I absolutely hate the name. It’s probably one of the more ridiculous things about it, but honestly there’s quite a few. Completely disregarding the entire idea behind this gloriously unfortunate position title, about where it came from, and what it’s supposed to mean, it’s not easy to start a good relationship with your new job, if you flinch while answering the question of what it is, that you actually do at work. “Well… you see, I’m kind of a…”
Yeah, about that… who am I? Somewhat the opposite of a manager. I do manage stuff, but then again who doesn’t – that not what this is about. A facilitator? Often, yes, but I’d prefer to treat that as a symptom, rather than any sort of aspiration. Not that helping is in any way bad – on the contrary, as long as it’s not destructive. It’s also a natural instinct of mine, so all good. Somewhat of a coach? Close, but that doesn’t feel familiar enough. I’d just say I’m a leader. Not an imperative, imposing or controlling leader, but one in the most generic sense you can possibly imagine. Someone who leads towards a goal. Showing, asking, explaining, helping, provoking, caring, pushing, protecting. It has it all.
After many intensive months of transitioning to a completely new set of duties and work style, I think it’s high time to take a step back, and try to identify the most intriguing reflections, that come to mind – the abstract highlights. Let’s leave the specific cases for now. They tend to be pretty interesting, but without a doubt, so does the general idea. Let’s also not go into too many conclusions – the time for that will come. Let’s do impressions.
Not being allowed to explicitly tell people what to do, while leading an effort for change, is an emotionally challenging and seemingly impossible task. On top of that, people don’t like change. Even placed in a shoulder-deep pile of mud, plenty of them seem to tend to accept it, as long as the mud maintains itself on a reasonable, life-sustaining level. They’ll usually somehow accommodate, learn to move around, and finally start complaining, quietly enough not to be heard. Am I the one complaining now? Not at all. In fact, I’ve been there, and done that myself. And thus we come to an interesting phenomenon, that I experienced when I started on the new road. A sheer role change, fundamentally supported by proper training, made me shift my perception upside-down. You can no longer be satisfied by quietly complaining. You are the one responsible for making the mud disappear. And there’s a lot of people stuck in it. As you move to your new position, you are struck by how differently you start behaving and it starts showing very quickly.
That’s not made any easier, if you’re a medium-energy introvert – there’s a lot of ground you have to make up, for not being able to run around in circles, waving your hands faster, than people reject what you have to offer. You need to be very focused, and you need to have answers for all the tricky questions, the moment they come, and you don’t specifically have too much room, for making spectacular mistakes. As any other leader, you cannot afford to lose your credibility, as you will have a very hard time to rebuild the trust. How about needing to be truly trusted while pushing everyone out of their comfort zones (starting with yourself)? How about having to also be believable while being expected to preferably not take part in the production process itself? Good luck reasoning with many hardcore technical specialists, who will not be willing to entertain your plan for change, longer than it takes you to pronounce the word ‘Scrum’. That’s not even half the story, as the real fun starts when you stick your head outside, or far worse in fact, someone from the outside sticks his head inside.
You get hit by immense pressure all around. It’s this strange, strange job, because you essentially do things that hardly anyone is comfortable with. It does not take a genius to realize, that if a process or any project phenomenon for that matter, is in place, it is quite probable that it was either created, used, or legitimized by someone sitting a few chairs or one Skype call away. Basically every hole you stick your hand in, tries to bite it off. Very hard to make friends, very easy to fall out. Go tell the people in charge that they need to change something about them, as it’s not really working out the way it is. That’s the moment someone may start actually reevaluating what all this Agile stuff really means, and what this funny guy with a funny position title really wants from them. Assuming you’re really on the case, the stress levels splitting a technical IT position and the role of a Scrum Master occur to be pretty spectacular. So there you are, thinking that you are the only one without any personal agenda. And you have to be very careful with that, as we all have our demons.
You know what’s the most fascinating part though? I’ve quickly come to realize, that in all the mess that I am supposed to be changing, there is literally no one, with intrinsically bad will. Usually everyone wants what they consider best. So how can it be that hard? Fears, habits and needs are probably what psychology 101 is all about. Unfortunately I could never be so sure, as I had never attended it, so the main factor that kept me above the water so far, was my empathy.
Fortunately, it’s not that bad in comparison with what you actually get. Remember when I complained about not being able to tell people what to do? I’ve been a leader and I’ve led many groups of very different people in very different circumstances. It is very unusual to constantly control yourself to not force your will upon others. Well, you may do so, if people are unaware of this slight inconvenience of your position, but hey, I’m assuming we’re playing by the book. Thus this quickly becomes the most rigorous school of working with people, you can imagine. Convince them, or get out. Does it actually work? ‘Is it effective?’ – you’ll probably wonder. Well, that is a topic worth it’s own discussion, as the answer is actually not that trivial. For now, let’s just say, that when you reach a goal, it feels very satisfying. Plus you get one more very diminutive bonus. Your team got there on its own, and that makes a world of difference to how they feel about the place where they currently are, and their drive to move forward therefrom. They own their solutions and success, which effectively makes everything more grounded and easier to build upon.
Then comes probably the coolest thing about it all. There are only two conditions which you need, in order to be at least moderately satisfied with your new job. As long as you are actually legitimized in your position (you better make sure before you take it!) and actually strive to make a positive change, you simply cannot be unsatisfied with the job. The more complex it is, the more stubborn the people are, and more resistance to change you meet, the more… interesting it gets, right? In the end, that is what your job is now essentially about. And that’s pretty damn weird.
So is it good? Is it worth it? Is it? I don’t know. But one day I hopefully will, and I’ll get back to you. For now, let me just say, that it’s an intriguing idea, of making sure, that change has not only a guardian, but also an instigator, who drifts above it, constantly poking it with a stick and making sure it’s still alive. That way it’s somewhat harder to lose it, between the code repository, coffee point and daily dose of stuff that, you know… needs to be done.