Do You Believe in Magic?

Change is hard. Everyone knows that. Even the people who love change can admit that it is hard.

We’re hard wired to rely on habits, stereotypes and assumptions to free our minds up for new problems. If you need a living example, try moving the coffee from one cupboard to another without telling anyone. See what happens.

This is why many people struggle with a complete transformation of how they work, but when it all comes together, it is simply magic to me. As an agile transformation coach, I know how it is done, yet it is still magic.

So, I recently observed some of this magic between my colleague Konrad and a new Scrum team. The team had a problem and didn’t know how to solve it.

The Problem

The team felt they needed to adhere to the Scrum framework closely in the beginning and had some heartburn with the new distinction between the Scrum team and the leads of various disciplines that spread their expertise over several teams – their Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

  • What to call them?
  • When to invite them?
  • Should they be getting status updates?
  • How much of what they say to take as instruction vs. inspiration?
  • Should we be defending the Scrum team perimeter from outsiders? Isn’t that what the framework says? (to be clear, it does not say this)

After less than a week of practicing Scrum, the result was confusion and some hurt feelings on all sides. In addition, the SMEs in question were being lumped into a larger discussion about integrating Scrum into the organization’s PMO as they have some reporting responsibilities.

I didn’t know where to start. The personal side? The process side? What was the right thing to do?

Luckily, we work in teams.

The Solution

Enter my colleague Konrad. After a few hours on the ground with the teams I saw something wonderful. Konrad smiled, sat down with the SMEs in question, and had a ‘magical’ conversation.

You see, I’d grown so entrenched in implementing the framework that I’d forgotten how to find a solution using the ‘whys’ behind how the framework was built.  The WHYs are the magic and Konrad lives in the WHYs.

Sitting with the leads Konrad drew out their concerns, what they perceived as exclusion, and their fears around the newness of the team and its ability to do all of the items on their definition of done without some mentoring.

They also had to report on project progress into the larger PMO organization and simply didn’t think they could see enough of the team’s work in progress to communicate effectively.

Rather than focusing on the definition of a Scrum team or where they should and shouldn’t be, he focused on where the Scrum team lacked transparency and what they needed to know and why.

They felt heard. They knew that Konrad understood why their work was important, and why their intentions toward the team was one of mentorship and development, not control.

Then, he began to explain why the Scrum roles were divided the way they were, why each ceremony was team only, by invitation, or focused on a certain type of information.

This was a refresher from the Scrum training they had invested in and soon heads were nodding. Together they discussed a brief strategy for where and how to be involved with the team, and how long that mentorship might be necessary to develop skills.

Most importantly, he highlighted the differences between the writing of Product Backlog Items – the ‘what’ – versus ‘how’ to achieve what the PBI asked for.

Leads or SMEs in a mentorship role are most valuable, he summed up, at Sprint Planning where the team decides how the work will get done, especially while the team is growing into the skills it needs.

They understood this. They supported it. In fact, it seemed to ease the strain between the Scrum Master and stakeholders. The Scrum Master posed to the team the question of inviting SMEs to Sprint Planning. The leads grew more comfortable in the SME interactions with the team.

How did a powder keg of tension, stress and frustration evaporate into nodding heads and collaborative problem solving? Magic.

The magic of WHY.

Mini rex rabbit appearing from a top hat, isolated on white

The magic of believing in people’s ability to be motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. The magic of believing we want that for others as much as ourselves. Magic is a big idea, an expansive word, but in this instance, in this real problem between real people, the magic of WHY just worked.

Do you believe in magic?

Try using WHY with your next sticky interactions and see what happens.

Then move the coffee back. That’s not nice.


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