How to Get Better Results in our Projects

business-graph-resultsIts all about getting better results.”

Its so common of a saying its become cliché. As a project manager, we are tasked with getting a good result for our companies. However, I can’t help but wonder if we are steering into some dangerous waters by repeating it.

What does this phrase mean exactly? It almost seems kind of a dumb thing to say. I mean, who doesn’t want a better result?

Martin Yates in Knock Em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search said “the committed professional is willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, whenever and for however long is necessary . . .”

This is also my interpretation of the results statement: the phrase appears to be referring to our commitment/dedication/perseverance. Its throwing down a challenge to our personal strength of will and willingness to make personal sacrifices.

Its not surprising really. In our culture, individual perseverance is a highly sought after character trait, so why wouldn’t our employers be looking for it?

This is how my mind processes the statement:

‘You will have to make a lot of personal sacrifices on your project. You must be willing to work lots of evenings. You must be willing to work weekends and holidays. You must be willing to become out of touch with your family and friends. You must be willing to lose sleep. You must be willing to put your health at risk. You must be willing to push your team to the brink of exhaustion, but you will need to push them harder and keep their morale up in order to reach the objective. Further, you are expected to a have a good attitude about it all. If you aren’t willing to do all this, you are not a good worker and will be fired.’

Some may just tell us this is just the way things are, but for me, this makes my skin crawl.

This statement appears to be reinforcing the need for individual contributions instead of the whole organization committing to continuous improvement. Its reinforcing our reliance on heroes and breeding asshole management. Its also reinforcing short term thinking vs. long term thinking.

Personal perseverance is a noble quality we should all aspire to have and will definitely help get us better results, however, it is only a part of the formula for success and oversimplifies how we get there.

Deming regularly warned about management by objective or management by results (MBO or MBR). I think this statement is hovering dangerously close to what he was talking about.

Too often when we chase objectives, we end up making things worse for ourselves or our organizations. Everything we want has a cost applied to it. When we just count on perseverance to get a result, which of the below are we willing to pay to achieve it?

  • Do something illegal? (Wells Fargo and the US women’s gymnastics team both counted on MBO and look what it’s done to them).
  • Do something unethical?
  • Sacrifice our values and principles?
  • Sacrifice our relationships (friends? family?)
  • Sacrifice our health?
  • Introduce more bureaucracy or overhead?
  • Kick the can down the road so someone else can take care of it later?
  • Introduce more problems?
  • Create a more complex/confusing system?
  • Decrease team morale and/or trust?
  • Alienate another department, a partner, supplier, vendor, or (shudder) our customer?

I believe we need to add wisdom and discipline to the formula of success. How about making these payments to get a better result instead:

  • Improve the overall system so better results become common.
  • Actively engage your teams and people so they can find joy and pride in their work and increase productivity and creativity.
  • Discover and fix the root cause issues so future projects and programs will have better success.
  • Do it right the first time (even if this means adding more time, resources or money).
  • Create a culture that is obsessed with quality and learning so the organization gets better and better.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Be disciplined and focused and never rest on your laurels.

I realize that as project managers, we may see the above as many times outside our area of influence. We can instill most of these principles in our own teams, however, and if these principles become part of our DNA, we will be able to influence more people as our influence and/or authority grows. Also, I believe we have the obligation to influence others outside our areas to adopt the mentality that we can’t go about doing business as usual. Its a tough road to take, but for the sake of ourselves, our colleagues, our organization, and the world in general, we need to be agents for improvement. It will also greatly increase the likelihood that our projects will succeed, which we all want to see.

Perhaps we need to rephrase the results statement going forward. Instead of saying “its about getting better results,” we really need to be asking ourselves “what can we do to get a better result?”

What are your thoughts? Am I off in my thinking?


Why No One Talks About Deming Anymore

There was an article posted last year in Harvard Business Review about how Deming had been forgotten. I think this is a conundrum in the Deming community. Deming often talked about how we were in a new age and how we needed to transform. Yet here we are, 15 years after his passing and the transformation seems to have stagnated.

This post comes out of my own struggles with trying to influence people in the Deming way of management. Here are my thoughts and observations on why we are hitting a brick wall.

