Scrum as Team Builder

04/22/2019 by Alexandru Ilinca

It was a beautiful day of May. I was a fresh graduate and I was frightened because I just started working at a company as a System Analyst. Everything was new.

"So listen up Junior! We do things like this…"

So I opened up and began to learn how to deliver. I wanted to be a professional. And information started to pour like a waterfall. Waterfall was the way to deliver. It didn’t feel quite right. There was no transparency, no engagement. I received some requirements and had to do my part. "Good, this is how things are done. I am not going to challenge this.

"You are just a wheel in a great mechanism" I heard this often.

I only worked with 5 people in the company at that time: my boss, another System Analyst, a Developer, a Product Manager and an Architect. It was really weird to work in a 1000 people company and only to have contact with so few. At some point I got frustrated, I didn’t enjoy that. I am a shy person, but I wanted to collaborate with colleagues from other departments. I wanted to learn more.

The paradox is that, looking back, I wanted to meet new people, but I wasn’t even knowing my teammates.

After 6 months, our boss showed us some stuff about Scrum. He really liked this way of working and thought it would help the team. Also it was really cool. Spotify was doing it. Everybody wants to be cool.

So we started to have Daily Stand-Ups, to use visual planning, we estimated our work, we had conversations about our challenges. Little by little, I felt I was knowing more and more about my teammates and I went in depth about how I had to do my job.

Another 6 months passed. We were so different and it was so annoying to work with them. I had to spend so much time with them – Daily Stand-Ups, Grooming, Planning, Retrospective, Demos…I was going crazy. That is the downfall knowing others better. It’s like moving together, you see all their nasty stuff.

I tried to understand Scrum more and tried to grasp the idea of an Agile mindset. I was really owning the framework. I was a good soldier, but battles were lost Sprint by Sprint. And after searching everywhere for my breakthrough, there I found myself: in darkness, lost, alone in a cave.

This was a turning point. The transformation wasn’t about Scrum. It was about the way I viewed the world. I heard about others' challenges, but I wasn’t listening. Such a big difference. So I started to take little steps towards the voices that helped me to get out in the light.

Of course I was blinded by the light. Of course I got hurt. The cave was my comfort zone. I started to come with ideas, but some were shut off and I was confused because I was proactive, I was trying and none of my input was good, but I understood that I had a lot to learn from my teammates and I had some blind spots. Also, people started to come with ideas on how to improve my work and it was a difficult situation. "You don't know anything about my work!" But some of them were really good.

So I started to accept the transparency of things and pair programmed often, i asked help to learn about automated testing, learnt some C# and had the opportunity to understand a Product Manager’s point of view. It was interesting how I expected that Scrum, only by itself, to shape me in something new. After a while, all the nasty stuff that I identified in others started to be less relevant. Beginning to be a T shaped person, you really want to help others because you experienced how tough others’ jobs are. T-shaped? Think about the vertical line to be the area where you are proficient and you demonstrate strong competencies and the horizontal line to be the areas where you are a beginner but know some stuff about the subject.

Spending time in ceremonies really builds a team because you work and focus on the same thing and the physical presence really helps too. That is why we tried to work from home less so we get used to each other. You are not alone, you are in a team with others and you build features together and it’s such a great feeling to see the outcome of your effort as a team.

Also a key element of the framework was the Retrospectives. We were doing Retrospectives, but it was such a cold process. We were talking only about technical issues and there were few looking forward actions. Even doing Retros like that, it helped to vent a little bit and we grew stronger, because we had our therapy meeting J In time we grew up and Retros started to be more productive and fun. We even started to give compliments, thanks, to say stuff from the heart.

I don’t know if you noticed but I stopped marking the milestones in my story because this is another take away in the transformational process. It is a long process and you have to take your time to get out of the comfort zone. It took me 2 years to get out of my safe cave and I survived. Of course we had a lot of bumps, complaints and fighting. It is like a marriage. This is how relationships are and you can’t change that.

But this is what Agile does to you. It brings back that humanly and healthy way of working and you realize that we need to connect with teammates. Nothing great is done alone. You achieve beautiful things with the help of others.

Now I am an Agile Coach and I work with a lot of teams. I can see the struggle and sometimes it's scary to see them metamorphosizing.

- Scrum is not good for us! Agile is not helping!

- Ok guys, so you say you think you should work alone and the communication is not improving?

- Oh no, not at all, we think it's better now. We kind of like it

It's like the caterpillar getting out. Of course it's hard and you hate the process, but give yourself some space.

We are social beings and Agile has a spiritual flavor. So take that small step towards the light and prepare to learn more about the world you live in!

Alexandru is an Agile Coach and experiencing the Agile world since 2014. He has started Agile transformation in ING Romania, where he helped creating healthy working environment and opportunities for people to develop their skills.
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