August 24, 2015

Fanatic Discipline

In Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen’s book Great by Choice, a comparison is made between two expeditions to Antarctica in 1911. One of the expeditions mentioned is that of Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who was first to step on the South Pole. The other is the tragic expedition of Robert Falcon Scott, which happened at around the same time but which unfortunately ended in his death. The book examines the factors which made the team led by Roald Amundsen different and successful as compared to the other team. The answer that is reached is simple yet important: fanatic discipline.

When examining Amundsen’s journey, we observe that they come to a very important decision and apply this decision with fanatic discipline and without fail. The decision that they come to is to walk 15 miles every day, no matter the conditions. Not one mile less, not one mile more. This was so much so that even on beautiful days when walking would have been easy and the team could have walked more than 15 miles, they do not walk and rest instead. Or if the situation was the exact opposite and the conditions were extremely difficult, they never stopped until they had advanced the full 15 miles.

This decision of Amundsen and his crew allowed them to start every day with the same motivation. This daily clear goal of walking 15 miles and then resting and the uncompromising discipline that came with it also bound the team together even more. In this way, the actualization of this small but clear goal in a disciplined manner brought success to Amundsen and his crew.

On the other hand, Scott’s team woke up every day to another unknown. They were dragged towards chaos every day by changing their plans daily, even at specific moments, depending on weather conditions. Perhaps because of this high level of the unknown and the environment of chaos, Scott’s crew’s strength decreased and unfortunately, their journey ended with tragedy.

I think that there is a lesson to be learned from this fanatic discipline that brought success to Amundsen and his crew for Scrum teams. Because Scrum also comes across us as a transformative journey, much like the journey to Antarctica. To be successful in this transformative period, it is paramount that clear goals be set and that decisions taken by the team as well as Scrum rules be abided by in a disciplined manner. It is a realistic possibility that due to the present company culture and structure, it will be necessary to stretch Scrum somewhat. However, if at every storm you swerve and allow the storm to set your course like Scott and his crew, you might be faced with a painful end before reaching the transformative goal you had set for yourself, much like the tragedy that befell Scott and his crew.