  1. Authoritarianism Still Seems to Work. Proof of this are the likes of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others. Thank God for us Deming folks Agile is around and Toyota overtook the automotive industry a few years back. However, this year, Volkswagen became the #1 automotive producer. In the past they’ve been known for iron-fisted leadership. Despite having a new CEO, will people equate this management style to Volkswagen’s success?
  2. Disruptive Technology as the Strategy for Success. Silicon Valley has been an important business model for two decades. “Innovate!” my last company preached. “We must innovate to stay relevant!” Our management mandated that each of our product lines had to come up with at least one innovative solution per year (innovate or else!). I think too many modern businesses have become preoccupied with innovation and finding the next big thing instead of focusing on how to become more efficient. Now, Deming DID talk about the necessity of innovation, however, if folks do remember him they don’t remember him talking about it. Neither his 14 points nor the System of Profound knowledge mention innovation.
  3. Individualism over Systems. Alfie Kohn said Deming’s star died out in this country because he was a systems thinker and the West (particularity Americans) do not understand the importance of a system. We stress the individual’s contribution. We believe if there is progress and success, it can be attributed to some individual (or small group of individuals) and if there is a problem, then it must be someone’s fault. Kohn said it was inevitable that Deming’s ideas wouldn’t graft here.
  4. Short Term Results over Long Term Results. Deming’s way is long term. He even said it himself—it would take years or even decades to see results. No one wants to wait that long. I think people want the long term, but they also want the short term and that is where the emphasis continues to lie (because . . . well . . . its the short term).
  5. Tools/Techniques/Action over Theory. Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say, “Just use or do whatever works.” I think this is rooted in our belief that any problem can be resolved with the right tool (or technique). Deming stressed theory first and then use the right tools for the theory. However, theory is discounted in our society. I once had a manger tell me a theory didn’t matter if it didn’t work (he was quite derisive that I even mentioned the term ‘theory’). Action is valued in our society. I had our IT director tell me on my first week of my new job that I needed to understand that the Nike motto was important to him and to “Just do it.”
  6. We have no time. Our time is getting more and more squeezed. We have little time to think about new/different ideas (unless they are quick solutions promising immediate results). Its certainly true we are being asked to do more with less all the time. As a result, few are willing to invest time into reflecting, studying, and risking experimentation. I’d also add lack of time reinforces command and control. We need an answer NOW and we don’t have time to collaborate, so we rely on someone to direct us. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.
  7. Educated Idiots. Deming (and most other management scientists) never ran a business. Heck, Deming was never even a manager. I had a teammate look at the library on my desk and say, “I prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.” I’ve heard people say we need to stop listening to “educated idiots.” I hate to say it, but I’m sure they would put Deming into this camp. Experience is valued over knowledge or theory in our society. Deming’s belief that our experience is wrong would simply be scorned.
  8. The Passage of Time. Many don’t know who Deming is. They might recognize PDCA or perhaps remember him as a “Quality Guru.” I was saddened when I told our PMO manager that my blog had been featured on the Deming Institute and he didn’t know who Deming was.
  9. Its no longer relevant. If a book was written just 5 years ago, many think it may not be relevant anymore. The world changes too fast they would say. I’ve certainly fallen into this trap. The same problem can be said with Deming in general. He was big in the 80s and early 90s, but many would say that was decades ago and the world has changed since then.
  10. Deming is Difficult to Understand. Deming doesn’t make sense to many people. Its a huge paradigm shift. Few have the patience to listen or understand, especially when they need an answer NOW. Heck, even in his day, people thought he was wrong (including his own grandson!) or that he was senile. Some people would walk out of his seminars. God help the individual who is new to Deming and picks up a copy of Out of the Crisis without some type of primer! Even if his concepts do resonate with an individual, they are so deep they will take a lifetime to master and even then, you won’t be finished. Many folks just aren’t willing to invest in that.
  11. Deming Died. Deming’s biggest influence and power was the fact that he WAS W. Edwards Deming—the man who Japan revered and had their highest business prize named after. His followers simply don’t have his clout. However, I believe even if Deming were alive today, I doubt many people would be going to his seminars like they once did. That’s because . . .
  12. Japan’s Economy Declined. From the late 70s until the early 90s Japan was America’s bogey man. Japan seemed destined to overtake our markets and people were scared and fascinated at the same time. Of course folks wanted to know what the heck they were doing differently and so Deming became the pretty girl in the room. Then Japan hit an economic slump . Even though Japan is still the third largest economy in the world, it doesn’t seem to be the threat it once was.

