are-scrum-masters-expendable

Podcast Ep. 101: Are Scrum Masters Expendable?

are-scrum-masters-expendable
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, Dan is joined by his colleague and collaborator, Sam Falco, to discuss whether or not Scrum Masters are expendable. Is it possible for things to be running so smoothly that you’re working yourself out of a job as a Scrum Master? Is there anything left for a Scrum Master to do once best practices become team culture, the team is self-sufficient, and the organization reaches a high level of performance? Why or why not should an organization keep a Scrum Master around? How does the role evolve over time? Tune in as Sam and Dan answer all of these questions, and more, on this week’s episode.


Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Can or should a Scrum Master be trying to “work themselves out of a job?”
    • The idea that they can work themselves out of a job is an inherently flawed concept as it arises from the common misconception that they’re only a team coach
    • A Scrum Master can always serve an organization (as there is no such thing as 100% perfection; the goal post is constantly moving/evolving)
    • Sports analogy: If a team is doing really well, you don’t fire the coach. The same goes for Scrum (you still need the Scrum Master to keep the team and organization at a high level and help finetune their performance)
  • Why is a Scrum Master necessary?
    • To help the team and organization continually improve (there is no ultimate level of performance)
    • What is perfect now may change — there is no pinnacle; there is always room for improvement
    • If you reach a plateau, more experiments need to be conducted and other areas need to be examined
    • Even if everything seems perfect, it is important to stay on top of things and continue retrospectives, etc.
  • Qualities of a high-performing Scrum Master that delivers continuous improvement and value to the team and organization:
    • Help the entire organization embrace empiricism in what it’s doing; not just team development
    • make decisions based on sound data (through transparency, inspection, and adaptation)
    • Teach about empiricism with the Product Owner, finding better ways to refine the product backlog, experiments to run, etc.
    • Help the whole organization improve; not just the team
    • Value outcomes rather than output
    • Make sure that the whole organization is living the agile values and Scrum principles
    • Help the team and organization resolve problems themselves and remove impediments
    • Don’t trade efficiencies for throughput (a bit of slack in efficiency is actually beneficial for higher throughput)
    • Know that in any complex endeavor, there are many variables and you will never get everything correct; situations always change so be sure to not be overly optimized and be willing to adjust and adapt
  • How does a Scrum Master’s role evolve over time?
    • Through innovation, experimentation, and creating new best practices
    • Always have something to do, reevaluate, and ask yourself, “How can I be of service? How can I help? What can I do that’s useful?”
    • Look at the overall systems and figure out hidden/less obvious impediments
    • Always find opportunities to further optimize within an organization
    • Always find new ways to deliver value

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcription is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host, Dan Neumann, and joined today by colleague Sam Falco, who’s helping me remember the name of this podcast. Thanks. Oh, not the best. This is take two, but take, take one was pretty fun. Yeah. Ironically, our topic is talking about what happens kind of when, when things are going so well and that you, maybe you’re working yourself out of a job and that comes to us. So we’ve kind of said, Hey listeners, if you’ve got a question and you want to reach out to us, you know, email us podcast@agilethought.com and poof, we had, we had one come in, which was pretty interesting. And we’re going to make it the subject of this show. So this person writes, how do you see the role of the Scrum Master evolving and changing when the Scrum Master helps to guide and coach a team to a higher performing state? They say, obviously when you roll out, there’s a much greater demand for Scrum Masters to guide the team. And then as time goes by best practices become team culture and the Scrum Master blends into the background and kind of, where does that leave the Scrum Master is the implied question, right? It’s almost like, am I out of a job site? So how does that role evolve?

Sam Falco: [01:33] Yeah. Yeah. I’ve seen that advice given that a Scrum Master should be trying to work himself or herself out of a job. And we don’t have an explicit label on this show. Do we?

Dan Neumann: [01:50] It’s clean. We’ll have to bleep it. We could do this. Could be our first bleep Sam.

Sam Falco: [01:58] It could be, but I’m just going to go with my grandfather’s horse feathers of course feathers. Um, the idea that anyone should be obligated to work themselves out of a job is kind of silly to me.

