What are ScrumButs anyway?
Are we doing it right?
In the early 80’s my brother and I got our first video game console: it was an awesome Atari 2600 which we still have to this day. A couple of years later, we were given a ZX Spectrum 48k and a Timex 2048. By the age of 10, I knew for sure that when I grew up, I wanted to develop games. I remember spending almost as much time devouring the then included Basic’s manual as I used to play games of the likes of Chuckie Egg, Manic Miner and Formula 1.
Time went by and although my developer days now lie behind me, I can still say that most of my career up until now has been developing applications in both Software Houses and Digital Marketing Agencies. And for those who aren’t familiar with the latter, let me tell you that it can be a very harsh environment where we’re pushed to deliver well-built products to our customers in ludicrously short time frames, for a fraction of its value and with uncompromised quality.
Scrum sounded like a life-saver and the answer to all our prayers.
From my personal experience, although Digital Marketing Agencies have the digital bit on their DNA, the fact is that they value more the communication vector while relegating the media that supports it. And it was at this stage of my professional career that I became acquainted with the Agile world and had the opportunity to take on the Scrum Master certification with my good old friend Mitch Lacey. Considering the context (and as a Developer) Scrum sounded like a life-saver and the answer to all our prayers. It all made so much sense. Things like “the customer can either set the date or the scope… never both” or “between cheap, fast and good pick two… if you want cheap and fast, it won’t be good”. All this was music to our ears. But soon reality kicked in: we now had to convince our stakeholders that we needed to change the approach on how to work as well as our relationship with customers.
Although my former company had been open minded enough to invest in this new trend, looking back now, I don’t think we actually ever had a real chance in fully implementing Scrum due to the lack of sponsorship at the executive level. And that’s why we never did. Maybe not even because they didn’t want to but perhaps because we ourselves failed to completely understand and convey the new mindset. To an extent this was just another buzzword and the investment made was more towards setting ourselves apart from our competitors and perceived by potential customers as pioneers at this new “Agile” thing rather than genuinely improving the way we developed and delivered software. The company could now gloat and wear yet another accreditation while the developers rate cards inflated.
ScrumButs were the order of the day, crunch time was still on the menu and after a while, no wonder so many people started saying that “this Scrum thing is very nice but doesn’t work in real life”
And like so many other companies that want to “be” agile, we started “doing” agile by adopting Scrum and the usage of new tools, processes and practices that were quickly introduced to the teams. We wore out the word Agile and we’ve waved the Scrum flag indiscriminately without really understanding what we were doing. Without proper coaching, guidance or direction, we did what we could, with what we knew and had learned from the certification. We’ve worked under the illusion of being Agile just because we were having planning sessions, sprints and daily stand-up meetings! As time went by we could barely notice positive changes: estimates and forecasts kept being made by the marketing team even occasionally without consulting the Development team. The Development teams on the other hand still had to be able to respond to scope changes whenever requested but without affecting the initial delivery dates. ScrumButs were the order of the day, crunch time was still on the menu and after a while, no wonder so many people started saying that “this Scrum thing is very nice but doesn’t work in real life”. As a Developer I was one of them. The ScrumButs piled up and we had an overall feeling of “doing” just a fraction of what Scrum was supposed to be. But all we were doing was following some of the practices. That fundamental shift that I now know we needed back then never came in.
This was back in 2008 and a decade has now gone. And if this was already true back then now more than ever we’re living in an era in which consultancy companies are productizing Agile and selling courses and certificates as if they were the holy grail of project management with promises they can’t keep, like Dave Snowden clearly pointed out during the last eXperience Agile conference (in Portugal). During the same event, Michael Sahota warns us on how we need a new paradigm shift through culture to consciously approach Agile while Kent Beck at the Agile Portugal 2018 keynote refers that the current idea of Agile isn’t what the co-founders had in mind when they created the Agile Manifesto back in 2001 and it surely has nothing to do with what’s currently being “sold”.
So let’s get one thing straight: Scrum is not a silver bullet nor a goal to achieve. Never was and never will be. At the most we can considered it to be a possible path to achieve Agile. What we want though is to “become” Agile! And for it to be possible we need to have an Agile-friendly-ecosystem which is what I’ve encountered when I joined Miniclip nearly 3 years ago… as a Scrum Master.
Life at Miniclip
With top-down sponsorship, a fully collaborating customer, safe environment and top-notch Developers, Miniclip has everything we need to thrive as we form high performance teams to work on our products. But as an expanding company which has seen an employee growth of 168% over the past 3 years, we need to keep integrating all new joiners into Miniclip’s culture including understanding and living the core values of Agile.
I usually try to compare Agile’s core values with a wide variety of moral and social values such as love, justice, honour, righteousness, etc. So for the sake of the argument let’s say that we don’t know and neither understand the value of righteousness. We can easily learn the definition of such value throughout a 2 hour workshop but it’s unlikely we’ll end up fully understanding it without experiencing it first hand during that same period. It requires that we undergo a series of processes of identification, assimilation and integration. We need to find and feel it in the environment and people around us. We need to self-acknowledge this new value and regardless of what other people might say or do, that this is a value we want to integrate in our own definition of “becoming a better individual”.
Do you feel the urge to look around and understand whether if there are any available seats?
Consider the following example: you’re on the bus and as it stops an elderly person gets in. Do you feel the urge to look around and understand whether if there are any available seats? And if you do and you don’t find any, do you immediately stand up and giveaway your seat, do you wait for another person to do it or do you just ignore the whole situation? Most of us were taught while kids to give away our seat in such cases and maybe some of us felt obliged to do so at a younger age. But as time goes by some of us are faced with a mindset shift. We stop from doing it because we were told to and start doing it because we want to. Deep inside we know that its the right thing to do and we wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t. Of course, previous to that we have to be taught the practices and behaviours of, politeness and civility. But what begins as a practice/obligation evolves through an individual process to a higher level of empathy and we begin to understand the underlying values that make us want to apply this same attitude. This same value. We do not giveaway our seat to feel righteous. We do it “because” we are righteous in the first place. And this is the fundamental difference between doing agile and being agile. The tools, processes and practices will not make you Agile but being Agile will lead you to live the values, follow the principles and apply the practices.
The 4 Agile values cannot be seen as catch phrases or clichés. They have to be understood and lived in every little action and decision making we do. Only then can we abandon the idea of following rules and practices to become Agile and begin living these principles and values as our own. And that’s what makes us Agile.
Soft skills are harder to acquire and are becoming the preponderant and differentiating factor that we want to see in our teams.
I truly believe that most Developers want to become better at their own game but in an increasingly competitive market such as ours, it is necessary to realise that hard skills are no longer the only determining factor in hiring and retaining talent. Soft skills are harder to acquire and are becoming the preponderant and differentiating factor that we want to see in our teams. This means that being better from a technical standpoint is not enough anymore. Developers have to excel at communicating, interacting and collaborating. They have to possess critical thinking, strategic sense and proactiveness. And these are just some of the traits that we look for while searching for new Miniclippers.
In the Agile world Scrum is just a framework, XP a methodology, Continuous Deployment a feature, TDD a practice, Pair Programming a technique and Automation a requirement. You’re not necessarily Agile by doing all this but being Agile will push you to do most it. It won’t be a certification getting you there. Being Agile is as much of a personal process as it is for a team. It’s up to you and the people around you. You all need to want it. Just like being right… and doing the right thing.
Essay By: César Silva, Release Manager / Scrum Master at Miniclip