So, what do I think will happen to Deming’s ideas?

I think the Agile movement carries the Deming torch in this day and age (even though they may not realize it). I wish the Agile community would take a closer look at his teachings. I think it will strengthen their position. However, I have this sinking feeling we may soon see an Agile implosion. A ton of companies have tried Scrum and while there are many who get something out of it, many aren’t. I think this is because they haven’t transformed their paradigms and have focused too much on the Agile tools and techniques. In my last company, this was certainly true and the writing was on the wall that the Agile experiment was about to end. Management was quickly losing patience and were already starting to look elsewhere (Six Sigma was next on the list of the fad du jour!).

However—I hold out a tremendous amount of hope. In the book Deming’s Profound Changes, the authors write that it often takes decades for a new philosophy to take root and develop in a culture. If so, we are nearing that point now. I know some people may think I’m crazy, but I can’t help but think the younger generation will embrace Deming’s teachings. For one, they seem to have less tolerance for the bullshit of traditional management (traditional managers often fault them for being lazy—I think the younger generation are just being rational and want to be creative and—gasp!– have joy in their work!). They are growing up with Agile concepts and having amazing startup companies like Menlo as models. I think this will make them think of management differently. Also, they seem to be looking to the past for their ideas (they seem to think old-school is cool). For instance, one of my favorite websites, The Art of Manliness, teaches old-school “man skills” and the site’s founder Brett McKay says his biggest audience is the under 30 crowd. Will they discover Deming when they look to their history to understand their future? Also, the younger generation is more willing to embrace diversity and different ideas. The world is getting smaller and Eastern countries like China and India continue to rise. As a result, Eastern thought and its holistic/systems ideas has a better chance of penetrating the next generation’s current paradigms. Lastly, Japanese culture is popular with today’s youth. This puts them in close proximity to Deming’s teachings.

My hope is as the next generation gets closer to becoming managers themselves, they will discover this incredible man and his insights and the transformation will continue. Those of us who have been studying Deming must be ready to share, teach, and mentor these young people what we know.

Making Promises We Can’t Keep

promisesAt my last company, our team was  behind in our work (we had been since I first arrived there). What was left was overwhelming and would require an enormous effort, sacrifice, and possibly working ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it completed (people were already getting sick or leaving the team).

I told one of the managers we needed to reduce our scope. The reply was the scope had always been what it was and would not change. When I protested, I was told quite flatly– “We promised our customer this and we honor our commitments here.”

This stung. It made me feel like if we didn’t follow through, we would be dishonored by breaking a promise and lose the trust of our customer.

But wait one damn moment.

“Hold on,” I said. “I didn’t promise this and neither did the team, our executives did. Our team was not consulted on if they would be able to do deliver all of this in the time allocated.”

I was told if I didn’t like it I could talk to the execs about it.

For the rest of my time at the company, I’d hear off and on about execs making promises or commitments to our customer and then hear about those expected to deliver being unable to make good on the promise. The execs couldn’t understand why we were always behind or why the quality was poor. “We’re going to lose our contract!” they would say.

So they came down on us. We were told to work harder and were often made to feel like pussies if we couldn’t keep up. I remember one exec prowling the room, looking intimidating, and criticizing us for having the audacity to laugh during a critical time. Fingers were quick to point. Overtime became common (though we remained behind). Burnout, frustration, and people quitting often followed.

One project manager told me this was just our lot in life. The execs promise and we have to figure out how to produce. Really? Does this really have to be the way it works?

This happens not just with our own companies but also our partners and suppliers. I recently had our director tell me that because one of our suppliers is unable to keep up with our demand like they had promised, we would go with a different supplier. I asked how we would know if this new supplier would keep up with the demand? He said they would if we gave them the proper incentive. I replied, didn’t we offer the same incentive to the current supplier? How do we know we won’t just get the same result or perhaps something worse?