Dan Neumann: [02:13] I’ve never seen a CEO trying to work themselves out of a job.

Sam Falco: [02:16]
Right? I mean, if you have a limited scope job and you finish it and you’re done sure, you’re building a house, you finished building the house. If there aren’t any more houses to be built, you’re out of a job, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about this idea that the Scrum Master should be making it unnecessary for them to render any further services to the organization. I think that this arises out of a common myth. We’ve talked about this in past episodes. The idea that the Scrum Master is a team coach and that’s all they do.

Dan Neumann: [02:52] And actually, I think as I, as I reflect back on that statement in the source of the question, this person, I don’t think has sense that they’re obligated to work themselves out of a job. I almost feel like it’s the sense of, Oh, what if the organization thinks my role is no longer necessary, a little bit of an existential crisis because they’ve presumably done a really good job working with the team. And now the team is high functioning to a degree, I guess. I don’t really know for sure.

Sam Falco: [03:20] Yeah. Yeah. And that’s actually, that’s a, that is a great feeling of accomplishment to know that, Hey, this team doesn’t need you around all the time, but yes. Then there is that danger of, well, what do I do? Or what do other people think I do all day? Do they think I’m just twittling my thumbs? So that is something we have to look at. All of the other things that a Scrum Master can be doing. All of the other services that a Scrum Master ought to be providing, I think is where the answer comes in. So that when someone inevitably says, so what do you do? These teams are doing really well. They’re taking care of clearing impediments. They’re getting things done. They understand Scrum . So why do we need you? And we have to have an answer for that. And it can’t be just, well, what happens if they start backsliding? Although there is,

Dan Neumann: [04:19] There’s an option, but yeah, you don’t want to sit around hoping the backside come on, daddy needs a paycheck.

Sam Falco: [04:24] Right. But using the coach analogy, which we fall back to the sports analogy, a team’s doing really well, we don’t fire the coach because well, the team’s got it in hand. You still need a coach. You still need someone to be there looking at how to fine tune their performance, keep them at a high level and that sort of thing. So if you have a sports analogy, well, that’s rather like saying we want a championship this year. So we’re sacking the coach.

Dan Neumann: [04:51] Yeah. The team can just do it next year. Right. Right. So, you know, as, as you bring up the coach analogy, it does make me think of things like intentional practice or, or ways to continuously improve. Um, I have a hard time imagining an organization, whether they’ve reached the penultimate level of execution and, um, balancing gosh, you know, technical debt acquisition and, and getting rid of technical debt with, um, stability and performance. And, um, is there really no horizon for improvement at that point?

Sam Falco: [05:31] Yeah. I can’t see it. There’s always going to be changed. So what is perfect now may change. I can imagine a company where we’ve reached that pinnacle and I can imagine not wanting to be employed there anymore because I wouldn’t be bored. I would want to go find a new challenge. So there’s that, Oh, that’s a bit of a flip answer, especially in today’s economic climate. But honestly I think that we hear that well, what if things get so good that there’s no improvement to be made and I’ve had teams say that well, what happens if we can’t come up with an improvement in retrospective? Well then probably you’re not really looking at all of the data. Maybe you’re not really thinking things through and you’re kind of coasting, or maybe you have reached a plateau and instead of an improvement, you need to just look at experiments to run. But the analogy I’ve used before, I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this on the show is I asked the team once that said, well, we’re, we’re getting sick. It’s so why don’t we just do retrospective every other Sprint? Cause we, we can’t think of anything to improve. And I said, well, tell you what, I’m reasonably physically fit. Should I stop going to the gym? No, you continue going. You continue doing the practices to stay in that state. So you don’t cancel your retrospective because right now you can’t think of anything to improve.

Dan Neumann: [06:57] Some of those topics that we’ve teed up, feel like they’re team centric, team retrospectives, continuous improvement at the team level. And of course there’s a professional Scrum trainer. You’re well aware that there are other facets of the team and the organization, the Scrum team and the organization that the Scrum Master should be paying attention to. And might that not be a frontier then for, for continuous improvement?

Sam Falco: [07:25] Sure. Just right off the bat, we need to help the entire organization embrace empiricism in what it’s doing. Not just team development, but as an organization, how are we validating that what we’re delivering actually has market value? How are we, I feel like we’ve beat this drum before, but it’s so important.

