Retrospectives and the Hair Shirt

Scrum is really simple, barely a process, more a framework. The hard work in using Scrum is fixing the things that it exposes, actually inspecting the things that it makes transparent and adapting to optimize the results and the organization that produces the results. — Ken Schwaber Scrum and NonScrum

My team embraces retrospectives. Every two weeks we list what we’ve done well and what we didn’t. We choose one or two things to do differently in the next Sprint. We revisit those commitments over time to see what progress we’ve made.

My team exists in a larger company.

In Waltzing With Bears, the one irrefutable reason to not do risk management is when no one else is doing it. If you are the only one presenting costs and possible negative outcomes management will assume your projects are troubled and you are a negative thinker. They’ll fund proposals that by comparison look cheap, safe and promise outstanding success.

I don’t exist in that extreme situation. But my team’s willingness to acknowledge mistakes is sometimes taken for negativity. Our willingness to admit the possibility of failure sometimes provides support to skeptics. Our willingness to question assumptions is sometimes seen as stone throwing.

Leading Change

In order to build something new we straddle two realms. In one we cultivate our aspirations and in the other we struggle to attain them.

At times we need to set aside our skepticism to see the world as it should be and people as we hope they are. Other times, we need to see how far we are from where we aspire to be, dig our feet into the soft earth and push.

Jeff Sutherland has a simple exercise for spurring organizational change

  • Setting aside all the obstacles in your path, picture one thing you would like to change. Write down what it looks like.
  • Now, go back to where you are. Look at that outcome. List things you can do in the short term that get you closer to it.
  • Which of the items on that list are achievable and most effective. Put those at the top of the list.
  • Identify what you can do in the next week to to achieve the items at the top of the list.
  • Assign each of those items to someone in the room with you.

You’ve just planned a Scrum.

The Hair Shirt

There is a difference between justifying one’s mistakes and reflecting on past performance in order to improve. There is also a difference between acknowledging one’s fallibility and dwelling on it.

We developers are crafts people not monks. Our job is not righteous contemplation — it is thoughtful and rightful action.

So as reflective developers, we do not wear a hair shirt. Our goal is not to dwell on our own or other’s failings.

We are idealists.

We embrace grand visions, ambiguity, contradiction and change. We believe good people deliver the best results in environments of trust and honesty.

.. And we are pragmatists.

We believe believing doesn’t in itself make it so: success requires discipline, determination, and ingenious problem solving.

And as we embrace both the outcome to which we aspire and the given circumstances that surround us we will acknowledge mistakes. We will shine a bright light on obstacles in our path. With humility and tenacity we will challenge ourselves, our teams, and our companies to do better.

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.

One thought on “Retrospectives and the Hair Shirt

  1. I think this is a great post. The other difference I’d note about retrospectives versus “the hair shirt” is that retrospectives are enjoyed while I would imagine a hair shirt is maybe painful or at the very least uncomfortable.

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