Don't Practice Something Wrong
In the distant past, I used to be a reasonably skilled guitar player. One of the achievements I accomplished was learning the guitar solo Eruption by Eddie Van Halen. It took weeks to piece together the notes (since this was before the Internet and YouTube) and then months of practice to be able to play it so that it sounded good though certainly not ever perfect.
Fast forward to present day, my son is learning to play the guitar and now he is working on what I would call the “signature section” of the solo. I hear him the other day practicing that section…but making a mistake in hand position. I went to his room and showed him the right way, because I didn’t want him to practice something wrong. Why does it matter? Because if you practice something wrong, you will develop muscle memory doing it the wrong way. It is then harder to correct because you have trained yourself through practice to do something wrong.
This of course led to me thinking about how this concept can be applied to Scrum. In the Scrum guide it describes Scrum as: lightweight, simple to understand, difficult to master. I think this is absolutely true. I think where organizations run into trouble is because it is simple to understand some of the basics of Scrum: 3 roles, 5 events, 3 artifacts. Where I have seen this go awry is when a team doesn’t understand the depth of the roles, the purpose of the events, or value of the artifacts. When that happens, teams are likely to be practicing Scrum wrong.
One of the ways I have seen Scrum practiced wrong often is in the Daily Scrum. It is so easy for teams to fall into a hub and spoke status reporting model where they are reporting to their Scrum Master. For the record, I loathe hub and spoke reporting in a meeting format. Unfortunately, this is a very common practice in command and control management. Scrum destroys this model in a way that I think is very clever; the Scrum Master is not required to attend the Daily Scrum, we just need to know it occurred. Nothing provides the remedy to getting rid of the hub and spoke reporting quicker than when the supposed hub decides not to attend the event.
However, there is definitely work for the Scrum Master to do in that event. That work isn’t making sure the development team members answer the 3 questions (PSM1 assessment hint!). The work is challenging the team to collaborate with each other and self-organize around solving the problems for the day. Ensure the team is planning how they are going to advance one step closer to the Sprint Goal without excessive planning thanks to the time-box. Support the team as they learn how to inspect and adapt their work at a daily level. If the team is not adapting is the inspection really happening? If something as simple and universally accepted as the Daily Scrum can be practiced wrong, how do organizations avoid practicing Scrum wrong as a whole?
Companies need to invest into Scrum as a practice. That can come in at least two different forms. The first is in hiring practices. Someone can hold the title of Scrum Master for years or maybe even a decade and have very little understanding of why Scrum works and what impediments can make the team fail to deliver the value Scrum promises. Some of this can be mitigated through looking for advanced accreditation through Scrum.org which uses progressively difficult assessments to check for understanding of how the Scrum framework is used to solve problems for teams and organizations. I also recommend companies use behavioral interviewing to investigate how Scrum Masters have solved problems using Scrum in their past roles.
The second way companies invest into the practice is through training and continuous learning. I am an unabashed advocate for the training that Scrum.org provides through the PSM training. It is also encouraging to see that they are continuing to develop additional training including the PSM II training. The level of scrutiny Scrum.org places on the uniformity of content as well as the stringent requirement for who is deliver this training as a PST is also an element that I believe keeps the quality high on this training. However, classroom training is not the only conduit for learning.
Scrum Masters should be continually inspecting and adapting in their own personal growth through continuous learning. One of the most straight forward ways is to read articles about Scrum, read/listen to books and podcasts. I also try to grow through regularly interacting with other Scrum Masters, both those with more and less experienced than I have. Interacting with those with greater experience has an obvious learning benefit, but I have found that when I am explaining concepts to others or blogging about it…it strengthens my own understanding in doing so.
Scrum Masters should aspire to support and coach others in the practice. By doing so, we strengthen the validity of Scrum as a framework to bring about organizational change, increase value to the business, and produce enjoyment of work for the team members. We also get the satisfaction of being a positive influence in the lives other people. We don’t have to worry about practicing Scrum perfectly, because that is not what it is about. We just need to make sure we don’t practice wrong and eventually we develop the muscle memory to continually improve until we produce an Eruption of positive change.
My music teacher at school used to say that the popular saying should not be "Practice makes perfect" it should instead be "Practice makes permanent".
I agree completely that if anti-scrum behaviour is allowed to continue without being addressed or at least highlighted it will lead to problems further down the line.