Dan Neumann: [07:46] Yeah, no. And I want to, um, in the last podcast I did with, uh, Simon Holzapfel, um, he, uh, he used the word cruft and I was like, man, my public education didn’t teach you at cruft was like, I need to break that down. And so it might be good to remind people what empiricism is as we’re going through here. They also have gotten the same public education I did. Yeah,

Sam Falco: [08:09] Sure. Empiricism. Now cruft is not a word I learned in public school either. That’s just an engineering term, I think because I did not hear that until I started working in the tech industry myself. So I think you’re safe. Correct?

Dan Neumann: [08:24] Yeah. Okay. Well, cruft aside, let’s talk about empiricism.

Sam Falco: [08:28] So empiricism is the idea of making decisions based on sound data. There are three legs of the stool. Sometimes I hear it referred to as three pillars, but transparency, meaning we all have a, we can see what’s going on. We can see the system, we have the available data. We need to make good decisions. And it’s in it’s true state and we’re not lying ourselves about the state of our work or the product that we’ve delivered. Inspection. Meaning we we’d look at that as passionately as possible. One of the, one of the slides in one of our internal IPS is ruthless. And I had a, I had a student really take objection to that because, Oh, it sounded to him like cruel. And I said, no, not cruel. Just without emotion. Yeah. We’ll try to try to divorce emotion from the situation as much as possible. I mean, we’re human beings. We’re kind of squishy, little bags of meat and water, uh, and emotions rule our lives. But, as much as possible, look at the data, look at what it’s telling us. Try to take personal ego, personal pride out, look at what it’s telling you. And then adaptation, meaning change something or adapt to what you have found. What have you learned from this process? Inspections should be frequent enough that we can detect undesirable variance from whether it’s in a manufacturing environment. The idea is that you want to inspect enough to make sure that you’re not getting, you know, one micron too large or too small, or in our world in a software development world that we’re going in the right direction, that we’re building what somebody wants, but not so frequent that it disrupts the work. The example I often give in classes is if you’ve ever had the kind of boss who comes to you in the morning and says, Hey, would you do this thing? And then about 45 minutes later, Hey, have you done the thing, uh, another half an hour later? Are you working on the thing? When’s the thing going to be done until you want to just say, if you would leave me alone for the two hours, I need to do the thing I would do the thing. That’s too frequent. I think everybody’s had that. I’ve had that in the past. Um, and then of course adaptation. Adaptation is bringing ourselves back into compliance with, you know, into a reasonable level of variance, um, eliminating that, or just adapting to changing reality and moving in a new direction. It’s sort of like the old game. You may have played this as a kid, hot and cold, identify something in the room that you’re supposed to pick up. And as you move around the room, they say, you’re getting warmer. You’re getting colder until you, you get there and pick it up and then, then you start another cycle of it.

Dan Neumann: [11:23] I didn’t realize I was learning empiricism, by playing hot and cold. So I’m using the information to, to make adjustments.

Sam Falco: [11:29]
If you were playing with my sister, you wouldn’t have learned it because she would decide that you were getting too close too quickly and change what she wanted you to pick up midway through. But I’m not bitter.

Dan Neumann: [11:37] I think I’ve been on projects like that.

Sam Falco: [11:40]
Yes. I guess we were learning about the world.

Dan Neumann: [11:44] Yeah. So, um, back to the Scrum Master. So the Scrum Master can teach about empiricism with in this case, the Product Owner role, right? Better ways to refine the product backlog, more effective ways to break those items down there or experiments to run, to potentially improve the way that backlogs are found.

