Scrum Notes 2013-20

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Rethinking Evaluation ▶️

For the past two days I've had the pleasure of observing Michael James facilitating a Scrum workshop with a group of developers, managers, product owners and scrum masters from a company I'm currently consulting with. MJ and I used to pair on CSM workshops, back in 2006, and it was good to see him in action once again—his workshop and his own ideas further developed, of course.

I found my thinking variously challenged, enhanced and validated as MJ unfolded the learning in his refreshing hands-off, non-prescriptive way—and I had one key aha! moment. In an off-the-cuff remark MJ stated, and I paraphrase, "the more I evaluate, the less I perceive". He actually had to say this twice, on two different days before the aha! hit me. On the second day, during a team retrospective following a scrum simulation sprint, he drew three columns on the wall.

+       NJ       Δ

The first column was for "things we did well", the third for "things we'd like to change". The middle column was simply observations. The NJ standing for No Judgment. "The less I evaluate, the more I perceive", he said. "Maybe at this time we don't know what is good and what is not."

After the team retrospectives I looked at some of the boards. "We completed lots of stories" read one sticky note in the + column. Is that good? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we moved too quickly and cannot sustain this pace. How do we know at this stage? The team had evaluated this as "a good thing", and in doing so lost the opportunity to simply perceive than n stories were completed, and allow that knowledge to just sit, quietly. They judged, whereas they could have withheld judgment, at least for a little while.

My aha! moment came when I saw that although I'd written a few articles on the uselessness, and even violence of feedback (e.g. this one) calling instead for simple observation, I had not made the connection between the feedback context and the retrospective, ploughing relentlessly on with :) and :/ columns—judgment columns—every time I ran a retrospective.

How would it be to only have the NJ column—withhold all judgment until some later date? That's a pretty radical idea in an environment where we typically have a deep desire to evaluate, to judge, to critique, to prove x is better than y, to fix things—indeed, we are often required to do so. It may even be in our job description!

The NJ approach is asking us to simply observe, to create space, to be quiet, to ponder, even to wonder. I can imagine a whole new way of thinking emerging from such action. I can imagine unexpected learning taking place. And I can imagine it is extraordinarily difficult to practice, and would make many people very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I plan to try this out sometime soon. How about you?

Related article: Withhold your judgment, please

Idaho Falls, 11/09/2015   comment