Here’s How I Changed The Way I Fight

Like many of you, I got into this business by accident. I started in IT around the time of the iPhone release. I became obsessed with mobile technology. This site began to write about the growing industry. Even co-wrote a now out-of-date book on building apps.

I spent years in the startup world. Small teams building big things. I thought I knew mobile when I started work at one of the largest independent app development companies. The problem is everyone else there did too. So when they asked about other specialties, I mentioned my knowledge of Scrum.

Having earned my CSM and CSPO, I came in with a lot of knowledge of the framework. I even fancied myself as someone who could coach the framework. So they gave me the chance to do so with all our teams. Which taught me the first lesson in coaching.

Book knowledge doesn’t always equate to coaching skills.

Of course, this knowledge I possessed armed me with enough to be dangerous. I was often asked to settle process disputes on teams. I would get texts with a conference room name and the words “scrum battle”.

Hell, even I started them. When I was at local meetups, in the break room, and even with company execs. I would stride in with my knowledge and wage war because I had the right answers.

Took me a while to realize I was cocky and clueless.

There were some new team standards my boss had asked me to roll out, which I thought was easy. Little did I realize getting people to do something was going to be a huge fight. At one point, a project manager pulled me aside. “Chris, nobody here is doubting your ideas are valid. But to ask me to think your ideas are the only valid ones is foolish. Can’t you give me a bunch of ideas and I’ll pick the ones that work for my team?”

I still thank Austin to this day for saying that.

Fighting battles are still something I do in my coaching work today. There are some things that deserve advocacy. I will not quit fighting for diversity on teams. Will always make room for others to speak up. And thanks to Austin, I will always keep learning new ways to do the same things.

What about the other things? The daily grind of helping teams view their work in a new way. Stepping through each day of an iteration. Attempting to inspect and adapt, always finding that one thing they can improve on. Those fights look much different to me today.

How do you fight battles with more than book knowledge?

Remember what first brought you here.

Do you remember when you first started working with teams? My entry was through QA. Then I worked on the product side, writing requirements for others. Other times I was a scrum master if I had someone who wanted to wear the PO hat. Point is, I’ve worn many hats on teams, which we all have before getting into our coaching stances.

When you show up fresh off a training, conference, or book you’ve read, there’s so much you desire to bring to the group. You have all the context from the person imparting knowledge and can see more of the big picture.

They just want to get their work done most of the time.

People you are coaching don’t always understand the problem you are trying to solve. Often they don’t even want to know why it’s a problem. They want to work towards the deadline handed from leadership. You were there once too.

This is the worst position to be in to start a fight, and yet often we choose to. Through email, social media, or in-person methods, we want to make them see there is a problem and you’re the person to solve it. Until they are ready to see the problem, you can’t help them by creating one.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to let a group keep doing something that is unwise. Which leads me to my next point.

Being right doesn’t always make you right.

According to the manual, you aren’t supposed to run a team that way. You may have never said those exact words before, but I feel confident in saying you’ve said something similar. There’s no shame in it, for I know I’ve said it soooooo many times.

One of the reasons the 12 agile principles still apply is that they are broad and open to interpretation. There’s so much to uncover that’s relative to where you are in your journey. A different one will stand out to you than when you first read them.

There are many things “right” about the principles. That version looks different today, though. That means your “right” is different than your previous “right”.

“Right” looks different today to us all.

We learn, evolve, and grow in our journey of working better ways. It’s also relative to the experiences we’ve had in this industry. If you worked for different companies or made different solutions, you would look at work differently.

I had a colleague recently argue with me over UAT being a part of the definition of done. He’s never been on a team that’s done it, so he didn’t think any other team needed it. If he had different experiences, then it wouldn’t have been an argument at all.

So, what’s your “UAT is not part of DoD”?

What have you always thought needed to do that might not apply always? If there’s one thing that might not be the way you’ve always known it, are there others?

When you feel surrounded, remember you’re not alone.

Let’s say you’ve done all that. You’ve empathized with their perspective. They see the issue and have considered there are many paths up the mountain. You’ve given up fighting with people over how they want to work. Awesome!

Fights are still coming your way, and often you will be on an island trying to defend this new way of working.

They tried your approach and it didn’t work. Or their boss told them to go back to doing it the old way. Perhaps they only half did it the way you taught them. When these things happen, the pitchforks come out. A fight is coming your way whether you like it or not.

When I’ve been in these situations, I feel surrounded. Immediately, I’m on my heels in a defensive position. So it’s reasonable for me to react in a defensive manner.

It’s important to remember that even when you feel surrounded, you’re never alone in this. There are people reading this like you and me who’ve struggled to respond in those instances. If I can diffuse the situation, understand with them what went wrong, you can take a break to find a better solution.

Rely on your community. Engage other coaches in the office, send a text to a trusted advisor, or send up a signal flare online. You’re never alone in this. 

We have to change how we engage others. In and outside of our little enclave of #agile. I’m never all right or all wrong. I’m always somewhere in between. My hope is to engage with others in a manner that respects where they are and care for them to the best of my ability.


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