Sam Falco: [12:03] But even beyond the Scrum team setting at the portfolio level, we can talk with the, if you have a product management organization, or if you have a, whoever’s managing the portfolio of, of your product suite, we can talk about how to make good decisions based on what’s the current value of your product versus what’s the unrealized value of your product. If current value is high and unrealized value is low, maybe there’s no more product development to be done on that product. Move on, invest in something else. So we can use empirical data, empirical approach to what is it we’re going to do as an organization rather than just throwing darts at a board and hoping for the best. So embracing empiricism is one way in which the Scrum Master can teach the entire organization. Then also valuing outcome and valuable outcomes rather than output. When we first started adopting Scrum. And even for awhile, after a lot of organizations still value, what’s the team’s velocity, how much stuff are they giving us rather than are we coming up with valuable outcomes? So we can start shifting the focus away from is everybody busy, is everybody utilize to 100% capacity or all our resources? Or another phrase that just drives me bonkers is all of our human capital, capital being goods and products that you own. Uh, but let me not go off in that direction. But there is that ideas are all of our people, a hundred percent utilized and will come up with some pretty bad patterns on the team level at this point. And this is one of my beefs with Azure DevOps. It doesn’t tell you, you have to do this, but it allows you to see what everybody’s capacity is. They’re all assigned to stories or, or, or PBIs and then, Oh, well this person’s read this other overloaded. So we’ll take some stuff away from that person and shifted over to this person. Or we’ll add something to the Sprint because this person doesn’t have anything to do. So we shift away from the idea of the team, accountability, we’re all working together to everybody has their own thing. So that’s detrimental to the development of a collaboration and self-organization, and it also has that myth, that illusion that we can, we can load up everybody’s time and nothing will go wrong. We don’t need Slack. And that’s horrible. So there, there is at the team level, how we start valuing throughput and capacity being filled over what’s the outcome we’re looking for. And then once again, we don’t stay at the team level. We need to work with the entire organization to help them understand the value of Slack time or the value of, even beyond that, I find trying to argue for Slack. Time is hard, but trying to argue for let’s make sure that we’re getting valuable outcomes and let the amount of time people are working take care of itself. That is a lot easier pill to swallow.

Dan Neumann: [15:21]
I have an exciting opportunity. I want to share with you coming up on October 29th, we will be hosting a live global virtual community event focused on the present and future of agile. Since the agile manifesto’s creation in 2001, agile has become a household term and agility has reached all corners of the world. So how has agile evolved in nearly 20 years? How has agile expressed in different parts of the world and in different industries during this agile thought virtual community event, guests panelists, Gabriela Correa from Brazil, Ola Berg from Sweden, Abby Osoba from Nigeria and Chandan Lal Patary from India will join AgileThought’s Transformation, consultant, and agile competency lead Quincy Jordan to share their perspective on the present and future of agile. Join us on Thursday, October 29th at noon Eastern time for this live virtual community event, you can sign up and learn more at agilethought.com/events to reserve your spot today.

Dan Neumann: [16:24] I think by the time this episode airs the one that’s prior to this is going to be with the CEO. And so people are gonna have to go back one, but that’s one of the things that I intend to explore with them, um, which is that topic. And they’ve done a nice job of blending as a Christy Erbeck and myself, um, are going to have Ed Buckley, the CEO of Peerfit in a conversation. And it’s one of the things they did is really trying to balance the horizons of work. So the current day to day stuff, with some level of applying what they have to a horizon two, so maybe to a different frontier and then really preserving time for innovation. And so in this, uh, with this reader’s question that we’re exploring here, how does the Scrum Master’s role evolve? There could be that facet of coaching, the organization to not maybe, uh, try to get exceedingly efficient with everything and, um, to a degree then killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs because they then cease being innovative. They and somebody comes in and disrupts whatever this organization is,

Sam Falco: [17:34]
Right? Innovation is messy and yeah, we can become so efficient and streamlined. And then we become rigid. We become unable to change going back to the idea of a hundred percent utilization. That’s often cited as a method of, or a means of efficiency. Like let’s make sure that everybody’s efficiently used and to a certain extent, yeah, you don’t want people sitting around doing nothing. They’re going to be bored for starters. I mean, most people in knowledge work, we’re not in it to sit around we’re in it because we want to solve cool problems. So, but you can have too much quote unquote efficiency example that I like to give is the Howard Franklin bridge here in Tampa Bay, which when I’m commuting, I have to cross from St. Petersburg to Tampa. And during rush hour, that bridge is a hundred percent utilized on the northbound lanes. Every space is taken and we’re not going very fast. Whereas a few, a few hours later, traffic has slowed down or traveler traffic has gotten lighter and people can move at a higher rate of speed. My wife and I remarked one day we were coming across the bridge and there was an accident. And then right after the accident, all of a sudden it opens up because this plenty of, and we, she said it made a remark about bottlenecks and I made a smart alec remark about, yes, I am. I’m aware of how bottlenecks work and that’s just an example. But so the reason I’m telling these stories is to say, there’s an example of where you trade efficiency for throughput. And sometimes you want, you want a little slop in your system, a little slack and it actually results in higher throughput.