American mythos on accepting a challenge. Is something wrong with you if you don’t accept? Many would say yes. Are they right? Is this mentality one reason we continue to fail and destroy trust?

So why are we making promises we can’t keep? I can think of a variety of reasons. Some will make all kinds of promises if offered enough money or incentives (is this a form of prostitution?). Also, its part of our mythos–Americans simply don’t back down from a challenge. We just roll up our sleeves and get to work no matter how big the obstacle. Perhaps the decision makers are just ignorant or overconfident in what their organization is possible of producing. Its also possible the folks making the promise have the skill, knowledge, and wherewithal to do it themselves, but forget they are surrounded by mere mortals or forget they haven’t given their people the resources or skills or knowledge to complete the task. Much of it could be fear related–we don’t want to look like pussies in front of our superiors or peers or we are afraid of losing business or losing our jobs by saying no. Perhaps its a combination of all or any of the above. Regardless, this greed, arrogance, bravado, ignorance, fear, and lack of candor is destroying our trust with both our employees and our customers. Something must be done.

But what?

Two things–data and character.

We must be keenly aware of our capabilities. What does the data say? Have we done something like this before? How did we do? What does our current quality look like? What are our lead times? What rate of quantity can we produce? What is our defect total? Is it reducing? Are we making every effort to reduce variation? Are we committed to improvement and do we make good on that promise? What does the team who will be performing the work think? Have they been given the opportunity to speak candidly on their ability to produce? We have to ask this of ourselves but also of our partners and suppliers as well.



Be like Nancy!

Once we know this, we can better evaluate our customer’s needs and rely on our character to give a solid yes or no. Only the wise and honest will know when to say yes. It will also require courage when its time to say no.

If we currently don’t have any influence at the management level for these types of decisions, we can at least practice our own ability to say no within our sphere of influence. If you haven’t the capability to make good on a promise, have the courage to say, “NO.” Perhaps you will start a new trend in your organization and begin a much needed revolution.

Why My Former Company Couldn’t Succeed at Scrum

Companies struggle to adopt scrum. Its rare to hear of a company that seems to be progressing. I recently worked for a company who was agile. On paper . . .

Here were some of our biggest blocks for adoption:

Work really hard and you will succeed. The same hard-working entrepreneur mentality the owners had cultivated in their basement in the 1990s was a core value of this company. Finding a sustainable pace was a foreign idea to them. Managers were expected to work hard and sacrifice. Exhaustion was common. I remember asking the vice president how he was doing. As he rubbed his eyes, he said, “Same as always. Too much to do and not enough time to do it.” I’m sure he couldn’t imagine being successful any other way.

No value in training. If you were lucky, you got a two day CSM course. Most never had any scrum or agile training, though, or they had training long ago and needed a refresher. Some were handed the Scrum Guide and expected to read it on their own. A coach was completely out of the picture. The reason—no time or money. Once, I offered to give my team short trainings on agile concepts once a sprint. Ten minutes later, my supervisor called me and told me “No.” If management found out the team was doing anything but developing, I would be held responsible. Its not as though this company didn’t value learning, though. Their expectation was that you took it upon yourself to learn. I can see why someone with an entrepreneur mindset would think this (after all, no one taught them!). But golly, we were always so darn busy–when would we have time to learn?? On our own time, I can hear them say. ‘When do we have our own time?’ You have to make it they would say. ‘Gee. Thanks for the advice.’

A sense of its never going to get better. Retrospectives could be rough. I was on three different teams while at this company. Each team told me, “It doesn’t matter what we say in these retros, nothing is going to change around here.” Many wanted to discontinue retros completely.

Technical debt is ok. I worked on a project whose code was written by a blind guy. It was awful. We fixed one feature only to have another break. The developers wanted to rewrite, but the executives wouldn’t allow it because the product was under tight deadlines for delivery. Instead, band aids were applied over and over again. ‘Someday,’ the executives said, ‘we will rewrite it.’ At least one developer, unable to bare not being able to take pride or creativity in his work, got tired of waiting and left the company. Last I heard, this team was still applying band aids.

Fear. The company had gone into bankruptcy twice in its early years. I can’t help but think this was in the back of the minds of the owners. Because there was fear, change was risky. Especially if you had found success doing it a certain way. I forgot how many times I was told, “If we don’t do it this way, we are going to lose our contract!”

