Systems thinking and the naughty dogs

Envisage this situation. I go to bed and forget to let the dogs out. When I wake in the morning, and go into the living room, the dogs have crapped on the rug.

Who is to blame?

My first reaction is likely to be to blame the dogs. “Sammy! Jake! You dirty dogs!”

My wife will likely blame me (once she finds out I didn’t let Sammy and Jake out).

What’s next?

Well, I don’t want that happening again. How can I make sure I don’t forget to let the dogs out again? Another foul up (forgive the pun) will be difficult to take.

Perhaps I could put a sign up on the wall in the landing, on the way to my bedroom: “DON’T FORGET TO LET THE DOGS OUT!” Won’t be foolproof, but it might help. My wife might decide she can’t trust me to let the dogs out every evening, so she will start reminding me every night, or coming into the living room to check.

Of course she might forget to do this one night. If that happens to coincide with a night on which I also forget, the same outcome may occur.

Now who’s to blame?

This kind of scenario might sound oddly familiar if you work in an IT department or work for a software development company. An innocent mistake (like releasing an obscure but potentially damaging bug), leading to blame of the individual, leading to more control of releases (processes and procedures) and a “don’t fuck up” culture.

Of course we don’t want the dogs to crap on the rug. Blaming me for this incident, imposing more control (the sign on the wall) and reducing trust in me (my wife checking I’ve put the dogs out) *may* solve the problem. But in reality there is still a chance that it will happen again. People make mistakes. People repeat mistakes.

Infant-2-and-doggy-doorProblem dissolution

By employing a systems thinking approach to this scenario, we can look to *dissolve* the problem. That is, the problem of “the dogs might crap on the rug during the night” is actually removed rather than its probability reduced.

If I install a doggy door, the dogs can get in and out whenever they need to, so they will never be stuck inside when they need to crap. My wife will never have to worry about me messing up again, and blaming me for my stupidity. We won’t need signs up on the wall, serving as a constant reminder to myself and my family that I messed up.

Sometimes buggy software will be released, no matter how high the quality of our code or the stringency of our release procedures. Because people miss things. People make mistakes. People repeat mistakes.

If we make releasing really quick and easy, we can update our tests and release bug fixes before there is any time for blame and increased control to become necessary.

Do you look to merely solve problems in your organisation, or to dissolve them?

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Scrum Basics Part 1 – Activities, not Roles

This is the first in a series of small posts aimed at new Scrum teams, organisations newly adopting Scrum and people who have been doing Scrum for a while but are struggling to get the results they crave.

This post is based on a response I gave to a question in a LinkedIn forum:

“The BA role is an integral and implicit part of Product Owner Role in Scrum. What is your take on this?”

This is a very common question among those new to Scrum and Agile. It’s an interesting one and a classic example of why, in my opinion, companies the world over are failing to do well with Scrum.

To begin to answer it, I will let the Scrum Guide do the talking:

  • The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master.
  • Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional.
  • The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog.
  • The Product Owner is one person, not a committee.
  • Development Teams are cross-functional, with all of the skills as a team necessary to create a product Increment;
  • Scrum recognizes no titles for Development Team members other than Developer, regardless of the work being performed by the person; there are no exceptions to this rule;
  • Scrum recognizes no sub-teams in the Development Team, regardless of particular domains that need to be addressed like testing or business analysis; there are no exceptions to this rule; and,
  • Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole.

Departmental silos are entrenched in the way companies typically do things. They are part of the system. The culture. As a result, the urge to maintain departmental silos is strong.

I would suggest this is a key reason why Scrum implementations might (and do) fail.

Straight off the bat, certain elements of the Scrum Guide are typically ignored or deliberately rejected. These elements may or may not turn out to be key in your organisation, but the fact is they are in there for very good reason. It is a mistake to assume from the outset that your context requires removal of these elements.

Scrum is not asking companies to remove departmental silos, but it is asking that these silos are ignored such that they do not exist within the Scrum team. In the Scrum team, everyone building the product increment is part of the Development team. There are only 2 other people in the team – the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. That’s it. That’s the Scrum team model. Period.

There is absolutely no prescription as to who should be in the Development Team, only that the team has all of the skills and capabilities required within it to build a product increment, and that the team jointly owns all of the work, activities and decisions. In order for effective teamwork to flourish, Scrum says that roles should be left at the door.

That does not mean that our individual expertise and experience is left at the door along with our job titles. On the contrary, the best self-organising teams decide how best to leverage the expertise within the team.

If the question asked in the LinkedIn discussion was actually:

“Are the typical activities undertaken as a BA part of the Product Owner’s responsibilities in Scrum?”

then my answer would be that these, and any other activities involved in building and managing a product’s development lifecycle end-to-end, are shared between the Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team. This is made very clear in the Scrum Guide.

To that end, there is no “BA role” in Scrum, much like there is no “tester”, “QA” or “UX designer” role. Roles are part of traditional siloed thinking. Scrum (and Agile) focus (deliberately and alternatively) on cross-functional teams. Roles are a function of the particular company, not the activities that need to be done as part of product development.

To get the best results from Scrum it is a good idea to stop thinking about what roles you need in the team, and instead think about what activities are required to build your product. A good self-organising Scrum team will share these activities regardless of whether they have a specialist, designated BA or not.

Personally I like to encourage “collaborative analysis”, where all of the “what” and “why” for every decision, every story, is talked about by the whole Scrum team. Then the “how” is handled by the Development Team.

The popular model of having BAs “writing stories” and handing them off to the developers in the team is highly ineffective, not the hallmarks of a collaborative, self-organising team and about as far from both Scrum and Agile as you can get.

To build products effectively with Scrum, it’s a good idea to map out all of the activities that are required to build the product. Forget current roles and responsibilities for now. Once you’ve listed the activities, gather a team that can execute those activities in their entirety. If your company has BAs and you need one of them for your Scrum team then by all means have them in the team.

But please remember to ask yourself this key question:

“Is the BA part of the Development Team or are they the Product Owner?”

In Scrum, they can’t be both. And they can’t be neither.