me.)
Definition of Belief in Free Speech: You only believe in free speech if you are willing to defend a person whose speech you strongly disagree with. (This is a famous definition; I will later credit it.)
What the PC ethos does is cause people to lie and cover up and not tell the truth. Sometimes even to themselves. So all the “imperfections” that we all have come seeping out another way. Freud showed this. And we all have experiences that show this.
And you could argue that for certain kinds of speech that are ‘not helpful’ from a business viewpoint, we don’t care (from a business viewpoint) that that speech is suppressed. This does not affect the business. Maybe, from a certain point of view. But, well, maybe that we have treated the people as ‘under our control during business hours’ does in fact affect business. At least with knowledge workers.
We must accept that every person holds biases and generalizations, for example. These can be useful, even life preserving, but equally they can be un-useful or hurtful or stupid or worse. But it is the nature of how our minds work that we generalize, and some become biases, prejudices, discriminations, etc. Any thinking person should examine his generalizations and expect a bunch of them to be stupid. Also, as Linda Rising famously (to me) summarized, it is the way our animal being works. We are pack animals, for example.
Free speech is not just for the non-stupid.
The effect of the PC “rules”, however perfect they sounded on some stupid bureaucrat’s desk, is that they create a culture where people withhold stupid thoughts and even good or useful thoughts. — But let’s just focus on the stupid thoughts — And it is only by putting stupid thoughts on the table that the team can examine them and correct them.
(I may like the person, but I hate ‘the bureaucrat’ almost every time.)
And right now, I am talking about stupid thoughts that have a visible business impact.
Now, we do need some rules for extreme behavior or words. OK. That is a complicated area.
But words that merely hurt our feelings cannot be unacceptable. In business, we have to hurt feelings. A person might roughly say: “Oh, you suits, you guys never understand the technical stuff.” A gross generalization, but until it is on the table, the team can’t examine how true it might be.
A person might say: “Oh, geez, you’re so like a chick with these concerns about emotions. Let’s get on with it.” Again, a gross generalization. Maybe that team needs to work on emotional IQ or not, but they can’t deal with it until the issue is on the table.
A person might say: “Typical guy; gotta fidget with your tool endlessly. Bring your head up out of the screen, and consider the people just a bit. Dude!” Again, a gross generalization. But the PC impact is that these rough words don’t get said. And thus, the real issues are often unknown, and hence very hard to deal with.
Now for a fun example. Is the following video “acceptable” as a teaching tool to convey three ideas:
a. It is important to tell the truth. (“Hips don’t lie”)
b. Human beings, while they may occasionally be rational, are often not rational. Often like an animal. And they are still ‘like an animal’ when they enter the doors of the office.
c. You must feel the music of the values and principles of Agile in order to be better at dancing the specific practices of agile.
Or does it impinge too much on the religious or sexual or political sensitivities of others?
Does a corporation have a right to censor its use? By a non-employee? Or by an employee?
Your comments below please.
How quickly some of us show we care nothing for freedom. Shame.
Let me tell you my opinion. This video is, to come cultures, a ‘dramatic’ video, and I would not use it. In fact, in some cultures around the world it might be even illegal. (I am not sure.) To other business cultures, it is fine, even just the right amount of fun (in the right context). It is a bit sexual, but many cultures can handle that. So, while I am definitely arguing that I have a ‘right’ to show it, I would not do so in every case. It just would not be effective or useful.
This raises leads us to distinguish ‘cultural norms’ from ‘rules’. In general, I would have few rules (although some) and allow cultural norms to manage things.
Free speech is a serious issue. I added the video to make it a bit ‘fun’, but it is still a serious issue.
More concretely, in business, we want people to feel free to say the truth. Even unpleasant truth. A lot more than they currently do.
I am not advocating that people be mean or brutal with each other. But in general, we need to tell the truth more, and it will not always be fun. And some will object.
Rousseau, certainly a man of some well-known weaknesses, was brilliant to say this, just a few years ago now.
Of course it was then far from literally correct. And he said this as a citizen of Geneva, arguably one of the places on this planet with the most freedom in that day (~1762). Still, it was more true than literal physicality, both then and to this day.
Today, July 4th, it is most appropriate for any Virginian, and indeed any citizen of the world, to honor the Declaration of Independence and a certain birth of freedom in this nation. This is arguably the one document that has given people more freedom than any other single act of mankind. And, of course, not just people in the USA.
We know several phrases well.
When in the course of human events…
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,
with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
We too must continue to fight for freedom. We may fight for it using Scrum or Agile or Lean, and certainly this is an important fight. But we cannot say that the courage these daily fights require of us can measure against the courage of a red-haired man in Philadephia in 1776. He and John Hancock and their fellows knew, for a certainty, that if they did not win the war, they would be killed, probably hung in public.
Let us learn again from this. Let us rededicate ourselves to the fight, that freedom, which can so easily in the search for security in a difficult world roll backward, will with our arms, and backs, and voices, continue to roll forward.