Finger pointing. Like most traditional companies, fundamental attribution error runs rampant. QA, in general, was regularly blamed for things that went wrong. They were told they didn’t work hard and were complainers. Many members were defensive. They often took sick days. On the more difficult teams, turnover was common. To protect her department, the QA director created rules that applied only to QA, such as allowing them to work from home several days a week. This rule created resentment in the other departments and only strengthened the stereotype of wimpy QA people.

Smorgasbord Scrum. The company seemed to pick what they liked from scrum and discarded what they didn’t. I can count on one hand how many times I saw a team burn down. Management never paid attention to velocity. All that seemed to matter was that the team had performed more points than the previous sprint. I saw one scrum master get angry when his team didn’t do as much as the sprint before.

Scrum roles not embraced. The product owner had the ultimate power. What the product owner wanted, the product owner got. This included throwing out the scrum rule book. I was literally told by my product owner, “Its my way or the highway.” Scrum masters were treated like assistants to the product owners. Many in the company had no idea what the scrum master was supposed to do. Heck, we weren’t even allowed to call ourselves scrum masters.

Agile was not respected. My boss’s boss couldn’t mention agile words or concepts around executives. I was told they would laugh at her or give her condescending looks when she did. The vice president of development hated agile. He thought it was ruining the company and taking away from development time. Imagine that! The vice president of development!

Partner companies did not embrace scrum. I was on a team where the partner company did half of the development work. Though they participated in scrum ceremonies, their management remained traditional. Worse, their manager would impose herself on our team to make things go the way she believed things should be going and management allowed her to do it!

Sprints were not protected. It was ok to interrupt a sprint. It was ok to add more items to a sprint and not remove anything. It was ok to start a sprint without a full sprint worth of work. It was ok to overload a sprint. It was ok to increase the length of a sprint. It was ok to shorten or lengthen the sprint.

Value of the Hero. I remember one team I was on had the rug pulled out from under us on my second day on the job. The development manager literally told us, “Management is looking for heroic efforts to get this resolved.” This company valued really smart people who knew the product, would take charge, and would stop at nothing to get success. Unfortunately, this created a command and control culture, stifled cooperation and trust, lowered morale and as a result killed productivity and innovation. As a result, nothing got better and management was left to wonder why.

Executives just didn’t get it. The idea to adopt agile came from middle management. I’m not sure why the executives agreed to allow it. Perhaps to throw middle management a bone? Because the idea of scrum sounded good? They paid for CSM classes, licenses for Rally, they even agreed to some process changes such as two weeks sprints. When did they expect to get anything out of their investment? In retrospect, this issue was probably our biggest hurdle in adopting scrum.

What obstacles has your company faced adopting agile? Has it been successful?

Am I Agile?

If someone were to ask me if I’m agile, I’m not so sure I’d say yes. For one–I’ve seen a lot of negative connotation to the word and I can’t help but think to some, being agile in an organization is at the worst, a recipe for career suicide or at the least, impeding it. Perhaps I’m being cowardly, but I’m starting to think it might be best to sometimes just to keep my mouth shut and model what I believe. It will make a bigger impact on those who don’t believe.

So, what do I believe exactly? I think that while I may be an agilest at heart (influenced primarily by scrum and some by Kanban and Lean), much of my way of thinking comes from W. Edwards Deming’s teachings.

These are my core beliefs:

Focus– First lesson I learned from our scrum teacher. This has been reinforced by understanding Single Piece Flow from TPS and studies of Flow (psychology). Oddly, I’ve never seen Deming bring this up. Perhaps it wasn’t so much of a problem in his time.

Continuous Improvement– Agile got me started on this, but Deming has me thinking more and more about PDSA. These two go hand and hand quite nicely. This principle is probably at the core of pretty much everything I do.

Customer Delight– Important to Agile, but Deming has driven this home to me even more. Its not enough to have a satisfied customer. They must come back and wait in line and bring a friend with them. Even this may not be enough.

Teamwork– Extremely important to Agile, but again, Deming’s thought of treating others on the team or within the system like they are your customers really rings true to me. The thought that everyone is part of a single system in an organization fits well with Agile’s emphasis on breaking down silos.