Dan Neumann: [19:17] Right? Yeah. Yeah. Because without that slack and you know, I’ve seen teams kind of try to plan all the capacity that they forecast. Something will be unplanned.

Sam Falco: [19:28] Yeah. We’re, we’re in a complex domain. We, more things are unknown than are known. And that is true. Even at the trying to plan a Sprint level, especially for a longer Sprint, we try to plan everything for a month just from saying that you can have up to one month Sprint. Oh man, things are going to change. Two weeks is even starting to get to be really difficult to see that far out. And even a one week Sprint, I would say don’t, don’t try to plan everything. Plan enough to get started and leave yourself some Slack because you’re going to discover some things. So if we can get the organization valuing outcomes over output, we can make sure that we are living the agile values and principles and the Scrum values as well throughout the organizations. Again, not just a team thing. Stephen Denning talks about that a lot in his book, the age of agile, he defines things a little differently, but that organizations that embrace small teams that can focus on a problem and are self-organizing have much greater success. So that’s another way that the Scrum Master can be of service.

Dan Neumann: [20:34] I was just looking at the question and something that jumped out to me was a phrase towards the end of it, where he says, as time goes by best practices become team culture. And it occurred to me. Um, you, you brought up the complexity domain, maybe this is where I leaped back to best practices being for the simple and the complicated, but not so much for the complex where you want to probe sense and respond. And even in complicated, there’s a lot of good practices that you might borrow from. Um, so I would in the third part of that then, so you’re in the complex domain. There might be a lot of good practices and maybe it’s time to invent your own, you know, the folks that invented mob programming didn’t borrow that from somewhere else. They were like, Hey, pairing is good. What if we turned that up to 11? And we move as a team in pair programming. So perhaps it’s really kind of taking a, uh, some of that slack time, some of the critical lie to, to what’s going on and trying an experiment that maybe isn’t a best practice because gosh, it might work.

Sam Falco: [21:40] Yeah. Emergent practice, we call it emergent practice. And that kind of framework, world complex domain problems call for emergent practices. We can’t predict our way to success because we don’t entirely know where we’re going. And we certainly don’t know how to get there because every time we solve the problem, it’s unique. So we can’t just do what we did last time.

Dan Neumann: [22:03] This person that wrote us had a second part of the, um, the query, which was, you know, as servant leaders, when you work in an organization that has Product Owners and technical managers that are really adamant about taking on and removing impediments or obstacles, is that a situation where the Scrum Master should feel concerned about their value? Or is it a moment of pride when you have your colleagues that have kind of embraced this bias for action?

