January 26, 2021

Are You Failing to Adapt?

I sat, as an observing consultant, in my third Retrospective of the day. I noticed high energy and openness as the room's buzz showed me signs that this team was genuinely collaborative. As the Scrum event came to a close, an eerily familiar pattern became clear: the team had not agreed to any improvements for the next Sprint. There was no adaptation to improve as a Scrum Team despite the energy in the room.

A bit later, I observed a Nexus Retrospective with the same outcome: nothing. No adaptation.

The pattern of teams failing to adapt doesn’t exclusively apply to Sprint Retrospectives. I have been in many Sprint Reviews where nobody is taking notes or engaging in conversation, leaving the Product Backlog direction un-changed. I’ve observed many Daily Scrums that don’t result in an adapted plan to accomplish the Sprint Goal. 

For many years, I was convinced that the biggest issue holding back Scrum Teams was a lack of transparency. It has now become clear to me that teams are failing to adapt, and that is what’s holding them (and organizations) back. 

The Scrum framework is not a panacea to cure all of the problems in delivering a product in your organization. It will, however, expose those problems. A few examples of problems that may sound familiar are:

  • Our hiring practices do not support our cultural changes.
  • The development practices we use are not capable of high-quality delivery.
  • We have a tightly coupled architecture that we are trying to scale around.
  • Getting a budget requires pages of requirements.
  • The business isn’t ready for us to be around them so much.
  • The measurements predominantly used in the organization are counterproductive to agility.

The above bullets are not easy fixes and are not likely solvable in a Sprint. But you cannot keep the same systems that were in place before and expect a different result. There is no “out-of-the-box” Agile solution that will tell you exactly how to solve these problems. Organizations and teams are failing to adapt the system once the adaptations get tough. 

If you are a Scrum Master reading this, the examples given here are examples of how you need to apply service to the organization. In fact, these adaptations (or lack thereof) are on you!

What can you do when you are in a situation where you fail to adapt? What can you try? Here are four ideas that may help you to start adapting again:

  1. Lean on the Scrum Principles and Values - It's easy to get caught up in the muck of day-to-day activities and forget what’s important. Get back to the basics of what is to be inspected, made transparent, and adapted with each Scrum event. You may even find that additional complementary practices that have been added are standing in your way. Tear them out! Likewise, revisit the Scrum Values reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of your Scrum Team. Is there a value-driven reason you are failing to adapt? Find out!
  2. Be Bold - It's time to get at the core of what is ailing your team and take action. Make some noise! Find the one thing that you know has been a thorn in the team's side and go after eliminating it. A Scrum Master has NO tolerance for organization impediments and issues!
  3. Celebrate Successes - Perhaps it's been quite some time since you’ve celebrated accomplishments. Not celebrating success can leave a team feeling worn and uninspired. Find a little bit of budget and do something fun as a team. 
  4. Think in terms of 15% solutions - I am a big fan of the Liberating Structure 15% Solutions (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/7-15-solutions/). Large problems can seem insurmountable. So much so that you don’t even try. What can you (and your team) do to solve 15% of the problem this Sprint? What is something within the control of you and your team that you can do to get started?

Hopefully, one of these four ideas will inspire you to find new ways to adapt to your environment. An Agile organization does not have an end in mind. They continue to adapt to changing environments.