October 20, 2020

Mastering Scrum with Feminine Power

Scrum and agility create frameworks for diversity. A healthy mix of men and women will benefit from this. In this post I want to explain why.

Digitization and software development are firmly in the hands of men. As a software engineer, I am happy that more and more women are finding their way into this future industry. I am glad we have an online conference on 23 November 2020 on "Women in Agile".

As a trainer for agile leadership I want to encourage even more women to expose themselves to this world. Digitization has a major impact on our common future on this planet. That is why we speak of the digital age.

Traditional Chinese medicine describes the masculine and feminine principle as Yang and Yin, which must be in balance for people to be healthy. Ying represents the inner, feminine, being, emotional, chaotic, unstructured, nonlinear, imperfect, multitasking, changing, unpredictable, while Yang represents the outer, masculine, doing, mental, structured, controlled, angular, straight.

Even if feminine and masculine energies should be kept in balance by both sexes, like ying and yang already by the old samurai thousands of years ago, the feminine principle generally plays a greater role for women. Surfing the technology wave means something different for women than it does for men. Women use the latest technology to make the world a better place. Women want meaning. For them, technology is not an end in itself.

Women come up against inner limits, intangible barriers where they have to learn to deal with their self-doubts and self-condemnations. Especially in a male-dominated environment, this requires personal growth in order to exploit the own potential in the digital age.

Women are a minority in the tech sector and often feel lonely as a result. They need other women to talk to.

There is a wide variety of research on these topics. At the same time, women are rising worldwide and will have more autonomy, money and opportunities than any of their female ancestors over the next decades. Claire Zammit has done pioneering work on these topics (evolvingwisdom.com).

Conways Law states that a system mirrors the communication structures of the company that designed it. With this, Yang-heavy companies create Yang-heavy software systems. This is particularly evident in the communication between systems. In times of smart energy, mobility and cities, dealing with complexity, chaos and ambiguity is necessary and these are yin qualities.

Scrum Teams, in their ideal form, offer support for balancing Yin and Yang. The structure as a framework is intended to allow self-organization, creativity, chaos in order to create innovation.

When I dig through the current blogosphere, I see that for many people the hopes they had in Scrum as a problem solver have not been fulfilled. In the examples I have seen, the Yang aspect of structure in the form of regular meetings has been overused. The Ying principle, in the form of chaos and emotion, where people sometimes argue to reconcile and talk about uncomfortable observations, is suppressed. This then leads to what has been called “Dark Scrum”: more micromanagement with Scrum in ever shorter sprints. Control (yang) instead of trust (yin). The outer space Scrum with names and rules is carried out and the inner space Scrum is eliminated. I like  the iceberg principle as a metaphor here. One seventh is visible outside the water (with Scrum in the form of rules of the game) and six seventh under the water surface (with Scrum principles and soft factors).

When working with teams that have a majority of men, which is all I know in the software industry, I am surprised how little these team members talk to each other about personal issues. I'm not saying that men never engage in personal exchange ever, but I don't see much personal communication in a male-dominated business context. As soon as several women are part of the team, the communication behavior changes. Emotions are addressed instead of being excluded as unprofessional and subjective.

In my contribution "Diversity in Scrum Teams Boosts Innovation" I dealt with research on the topic and why it takes at least 20 percent women in a team for the female principle to have an effect. My observation, but also that of Claire Zammit, is, that women, like myself, have adapted to the male principle in professional life. The traditional management structures were shaped at a time, during the industrial age, when this was all men’s business. Agile approaches such as Scrum were born in the digital age and can better deal with uncertainty, disruption and complexity. For this we need the feminine principles in a balanced form with the masculine ones.

My conclusion is that we have to encourage more women to embark on the adventure of digitization and software development so that we can create healthy, balanced communication structures for the future.