Sam Falco: [22:29] I love that phrase bias for action. We should, we should be looking for that. An impediment in Scrum is only an impediment if the team can’t resolve it themselves, which seems a little weird to say, but sometimes you’ll see this situation where teams run into a little bit of a hiccup or a roadblock, and they say, I’ve got an impediment and they expect the Scrum Master to solve it for them. Well, now they need to go solve it, see if they can solve it themselves. So what this person is describing is the idea that we’re not going to just throw up our hands and say, Scrum Master can solve this. We’re going to do what we can to solve it ourselves. Great. I do think that is a source of pride for this person. If, if you have taught your folks to act like this. Superb. There still may be times when there’s an impediment, they cannot solve. Then as a Scrum Master, you get involved. I remember one situation where procurement was late in getting licenses for a testing, automated testing tool. The team needed, they had some license, they needed more, and it was slowing things down. And before they came to me, they had tried a bunch of things they had tried, could we sign up for the free trial version long enough to get through, you know, with dummy names, they had done a bunch of things. Uh, they had gone and tried to borrow licenses from another team. Hey, could, you know, could we use yours. That did more cause that team needed theirs. So they tried a bunch of things and they finally came to me, said, we can’t go any further. We cannot get all of this stuff done. If we don’t have these licenses, then it became my role to go and pester, for lack of a better word, the people who were sitting on it and find out what was going on and was not that they didn’t want to buy the licenses. They had some organizational challenges. So here’s another way in which a Scrum Master then gets involved at the organizational level because let’s not have this happen again. Let’s talk about the way we approve purchases in this organization and how we can make sure that it’s more responsive to real needs. I didn’t have a solution for that, but I helped the people who were in charge of it, who were accountable for that come up with a reasonable solution. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it had to do with approvals for just go and spend the money at certain levels and, uh, opening up the choke points so that there were more people who could approve the higher level things. Recognizing that these rules were put in place with a mindset that said, employers are going to try and get away with murder. Don’t let them, and recognizing that we have some super motivated people who aren’t going to go out and spend money recklessly. So let’s cut them some Slack.

Dan Neumann: [25:14] Every policy’s because of somebody. And so there’s probably somebody who did something bad and you know, forever and always everybody else suffers.

Sam Falco: [25:22] Yeah. I had a, there was a, CEO of a company I used to work for it. He said, if there’s a rule it’s because someone did something stupid. I don’t like to make them, just don’t do things that are stupid.

Dan Neumann: [25:35] So I think it is, uh, a moment of pride and, and, uh, to be in an organization where people, product owners, tech, managers, whatever their title are, not content with things that are in the way of the teams. And so I think it’s super exciting to have them as impediment removers, uh, when they become aware of them. So I don’t see that that diminishes the Scrum Masters value, because there are so many other things they could be doing besides removing impediments.

Sam Falco: [26:04] Right. Right. And whether it was as a Scrum Master or any other role I’ve ever served in, in an organization, my attitude has always been looking around to see what, how can I be of service? How can I help? How can I, what can I do? That’s useful. So maybe it’s not something that you’ve ever done before, but looking around your organization, how can I be of assistance?

Dan Neumann: [26:29]
The book that came to mind for me, we like to end with books and we’ll get there in a little bit. But the book that came to mind for me was the goal. So I think that was a Goldratt made the book, the goal about identifying bottlenecks. And it was a, it was a manufacturing production system. What was the novel, but then of course now there’s the Phoenix project and the, this thing and the, you know, whatever novel that thing. Uh, but anyways, so the goal was the first one, sorry. Um, it may be, you start to look at the overall system and try to figure out hidden impediments or things that are less obviously impeding flow of work through the system. Is the organization spending too much time, uh, before work items get to the team? Are they spending too much time after work items are created before they’re actually rolled out to deliver value to customers? So that, that kind of value stream investigation, I think could be potentially valuable. I can’t imagine an entirely optimized organization with no opportunity to further optimize.

Sam Falco: [27:29] Yeah. I agree. There’s just so much to do. And in any complex endeavor, there’s so many variables, there’s so many things you’re never going to get everything right. So to speak to you, to use a word, you’ll be optimized for a certain situation, but you have to be aware that that situation’s likely going to change. So don’t be over optimized, be willing to adjust, be willing to adapt. And I think that applies to us in our career as well.

Dan Neumann: [27:55] So I want to appreciate that we got the query, the question, the email, as it were, and, um, had a chance to hopefully provide a few ideas. Um, hopefully that, that Scrum Master can continue to find ways of delivering value, uh, which I imagine they would. And, um, I would expect an organization like described, would continue to, to see that. Yeah. So we’ve had a few episodes where COVID pandemic things have disrupted people and really just consumed, uh, available time for things like continuous learning. And that’s, you know, that makes sense. Self, self care is a thing. And just responding to all the unusual things going on and in the country in the world. But I think you said you actually found some time for reading.

Sam Falco: [28:43] Yeah. Uh, I had been reading things, but they were real Star Wars, novels, Firefly novels of various size, fiction and mystery. But yeah.

Dan Neumann: [28:52]
I hope you find agile inspiration in a Star Wars novel.

