An analogy that might help

We just got hired as a jazz band, which is great. But there’s this one guy who insists on playing drums and only plays marching music. It’s the way he’s always played music and it’s all he knows. He is absolutely willing to play in the jazz band but will only play a marching beat. That’s okay, right?

I had a long talk with a new team last week. They’re doing a hybrid agile/waterfall approach on a project that needs tons of changes to reach viable status. My old pal Paul got in touch to ask me about some “intricate” issues.

There’s this one senior fellow…

…named Bert. He’s new to Agile practice and isn’t feeling totally up to speed with how it’s supposed to work. He’s willing to give it a go, on the condition that everyone reports to him daily, in detail, about what they’re doing–and on the further condition that nothing he does is going to have to change.

“We’ve always done it this way,” says Bert. Totally literally. Totally not realizing what a cliché that is.

“Well,” I told Paul, “Why not have Bert listen in on the standup meetings?”

Bert doesn’t think he should have to go to meetings. Oh.

Bert also repeatedly states that he “won’t drink the Kool-Aid.” Okay then.

“All right,” I asked, “Who even decided that this was going to be an Agile project?”


It turns out that Agile, as a concept, has a champion a couple steps above Paul’s level in Carolyn the development manager. She gets it, and she specifically asked Paul to lead this project as an example and prototype of Agile in their enterprise. “She is really truly doing her part,” Paul says.

You know what? Actually no. Carolyn’s part includes not imposing toxic people on the team.

What to do with the overbearing outsider

My advice to Paul goes three ways here:

If it’s possible to isolate the part of the work that is Scrum-based, do it. That would not include Bert. If Bert is part of the larger project, fine, but he has to be on the team or not on the team. A Scrum team has to own the iteration and own the work. If they’re reporting out during the iteration? Then they’ve lost all the benefits of Scrum.

Second possibility: if Bert’s skills and resources aren’t essential to the project, ask Carolyn to assign him elsewhere. From the sound of our conversation this isn’t a realistic option, but I thought I should mention it.

The last option is, in all seriousness, to give up on this being an Agile project and let Bert run it his way. It will happen anyway. Paul might as well not get blamed for failure to control someone who has no intention of joining the Scrum.

Long story short, Scrum is a team endeavor the same way a jazz band is. You won’t know ahead of time what the finished product will be, but you do know everyone’s doing their best and listening to each other. And the one guy in the back beating the drum to a march beat? He’s not playing jazz.