Welcome back to another posting from implementingscrum.com. If you have been with me a long time or even just joined in (possibly for the first time)… thank you.
And take a look around the site.
The Prioritization Conversation.
This is difficult. And it sucks.
And people avoid it as much as possible.
They call me.
In the past few months, I have recognized a disturbing pattern in my conversations about helping people “Go Agile.”
It is not. Sorry.
And for those that have been following this blog for a while, it STILL is not (see above… 2006 I said it… and I’ll keep saying it!).
So… once you understand this…
Well… most people do not understand and internalize this.
Most people, teams, and organizations (especially the higher up you (or your boss) get) hear the words Agile and Scrum and think, “Better Cheaper Faster.”
This is bullshit. Sorry for the harsh wording. I could just call it “Donkey Dung” but Bullshit really is THE word that works here.
It — Scrum — is hard.
Join me in the conversation with someone who thinks this….
Actually this initial conversation is from someone who know’s they are already screwed… (there IS a difference)….
By the way… this may be a long posting (it is) and maybe you just want to print it out and hand it to someone you love in your organization as a HYPOTHETICAL difficult conversation… Might get something started.
Scrum – The Initial Conversation
Developer: Hi Mike. My boss wants to DO AGILE [heavy sigh].
Mike Vizdos: Cool. So what’s up with the [heavy sigh]?
Developer: I need you to talk to them. They read this is really working in [another part of our organization OR another organization not even in our industry OR their boss is totally turned on by this agile stuff] and wants ME to implement it.
Mike Vizdos: Sorry. I mean.. WOW… What a GREAT opportunity.
Developer: Can you talk to them?
Mike Vizdos: Why?
Developer: They are telling us to do Agile / Scrum.
Mike Vizdos: And?
Developer: They believe this is all about faster, cheaper, better and well…. [heavy sigh].
Mike Vizdos: OK… Who do I need to speak with?
Developer: I’d like to you to speak with [Vice President] or [C-level Executive] or [Company Founder] or….
Mike Vizdos: Please set it up for me as soon as possible! And Thank You!!
Quick note to those following… Remember BEFORE THE NEXT conversation…
This next conversation CANNOT happen at the line manager or even director levels (and below) within an organization.
These levels are all about tactical execution and we need to have a conversation at the *strategic* level with people who think and are compensated for being at that strategic level. The tactical level (Director and below) are compensated and rewarded in most organizations I work with to kill or be killed [yes, that is MESSED UP but reality in so many organizations I work with].
Get me higher in the organization. Please. As high as you can!
Otherwise, we are preaching to the choir my friend.
2 weeks later….
Scrum – The Prioritization Conversation
I have a face-to-face (best) or telephone / Skype call (not best) with someone at the strategic level high enough in the organization so I can be
Strategic Person in the Organization: Mike, thanks for taking my call today. I understand you’d like to talk to me about this Scrum and Agile stuff so we can get things done Better, Faster, and Cheaper. Excellent. We have limited resources, fixed budget, and a shit ton of projects in our portfolio. We are thinking about doing this Scrum stuff because [our competitors are doing it] or [I read about it in some industry rag] or [we had some big consultancy or agile tool vendor in here telling us this is the silver bullet to getting things out better, cheaper, and faster]. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla…. [five minutes later] bla bla bla bla.
Quick note to those following:
I am NOT discounting the BLA BLA BLA. This BLA BLA BLA is actually giving me some vital information about how committed this person is to the team and organization in doing Agile / Scrum / Whatever Change. Or… it tells me this person (or… err… ME) should be committed.
Either way… this is great information and comes down to me shutting up and LISTENING.
Mike Vizdos: So. This Scrum or Agile stuff is not going to be Better, Faster, and Cheaper. In fact, it is going to hurt. Scrum is not going to fix anything short term. In fact, it is going to expose all the dysfunctional stuff that already exists in your organization today.
Strategic Person in the Organization: Blink. (or if I am on the phone that awkward pause OR possibly I am calling 911 if I am there in person and this important person within the organization is stroking out or has just had a heart attack [OK... so this has not happened during THIS conversation with me but it is possible!]).
Mike Vizdos: [I am going to my happy place and cleaning out some cob-webs of some old stuff that has been there for ages (maybe putting up a new Daisy Duke poster or something similar [smile]) and reminding myself to shut the hell up and let them talk. THIS IS HARD FOR ME BUT I HAVE TO DO THIS].
Strategic Person in the Organization: Um. What do you mean? Blink.
