Getting off the Island -- Cartoon -- October 23, 2006

When I go to a new client or team introducing Scrum into their current environment, one of the areas I talk about in my introductory sessions include the topic of Self Selection.
What is Self Selection?
I define Self Selection [in this context] as the ability for an individual on a Scrum Team to be able to have the maturity to conclude that Scrum is not for them, and allowing individuals to leave a Scrum Team between any iteration going forward. This usually gets a good laugh (if Chicken/Manager is in the room) or a stern look from the Manager of the “Resources” (AKA “PEOPLE”) in the room (along with no laughs — just some uncomfortable silence).

This is another tough topic to talk about; it is especially true for teams that are currently being run by an iron-fisted micro-manager in a highly ineffective waterfall environment. This is one of the many topics that ScrumMasters will encounter when introducing Scrum. At first glance, Chicken will come to me after the meeting with a pissed off look on their face and sit me down to “talk about how we are different here.” “You see Mike,” says Chicken, “I am responsible for making sure my team is 100% allocated and productive, and making sure my people do not get under utilized.” At this point, I usually whip out my very effective — shall I say “patented” — pause (some people call this silence). And let them dig themselves in further.

[Tangent ON]

I am well known in small circles for being quiet when needed. Very quiet. I do this purposefully and understand this is a hard thing for people to do. Heck, this is hard for me. I practice this on a daily basis. If you think this is something you’d like to try, do this in your next exchange of information with someone…. shuddup and listen. Really listen. And when you want to say something. Shut up. Do anything… but do not talk. Count to ten (quietly — remember, you are l-i-s-t-e-n-i-n-g). By the time you are done counting to ten (usually well before then) the person you are speaking with will have filled in the silence. Fun stuff.

[Tangent OFF]

So how can a team really hold themselves accountable to being able to Self Select themselves off the team, and that person does not see this? One of the best techniques I use (as a ScrumMaster) is to actively coach the Chicken in the room to hold off any commentary to the team for the first iterations. Then sit back and watch. Really. Actions do prove to be louder than words in this case. It is usually that easy. Can it blow up in your face? Sure. It has mine. But, I blow off the dust and keep trying. When it does work though, the Chicken will usually come back to me after the second or third iteration and say, “Oh Mike, on that Self Selection topic… nowwwwwwwwwwwww I get it.”

How do I help new teams with this concept? Again, simple stuff. Active daily coaching of individuals. Person to person. Not hiding behind a MS Project file and allocating resources and re-baselining schedules bla bla bla. Yawn. If a person does not want to stay on a team, I usually ask that they commit to staying at least through the end of an iteration and see how it works out. Disrupting the team mid-Sprint is a bad thing you see. At that point, I can work one-on-one to see if this person really can work in this environment. I have seen some of the best team members and new ScrumMasters coming from teams where this rule was one of the team norms.

What if the team decides a person really needs to be voted off the island?

Either this person sucks at their job, has no interest in being on the team, or really is just the type of person who will bitch and complain about anything and likes being heard. A team can be a powerful [good] force. Usually with some one-on-one coaching with this person, and the team — through daily stand-ups, working through user stories or tasks, or other techniques — the person usually can find some other place within the organization where they can make a difference.

Note: If you are having a hard time figuring out how to tell a person they need to leave the team, you can always print out this article or send them a link to this page. My feelings will not be hurt. Proceed with caution.

And when that team member leaves, there is a breath of fresh air. The team continues to improve.Notice here that the Chicken/Manager did not make the call. The team and the individuals on the team (Pigs) make the call. And like a good little Chicken, the manager can then help the self-selected person find a new role within the organization and help place new individuals on the team as they request it. It is a win-win strategy for everyone involved.

Please send comments, questions, criticisms, ideas, or whatever here. You can also enter The Scrum Community to discuss this cartoon and other Scrum topics. Thank you!


Originally Published:
October 23, 2006
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  1. says

    well i personally think its stupid you should let people have a job its not fair they might have a family to look after and the only way they can get the money is this job just think of others before you think of yopurself

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