Warning: Fear might twist your perception

I attended recently a meeting of project managers where “agile methods” was the subject of the evening. In fact, the whole evening was about Scrum, with three presentations trying to frame Scrum as a project management method.

On one side it was good to see Scrum getting visibile to an audience that normally reasons in terms of Gantt charts, earned value and hierarchies.

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On the other side this focus on one method and the indirect equation Agile = Scrum is, in my opinion, a very naive and limited view on what agile makes possible.

But the subject on whether Scrum should be used alone or in conjunction with other agile methods is being discussed in so many other valuable contributions that I would rather prefer to focus on an interesting cultural aspect I noticed that evening: what do you fear about Scrum?

I’m referring in particular to one of the three presentations. The speaker claimed to have “14 years of experience as Project Manager, 14 days as a certified Scrum Master” – in fact this made me wonder why the heck was he actually talking there, especially considering he didn’t seem to have ever used Scrum in a live project.

His presentation was focused on bringing Scrum concepts back in the project management dictionary, and in doing that he gave a lot of wrong information. One for all: he claimed the Burndown Chart is an Earned Value diagram upside down. Oh, well, he missed the fact the former is measuring tested software, the latter a completed task without considering whether the task created working software or any other artifact that is not really bringing value to the customer.

What struck me, though, was the amount of misinformation he included in his presentation: most of what he said was awfully incorrect and clearly with the purpose of demonstrating that Scrum is just another project management method, actually even more directive and prescriptive than the PMBOK and, as such less flexible. (I leave the counter arguments to you in this case…)

I thought he just missed the point, but then I started hearing aggression in his words. It seemed like the propaganda that any *ism – Project-Managementism in this case – does to nullify its enemies, where facts are tilted as needed to demonstrate what is wanted.

At that point I asked myself what exactly was he fearing? What aspects of Scrum are so damn worrying to bring him to present such a vehement pile of false statements?

This is, in fact, a central aspect that we agile coaches should always consider when working with a client. The fact that Scrum uses a completely different nomenclature than the “established” project management techniques is likely to increase the resistance in some people. (BTW, there is a very good reason for the name change: re-using existing names would keep many people re-using also the behavioural patterns associated to that name and this is exactly what Scrum does not want)

What happened in this case? What are his fears?

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Though I have my hypotheses, I will not mention them here. I’d rather keep the post at a structural level: he has an opportunity to change the way he works and he is refusing it, trying to bring the “new” back into the “old” frame (he’s a consultant, so I guess he cannot simply deny the new as he would probably like to).

I’d like to ask all of you 1. what are you fearing when resisting change and 2. whether this fear is actually twisting your perception, thus preventing a rational comparison of the alternatives.

Then watch carefully your colleagues when dealing with a change and check whether they are also falling in a similar pattern. In fact, we all unconsciously do most of the time. I promise it will be fun to observe them!

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