Motivating Others– Deming’s emphasis on understanding psychology to motivate is a core belief of his. Joy and pride in work are corner stones of his. Jeff Sutherland says the same thing in his book. In other books I’ve read by both Deming and agilests, the importance of getting people to be intrinsically motivated over extrinsically is important for both productivity and quality of work (not to mention quality of life).

Appreciation of a System– Definitely a Deming tenant, though the tools I use to help me understand it are rooted in Kanban (I’m big into wall charts). Deming’s belief that 95% of any problem is because of the system and not the individual goes through my mind any time I encounter a problem on the job. Jeff Sutherland also introduced me to Fundamental Attribution Error, which is closely related.

Importance of Immediate Value– Something that is becoming more and more important to me. Definitely an Agile pillar. I’m starting to wonder if this is something Deming would oppose, though. I’m starting to find that what a person values could be the incorrect. If we just create on what our customer values, it could lead us to ruination. Deming might say building expectation is more important. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about this one.

Sustainable Pace– Spelled out specifically in the Agile manifesto principles. This saves me from burning out and I am constantly checking to see if I’ve found a good pace that I can keep indefinitely. I’ve never seen Deming say anything about a sustainable pace. Not sure what he would think, though I think this might fit into his concept of understanding a system.

Education/Knowledge/Training– Deming is big into this. Its not something that is specifically spelled out with Agile, though it certainly falls into kaizen and continuous improvement.

Change Agency– When you join the Scrum Alliance, they ask you to be an advocate for agile. I see it as a crucial role for any scrum master. I’ve heard some say that if you have good scrum masters, you don’t need coaches. Deming never said we needed to be a change agent, but he spent his whole life trying to convince others of doing things a better way. He didn’t stop trying to make a difference until the end of his life. He gave a seminar only a month before his death. That is inspiration to me.

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?

The Playground

The Playground

There once was a group of kids on the playground: running around and laughing, swinging on the monkey bars, spinning around on the merry go round.

Sue says, “Hey, why don’t we play a game?” The others ask, “What kind?” Billy suggests they play tag. Everyone’s excited. Ok, what’s the rules? Mary says the big oak tree is base. Danny says you have to count to ten before you start chasing people. They choose the person who is “it” by doing one potato-two potato. The kids are soon hollering and running around the playground.

As they play, they make changes to the rules. Mike says if you say “one to three get off my father’s apple tree” you have to let go of the base. Becky says anything pass the swings is out of bounds. The kids continue playing, having a wonderful time.

Then comes along Mya.

Mya wants to play too. The kid are happy she joins and they continue to play for a little while, having a great time. Soon Mya says, “Billy has been it too many times. Someone else has to be it for now on.”

The other kids are a little surprised by this new rule, but they decide to go along with it so they can keep having fun.

After awhile, Mya says, “Becky, you can’t keep hanging around the base. Its not fair. You have to keep away from the base.”

Becky frowns, but tries to stay further from the base.

The kids keep playing, but they all begin to notice for some reason its not as fun as it was anymore.

Finally Mya tells them, “Let’s stop playing tag. I’m getting tired of it.”

Billy protests. He is still having fun and doesn’t want to stop. Neither does Danny or Mike. Becky is still upset that she has to stay away from the tree and wonders if she doesn’t want to play anymore either. Mike is indifferent, though agrees its not fun like it used to be.

“Let’s not play any more games,” Mya says. “Let’s just play on the playground. We can play tag anywhere.”

Soon all the kids are yelling at each other, all unhappy and ready to go home, where only a few minutes earlier they were having the time of their lives.

What happened?


“But it Doesn’t Work that Way In the Real World.”

Cohort 3 Pic

I’m the handsome one on the left, arms folded.

One of the requirements for the video game school I attended was to create a fully functional game in an eight month period. Our class was divided into two groups, each with about 17 team members consisting of programmers, artists, and producers. I was the lead for one of these teams.

Our team was managed with the idea that no one single person knew it all. We had to work together to succeed. Team members were empowered. Their opinions were solicited and valued. We encouraged team members to speak up if they thought there was a problem. Trust and respect was a core value. Collaboration and listening to others was important to us. Some faculty members faulted us for our “democratic” way of managing the team, but they could not argue with our results. We were productive, were well organized, and had incredible morale and momentum. We always showed progression every week.

