Want a successful distributed Scrum team? Hire Chuck Norris.

A little time ago I went to an evening seminar thing, where a local company presented their successful Scrum way of working. They had also Jeff Sutherland invited, right, THAT Jeff! How could I miss the opportunity? So there I was and I must say it was pretty thought provoking. Let me add a bit of context: the doubt I brought with me to the event was that, well, we know the agile manifesto is saying to put people over processes but what on earth can you do when those ideal people are not with you? Even more, I somehow remembered everybody claiming agile was about having people clustered together, now Jeff was condoning with his simple presence something radically different… a must see event yet again.

The seminar turned out to go lengths over the hiring strategy and I don’t think it was really planned that way. It helped a lot the said company in their successful distributed Scrum and we all had to agree that this would help anybody significantly. But… in many environments (say with me: enterprise…) you don’t necessary have much control over your team composition. There are heaps of unrelated criteria shaping it: history, internal sourcing, financial constraints, plain politics, some HR secret sauce… The worst case scenario is a rare one of course but I really didn’t feel comfortable to sit in a seminary built around the motto “our setup worked great because we got former Microsoft employees onboard”. There are only so many ex-Microsofters and ex-Googlers on this planet, so if that’s the way of success then Scrum can be expected to work in only so many companies. You’re either lucky or you’re not (most probable outcome – in a statistical way). Jeff Sutherland hurried to underline how this worked great for them too, because they hired a guy by name Joe Justice. Great insight indeed – but what would HIS company do if WE snatched today Joe Justice from him? Along with some of those ex-Microsofters?

And what would keep these stars in a team after all? This was actually a question asked that evening, wondering what the personal growth possibilities offered by this setup might be. The company had leavers of course as well, voluntary ones that is. WHY did those people leave? It cannot be they were unhappy with their career evolution – in a flat hierarchy like that you know already you can only grow by honing your skills. Team members were also hired from the beginning because they totally identified with the company goals. Ex-Microsoft, checked. Dedicated, checked. Then what changed so they left? Was it maybe because somebody fished them away, wanting to have too a piece of the distributed Scrum success? I wonder, was there before they left any disruption in the happy family distributed team?

So what was the secret juice for which their distributed teams worked? Because… it just worked: here’s my example and Jeff Sutherland’s example. No secret juice but rather a kind of tautology (or a story of low expectations). Nobody says it won’t ever work but I was sitting there and hoping to grab some advice on how to actually influence the outcome. Otherwise it’s just plug’n’pray… not the kind of lesson you want to take home from a seminary. This (successful, for them at least) thinking went on by mentioning en-passant that reviews are done only once a trimester, not exactly a poster child (and I thought we were doing bad). Could it be actually that reviews aren’t that essential as ingredient, or maybe avoiding to look back IS the secret ingredient to avoid team conflicts? Jeff didn’t comment on this, so whatever your take. The topic of how they handle with technical debt was another “a-ha!” moment which went this way: if somebody notices something fishy it will talk to the concerned person, and when/if something goes really awry the tech leader will talk to that guy. Didn’t sound like having any formal code reviews in place, wow, those ex-Microsofters must be really great at what they do. Or one should hope so. I wonder how the code looks now after 5 years…

The final learning was summed very well by a colleague: “hire Chuck Norris and you’ll be fine”.

(img: frabz)(img: frabz)

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