Standing in a queue for archery at a local scouting event, I happened to mention to the two chaps standing next to me (let’s call them Ant and Steve) that I was reading “The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland, which is all about Scrum.
“I’m a Scrum Master” said Ant. Well I never knew that, how fortunate for me, someone to quiz my understanding of Scrum on. “So what is this Scrum?” asked Steve. “Well, it’s a methodology for being more effective” I replied. So Ant and I proceed to give an overview of Scrum, which is great for me as I test and check my understanding, and gain a little more insight from an actual practitioner. Yet every time we mentioned one part of the process or another Steve would say something like “oh so you’re just having a meeting” and we would then spend time justifying why it was different and Steve would say “oh so you’re just having a meeting standing up for less time – but it’s still just a meeting”. Or “oh so you have someone who is there to make sure you keep on track – just like a manager” and we would again explain why a Scrum Master was different to a manager, and Steve would say “so it’s a manager with a different name, who is more hands off, but nevertheless, still a manager”.
At first talking about this with Steve was a little frustrating. After all I was reading the book and learning so wanted to be able to articulate the differences as a demonstration of my learning. But then I started thinking, it really was as simple as Steve kept making it. Sometimes things are simply overcomplicated (spot the oxymoron). It actually bewilders me why we overcomplicate stuff. I’ve been working in the field of people development for over 16 years now and in my time I’ve heard a lot of fluff and waffle. I’ve also helped a lot of people make some stark realisations, which turn out to be very simple, so that they can get the best out of themselves, their teams and their businesses. And in my opinion it really does come down to doing some of the very basics.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying there isn’t any value in the latest thinking and the latest book. I think there is a lot to learn from exploring, learning and growing. It does truly help us to gain a deeper understanding of the principles and meaning behind things, but it’s equally important not to get lost in the complexity of it all.
Take Scrum as an example, you’ve got scrum masters, sprints, back logs, product owners, development teams, sprint review, sprint retrospective, scrum artefacts – and I could go on. But essentially it’s about creating a list of things that need to be done (or problems that need to be resolved), prioritising them, giving the team ownership, talking frequently and regularly, in a very focused and structure way, and having someone who is enabling the team and solving or expediting blockers. Let’s be clear here, I’m sure it’s a lot deeper and a lot more complex than that, so please Scrum (and Agile) experts, don’t shoot me down. My point is, at a certain level, it really doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Scrum as a concept is really quite simple.
So, I mentioned earlier that all it really comes down to are some very simple basics. Want to know what they are? There will be no major surprises here, you’ll read them and agree. You might have a few additions of your own, but here’s what I think.
- Communicate – or put even more simply, talk and listen. Talk about what you’re doing; with the people you’re doing it with. Check in and listen to what others have to say. Tell people more often than you think you should, because then any assumptions can be alleviated. If you are having an issue or problem with someone, talk to them. It’s quite simple. More likely than not, they won’t realise, or if they do, then it’s time to find out why you are so different in your views or requirements. The band “The Feeling” have a great line in one of their songs which simply says “what’s the complication it’s only conversation”.
- Trust yourself and others – I get that this can be difficult, if experience has shown you that some people can’t be trusted, you will of course be wary. But irrelevant of how easy or difficult we find it, we all have to trust others. Unless we become a hermit who lives on a remote hill in isolation, we all in some way or another interact with the people and the world around us. So have a little faith, and if you’re finding it hard to have a little faith, ask yourself why. Once you’ve identified your reason you can do something about it. Point 1, is a great starting point for resolution.
- Know what you want – at least to some degree. I’m not talking about having a finite plan, but a sense of what you want for yourself, be that at work or at home, as a leader or as a team member. You can at the very least then use this as a measure, is the reason you have doubt or unable to trust, because you are either not getting what you expected or don’t know what you want anyway.
- Take action – decide and do. Talking and listening is extremely important (see point 1), but at some point you must take action. We can prevaricate a lot and whilst deep thinking, learning and understanding all play their part, action will make the difference. At least then you can rule things out and rule things in, which in turn helps you know what you want and builds trust in yourself and others.
Yes, I know there is depth in all these areas, and that within those depths comes complexity, but keeping high level simplicity front and centre, will help you navigate. Just like Scrum – it’s a methodology that helps you be more effective.
And if you need any help achieving any of this you know where I am.