Month: April 2016

Handling Change: The Warrior or the Sage?


General Douglas MacArthur. It was the pipe that terrified them. Obviously.

I’ve come to realize Agile is missing an important ingredient in its philosophy: how do you get people stuck in their ways to change their minds?

I believe one of the key skills for being a good scrum master is knowing how to be a good change agent. An agile mentality is not intuitive and runs counter to much of what we’ve grown up with. What do you do when you meet resistance? My go-to strategy is to be empathetic, compassionate, and try to understand underlying reasons for non-compliance.

I had an interesting conversation with one of my friends and fellow scrum master, Carl Allen, who has a very different approach. Here’s some of our exchange:

Carl E. Allen 11:48 AM:
the fact of the matter is there are “the wrong people in the wrong seats of the bus” who feel they don’t have to do what everyone else has to do.
there has to be some consequence for willful disregard of rules and process.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:49 AM:
how do you know they are a willful disregard? why are they being disregarded? Isn’t that the real question?
Carl E. Allen 11:49 AM:
we’re not talking about ignorance, or not knowing any better, we’re talking about acute blatant insubordination here.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:49 AM:
I don’t buy it.
Carl E. Allen 11:51 AM:
the system is at fault, but unfortunately, you have to resort to brutality to correct a very narrow margin right now.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:53 AM:
I don’t agree. that’s managing by fear and intimidation.
Carl E. Allen 11:54 AM:
sometimes.. SOMETIMES you need that. Because if you have just politics and kumbya then the people get to a point where they KNOW there’s nothing that’s going to happen to them.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:55 AM:
this isn’t war.
Carl E. Allen 11:55 AM:
Everything is war.
Sun Tzu =)
M. Dan Bracewell 11:55 AM:
I don’t agree with Sun Tzu.
we’ve got to change our mindsets or we will continue to have these problems.
Carl E. Allen 11:56 AM:
well we have a problem that politics and peace won’t solve.



W. Edwards Deming. Nerdy-looking, but pure business god.

Carl contends that some people are beyond fixing. Whether they did it to themselves or a corrupt environment did it to them is besides the point. They simply need to go.


It made me think of the Post-War Japanese Economic Miracle. Two people are cited for this event: General McArthur and Dr. W. Edwards Deming. After the Japanese were brought to their knees by crisis, McArthur came in and ripped out what was left of the old empirical Japanese system. Deming then came along and taught the Japanese how to do business.

When Deming came back to America, he found himself the proverbial prophet in his own land. Business managers would have little or nothing to do with him. After all, they were all successful. Why did they need to make any changes? (never mind WWII had destroyed all their major competitors and they had a free hand in the market). Even when the Japanese began to finally catch up and surpass the Americans in quality and productivity, few could comprehend Deming’s philosophy. He still met resistance from those stuck in their ways.

The descendants of Deming’s ideas, like we agilists, face the same problem he did. How do we get people to change for the better who are resistant? Carl would suggest we be like McArthur: rip out the old environment so folks who can make productive change like Deming can do their jobs.

I’m not convinced Carl is right, but he certainly got me thinking. What do you think? Is this a viable strategy to create change? Do we need the warriors to first come in with their swords and warhammers before the sages come in with their books and control charts?