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Agile Coaching: I See Scared People

February 3, 2015

Starting a team new to agility on their first sprint is one of my favorite and most rewarding things to do.  The enthusiasm,  newness,  sense of accomplishment,  teamwork, and the communication displayed in just the first sprint is usually enough to leave most folks happily surprised.

“Wow, I never thought our team could work like that.  And we got so much done and without all the waiting and waste.  Wow!"

Of course that’s not what I hear at first.  Well before the first sprint what I usually hear is this:

“We’re all working on 6 projects at once, I can’t be on the Scrum team too."
“We can’t have features all the way done, because they have to go through UAT and be approved by the quality review board, you can’t do that in 2 weeks."
“We have to have an approved architecture before we can get a development environment setup"
“I don’t think our offshore vendor will work this way."
*These are are real quotes from real people

A long time ago when I first started in management consulting, what I would hear when people said these things was logical arguments and problems that needed solving.  And I’d go about my job and help them solve these problems.  This typically resulted in passionate arguments and heated debates.  I was only marginally successful.

What I hear now is fear.  I hear people scared to try new things.  Afraid of what will happen if it fails.  Unsure about how the new process fits in with the old.  Fear that they could be held personally responsible if things go south.

And this is far more useful a conversation starter.  People can more easily be coached around fear than argued with logically.  Especially when it comes to “the way we’ve always done it here” issues.

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