The other team, on the other hand, was floundering. There was disorganization and infighting. Morale was poor. The team blamed their project lead for not managing the team well. The team lead, in turn, blamed the team for not working hard and not doing their jobs. One week they would take a step forward and the next take two steps back.

The other team members would complain to us about their lead, “It’s a dictatorship! He’s always telling us what to do. We don’t have any say in the matter! He just reminds us that he’s in charge. We always just end up fighting.”

People who worked with me on previous projects asked me to talk to their lead and give him some advice.

The team lead and I went out for lunch a couple of days later. I told him what his team mates were saying. He didn’t seem surprised. He asked how we were running our team. When I told him, he was curious as to why we managed a team like that..

“Because we are all still learning,” I said. “We need each other’s knowledge in order to succeed. Besides, we are all students. None of us are getting paid. We don’t have that to hold over anyone. We have to find other ways to motivate the team.”

The lead just shook his head and smiled at my naivety. “But it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Its not going to be like it is in here where they all have a say. They have to get used to it.”

A couple of months later during the mid term period check-in, the other team performed poorly compared to ours, and as a result their game was canceled and all the team members were put on our team. Together, all of us accomplished something great in the end.

Perhaps the other lead was right. Perhaps running a team like we did isn’t like that in the real world. But if you could chose between these two types of teams, which one would you want in your real world company?


Funny how Scrum has become so popular in America despite the fact most Americans have no idea what a scrum even is. I’m still not sure what it is. I mean, really, how many of us Yanks watch rugby? We hear the analogy, but we really don’t get it.

Here’s an alternative. My friend and fellow scrum master, Carl Allen, shared this with our group recently. It turns out, Japanese Honeybees are the epitome of what a good scrum team does–they swarm on an obstacle and take it out together!

All images are from Matt Inman’s blog, The Oatmeal. Thanks for creating this Matt!


Image created by Matt Inman


Image created by Matt Inman


Image created by Matt Inman


Image created by Matt Inman


Smorgasborg Scrum

buffets_640Ah, delicious scrum! Just hearing how scrum will get the company twice the work done in half the time is enough to get the most malnourished exec salivating.

And there is so much to choose from! Hustle up me a plate of Daily Stand ups! Throw me in some of that release planning and retrospectives! That’s good eatin!

That velocity stuff?–eh, that’s weird. I’ll pass on that. Same with those Velocity Charts. Yuck.

And so it goes. The company piles it up high. Before you know it, they got themselves a nice place of scrum.

And then they get themselves a nice case of scrum indigestion.

See, in Scrum, you just can’t pick and chose items like a buffet. It doesn’t work that way. I can understand the mentality. There are still plenty of things in scrum that don’t make much sense to me (Cumulative Flow chart? Forget it!). Our tendency is to just ignore it or just hope it sorts itself out in the wash.

The problem is, going buffet style with your scrum initiative is only going to frustrate your attempts to implement it.

The folks who came up with the scrum framework were purty smart people. The framework is well balanced and are interdependent on each other.

Let me give you a real life example.

Yep, that's Fibonacci of the Fibonacci point fame. Funny hate, huh?

Yep, that’s Fibonacci of the Fibonacci point fame. He has a funny hat. Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a hat. What is that? Good Lord. Is that a dew rag?!?

I had a company who insisted we have Fibonacci points for all our user stories (and well they should!). However, not much attention was paid to velocity charts (“What? Its not consistent? Oh well. Better luck next time.”). Additionally, our sprints could fluctuate anywhere between 1 to 2 to 3 to 5 weeks long! Talk about scrum indigestion! We had plenty of it. No wonder the execs thought this scrum/agile business wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The architects of scrum didn’t come up with the scrum framework for kicks and giggles. The different parts are meant to work in tandem with each other. If you don’t let them do it, all you have is just a big mess.

Dan’s tip: Have some faith in the entire scrum framework! Sure, at first it might not make a whole heck of a lot of sense, but as you do it (correctly!), you will start having those “aha” moments and come to realize those people who came up with scrum must have known what they were doing after all.