Sam Falco: [28:56] Absolutely. But I read a book recently and then I immediately started rereading and started thinking about how can I apply this? And it’s called clean language, revealing metaphors and opening minds by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Reese clean language comes from the world of therapy. Um, the idea is that we want to ask questions in a way that allow people to respond in their own words, using their own metaphors and languages and trying to strip our own biases and metaphors out of the language. So there’s 12 questions. I’ll just talk about two of them today that they start with, um, what kind of ex and what kind of thing. So you, someone tells you they’re having a problem. What kind of problem? Well, I’m having a problem. My Scrum team, they really won’t self-organize they, they just look for direction. They keep looking for direction. And so the next question, uh, not that you do them in the sequence, but the other question that I want to talk to, they might be well, is there anything else about the team? Not self-organizing and let them talk about it. So is there anything else about X, whatever the problem is, and these questions just allow people to really open up and you have to apply, of course, some listening skills, humble inquiry, the techniques that Edgar Schein describes in his books, kind of dovetail with these. And I found these really, really valuable. I’ve been trying to apply them. Those just those first two questions. I’ve been trying to use them when I have to interact with people outside of my day to day stuff. It’s kind of hard cause we don’t get to talk to people anymore, but I do try to use them. I’m actually using those.

Dan Neumann: [30:47]
Sorry. Well, as you talked about the clean language, the opposite, which is incredibly common, I’m sure I’m guilty of it is well. Gosh, you know, my Scrum team is really not self-organizing. Well, have you tried? Which is a suggestion with a question mark. It’s not actually a question.

Sam Falco: [31:03]
Absolutely.

Dan Neumann: [31:05] That’s what you’re trying to, that’s what this framework I think is trying to solve is not having the questioner inflict their ideas. Okay.

Sam Falco: [31:12] Edgar Shein in humble inquiry says that we were biased towards telling as inquiry. Exactly what you just said. It’s a statement with a question mark at the end of it. And he talks about really approaching a situation or any conversation with sincere interest and curiosity and trying to put aside your assumptions about what they think, what they mean and clean language takes that I think to the enth degree, really, really strips that out. So you are just focused on let this person talk and it’s different than an open ended question. So what you just said was a closed question. Have you tried this thing? Well, that’s a yes or no answer. It’s confrontational. It’s diagnostic. And it relies upon you to continue the conversation because they’re going to say yeah, or no, and then you’ve got to keep going. So people will often recommend open ended questions, but those are not necessarily going enough. What have you tried is an open ended question and yes, that’s going to elicit more than that binary response. Great.

Dan Neumann: [32:14] Still implies that that person was responsible for trying something.

Sam Falco: [32:18] And it’s a little confrontational. It’s still a diagnostic question and it implies that you’re going to take over soon. Once you tell me what you’ve tried, I’m going to then bestow upon you my wisdom. A clean question would be then to use that formula. And is there anything else about X it would be, and is there anything else about, so if a team comes to you and says we have an impediment and is there anything else about that?

Dan Neumann: [32:40]
Interesting. I think there’s a, there’s a podcast in here somewhere.

Sam Falco: [32:42] I’m sure there is. So that question is not confrontational. I, I’m not comfortable to be honest with you doing an entire podcast. Cause I’m just learning this stuff.

Dan Neumann: [32:51] I wasn’t going to invite you. No, of course I was. But I think it would be interesting too, to find an expert on the clean language stuff beyond use of horse feathers.

Sam Falco: [33:07]
Yeah, it’s a Lenny Bruce would not have been a fan of. Uh, so, uh, I was turned on to it by a colleague of mine. So I will, I’ll reach out to her and see what she knows about the subject and see if she knows it feels like she would know enough to talk about it. She just mentioned it one day in passing and she’s a fellow professional Scrum trainer as well. So we’ll see. I’ll see if she is interested in doing that.

Dan Neumann: [33:38] That’d be lovely. Well, one way or the other, I think that’ll turn into something that gets explored by somebody. Absolutely. It’d be wonderful. Well thank you for taking some time to explore the Scrum Master role. Thank you.

Outro: [33:50] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

Stay Up-To-Date