Mike Vizdos: Let me ask you a few questions. How many projects are you running in your portfolio? How many teams are working on these projects? Do you have a matrixed organization with teams of specialists working on a ton of different projects for different customers (internal or external) all at the same time? Do you have multiple customers hitting your teams all at once and whoever is yelling the loudest or creating the shiny object syndrome winning? What hurts the most today when doing your current work? How is time to market? Do you off-shore (or near-shore or use vendors)? How far are you down the supply chain in the delivery of services to your end users? Who are your competitors? Who are your end users (people that provide the revenue to the organization [government, non-profit, for-profit, NGO, whatever... REVENUE drives the machine). What is you average revenue per user? What BLA BLA BLA.
Back to reality... Welcome to another thought bubble (what is going on in my head at this point)...
These questions all come out in one form or another and again, the BLA BLA BLA above is not to discount the BLA BLA BLA but instead is intended to show you the questions and conversations that ARE happening. In reality I have never [and would not suggest ever] barraging someone disrespectfully in any way, shape, or form with ALL of the questions at once without listening to their response and allowing the conversation to be guided by THEM. Remember you need to get to their,”What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?”
Strategic Person in the Organization: Mike. You do not understand. WE ARE DIFFERENT.
Mike Vizdos: Of course you are. This is what makes you the best in your market niche today. Right?
Strategic Person in the Organization: Blink. BLA BLA BLA (remember now this is not discounting the value of this stuff but this is where people vent… I let them).
Mike Vizdos: So. Who is your most important client or what is the most valuable project?
Strategic Person in the Organization: Blink. They ALL are. Remember Mike. WE ARE DIFFERENT. ALL of our clients (or users or whoever) are IMPORTANT. Priority ONE. Everyone.
Mike Vizdos: Of course. I understand. So can you tell me the answer to my question?
Strategic Person in the Organization: Yes. It is BLA BLA BLA. So. We are DIFFERENT. Remember? We have fixed time, fixed resources, and fixed scope that we are promising to the market.
Mike Vizdos: Of course. I understand. So can we dedicate a team of all the right people in the organization — say seven plus or minus two — and you clear everything else off their plates but this project. People who can get this DONE. No matter what part of the organization they come from. And can you get a customer [I do not usually use the term Product Owner here yet] to come and work with the team full time while they also may have to run their operational duties and who can call the priorities of what they need to solve with this project and YOU will own backing this team and possibly burning some political capital when the shit hits the fan (because it will) and allow the team to do whatever it takes to deliver the solution in working software to solve the customers needs for thirty days or less and then incrementally deliver stuff to the market to bring value and revenue streams in while the team is wrong with estimates and planning but still delivering the highest value stuff to the customer (OH WOW) while the team goes through forming, storming, norming, and then high-performing before they are predictable and kicking ass. And Oh. Only do this with one project. Collocated. Together. At a sustainable pace. BLA BLA BLA
Getting the picture of how shitty this ask can be in most situations?
[[[[ Side note: IF the concept of this conversation being HARD or DIFFICULT is foreign to you -- LET PEOPLE OUT HERE KNOW what IS possible ]]]
THIS IS THE HARD CONVERSATION.
It is about Priority.
Strategic Person in the Organization: Blink. HELL NO MIKE. WE ARE DIFFERENT. I WILL CALL IN SOMEONE WHO CAN DO THIS FOR US AND THANK YOU GOODBYE.
While the conversation not always ends like this, well… you get the picture.
This is a good indicator that Agile or Scrum or whatever change de’jour that is coming your way…well… it will fail.
You are screwed.
Internalize this. Do what you need to do. But. You. Are. Screwed. Good luck with that. It may not be your fault but do not play the victim.
There have been numbers out there that 80%+ of Scrum Implementations fail.
I’ll remind you though — 80% of ANY change fails.
People are people and they will take the path of least resistance and go back to whatever they were doing before.
Even in a dysfunctional system, everyone knows their place and as uncomfortable as it is people WILL NOT change (maybe they are so numb they think *every place* is like this).
Your team and organization will chase its tail and spend a lot of money and eventually you will be disallowed to use the “S” word or “A” word [that would be “Scrum” and “Agile” not anything else lol) and the pendulum swings back to command-and-control and well… yeah.
You get the picture.
Did I hit a nerve?
What is the “right” way to continue this conversation from the “Strategic Person in the Organization” point of view?
You have to ask for the help.
Let’s see what is next!
If you can have another conversation… what does it sound like next?