I remember that some time ago I was in a city, somewhere in Romania. It was morning, I was at the hotel, being a bit late for a meeting. So I left half of my breakfast unfinished and I hurried through the lobby, which was unexpectedly empty. You probably know the feeling of those mornings when you’re in a hurry and all the objects and all the people seem to stand in your way. Well, it was not that case that morning.
It was raining outside so I decided to button my raincoat, but being late I did it while walking in a hurry to the exit door which was, very conveniently, widely open. I finished buttoning and then raised my head to look ahead just in time to see the unusually clean glass of the door blocking my way at 3 inches in front of me. The impact was unavoidable, leaving me with a nice, red bump on my forehead, quite appropriate for the meeting I was about to attend. It was probably then when I first reflected upon the practicality of transparency. Is not always a good thing. And, if we think about, despite the usual meaning we associate to the word, something that has transparency is not really visible. But enough with the semantics.
Since we’re talking about transparency – which means sharing a common understanding — let me share with you my representation of Scrum.
Think about this: rugby is the only team sport that has this unique and special moment when the entire team has to become one body, coördinate perfectly and strive for their very best to get the ball as a premise for scoring. Becoming as one is not everything, but is the foundation of everything else, of the future performance. None of the players can seek for personal glory, none of them can be perceived as the star – is the team that shines or not.
Other team sports – soccer, volleyball – allow for a certain individuality. Messi can make a difference in a soccer team within a moment of grace. Rugby is not like that. A rugby team is all about working as one and being all successful or failing miserably together. That’s how I imagine Scrum: solidarity, support and coördination. This is my mental representation. The perfect Scrum team is – or, to be more precise, should strive to be – one body, breathing, moving, working and thinking as one.
As I became aware of this representation, I spent some time once in a while to reflect on how the team may achieve this ideal state. And I realized that a lot of the coördination that is required to become a real Scrum team is somehow guided by the process itself: breathing the technology and digesting the backlog which creates the energy for the new product, letting information flow in an imaginary circulatory system, using best practices and infrastructure as bones to support the development effort. At a certain point I arrived to the question: how is the brain of the team forming and performing? How is the team developing a common way of thinking?
Some time ago I was reading an interesting quote of the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal. In his book Thoughts (Pensees), he made a very interesting remark about the human body1. He noticed that when a new person is born all its body functions are perfectly adapted to life and need no further adjustments. We can breathe, eat, walk, the heart is beating without any external intervention – is just a matter of exercise to make ourselves fitted for the world. Except for the brain. There is almost nothing in our brains that is already existing when being born that would be helpful for our future life. We need to learn everything from outside: from our parents, from society or from our own experiences. Moral, social norms, science, practical habits all needs to be achieved through works and repetition.
So, while reflecting upon Scrum, and I found myself thinking: since a new Scrum team is a new body just being born, would it be reasonable to acknowledge such a similarity? Is it true that a Scrum team comes with everything in place and almost functioning, needing just some adaptation to the context, but no setup of their common way of thinking, their common morals, norms and practical habits? And, if this is true, how do they develop this common way of thinking?
The fabric of the Agile brain
- Actually, the book is a collection of disparate thoughts of Pascal, discovered after his death and published posthumously. [↩]