July 15, 2013

The Dark Champions of Agile: Gathering Allies for Change

As the resistance to change continues, the Agile Knight gathers allies to his cause, with squires leading the way. Leadership thru action carries t...

Click here to read Part 1: Know Thy Enemy, which identifies the resistors to change and how to defeat them.

In order to be Champion, you demonstrate strength with Victories.  You are the champion and battle is part of your persona. Some have argued against this battle/fight mentality, but I resist them with the obvious business parlance; “we must dominate the market”, “crush the competition”, “hostile takeovers”, “kill or be killed”, etc.

The Champion needs his own personas to help with change; mini-change agents that are responsible for one aspect of change, so that one person does not become overloaded with all the elements of change.
These mini-change agents are your squires, your helpers, your doers…they know best how to work the landscape, use their relationships with peers and where to exert influence. As Champion, as Knights of change, we look to the Squire, to help us on the battlefield.

Squire of Values

The Values squire will be responsible for the five scrum values and finding opportunity to apply them.  Squire will emulate Respect, and practice Transparency on a daily basis.  Squire will aid management with Focus, through the product and sprint backlogs and use Courage when engaging team members with authority or seniority.  Commitment is the example, with action to apply the scrum values and ensure the principles are understood; Transparency is the principle, the project board is the practice; Focus is the principle, the sprint backlog is the practice; Respect is the principle, the duties of the scrum roles are adhered to, is the practice; Courage is the principle, speaking honestly in retros is the practice.

Squire of Process

Squire of Process is the ScrumMaster (SM) by nature. This particular aspect, process, can be farmed out by the SM or agile coach to the squire; this move is inclusive and empowers team members.  It also decentralizes responsibility and gives the SM more time to gather data for metrics, coach one on one, help the organization, etc. Process is the way the team works and the team agreements are the prime tool for the Process squire to enforce proper team mindset (don’t break the build, update the release notes, etc.).  The SM has no authority over the team; in fact, no one has power over the individual, except themselves. The Process squire can be assertive when bad behavior is repetitive, then the retro is the safe place to face the aggressive pattern of resistance. The proper behavior, adherence to team agreements, starting meetings on time, distribution of team information and decisions are further areas where the squire can contribute to the agile transformation. This squire has authority granted to them by the Scrum framework itself, so using the Agile Atlas or Scrum Guide 2.0 can be the guiding light for settling disputes.

Squire of Morale/Fear

This squire Must be Courageous…Slightly biased toward this principle, Courage is when character shines and salesmanship withers under the pressure to ‘do what we’ve always done, and get the job shipped’.  When the pressure to snap back to the old ways is great, the squire of Morale must hold steady to do the right thing now and do the right thing always (unit testing, regression testing, refactoring) the right practices, that lead to right behavior.  Fear is used by the Dark to make the weak falter, the customer weary and the middle manager indecisive.  Fear is dispelled with information, like the sprint burn down and the backlog, to show progress and a plan. Information, in the daily standup and sprint demo, where working software is shown for approval and useful feedback makes the product better.  Morale is boosted with daily inspirations of teamwork and communication, in paired programming and peer reviews of code, to share tribal knowledge and increase technical expertise with design patterns, etc.  This squire guides practices and behavior to shape action. All positive action and adherence to agile practices is showcased by the squire to show recognition and demonstrate appreciation.

Squires are positive personas, split from the persona of the SM.  This separation of powers helps to show more team members how to lead and inspire, while providing the safety of the SM persona…The extension of power from the SM gives the squire the perceived authority to act, while protecting their place in the team in case of disaster (“ I was acting on behalf of the SM”).  This level of protection should also encourage recruitment from reluctant or less assertive team members as well. 

Change the landscape (Change the conversation)

Elseworlds: Armor of The Dark KnightThe fight for change is usually lost when the focus of change is shifted from the benefits of agile to defending the old ways.  When the perspective is from ‘the old way’ of doing things, it’s easier to defend the status quo (“We’ve been in business 50 years”, “We made X million dollars last year”, etc.).

A change in perspective is needed to help agile take hold, changes to the mindset which requires long term nurturing.  This is why a change tolerant mindset is needed to foster the continual change and tweaks needed to get more of the benefit of Scrum.  The questions asked will drive the conversation about what’s needed next to be more efficient, what is holding back our development cycles, how can we incorporate feedback faster…This type of questioning leads to the discussions and answers that are right-minded in their thinking (efficiency with less bugs, dev cycles reduced with better design, feedback from multiple stakeholders help select more valued features).

A Battle list is useful to show wins and losses (losses show where future improvement is needed, hence still being useful) and provides positive reinforcement for improvement.  Heated discussions and team decisions such as the need for better sprint demos can be logged as the ‘Battle for Demos’, which demonstrates Transparency as well as build team history and cohesion.  The Battle History list also serves to help the team not revisit issues that have been settled, saving time…Those whom do not learn from History, etc…The Battle list also serves to show everyone how far back discussions have taken place and gives them a reference point in determining effective action.  For example, if the ‘Battle for Demos’ happens four months ago and the team is still struggling with demos, perhaps that battle is not over and the list has shown them the duration of their issue, four months and counting. 

“Take No Prisoners!”  Take prisoners and convert them

The fight for agile transitions (short term) and transformations (long term) will inevitably produce causalities for the winning and losing side.  People will quit, be downsized or driven out; this can be viewed as a cleansing or a purge in which leadership, agile and otherwise, is needed to show why the change is positive, both now and long term. Those whom remain after the agile victory, those who resisted and were defeated, are now ‘prisoners of war’.  Human instinct is to exact some vengeance, reasonable levels acceptable. Prisoners of war are your new ambassadors to agile, shown the proper way to plan work in small batches and why team values are paramount.  Prisoners are converts by necessity of survival and will not hold the principles at heart just yet, but the proper respect to their change will help with transition.  Prisoners turned Squires is a bold move.


The five Scrum Values, Agile Atlas and the Scrum Guide and a company’s commitment are all the tools you will need in defeating the Dark Champions.  Although you are battling on their home field, you have the advantage.  Pressing the message for change is what you were paid for, getting the work done is the responsibility of the employee.  The Dark Champion must not do too much damage to himself in defeating you, because in the end, he still has to work there.  As a consultant, you are free from this constraint and can speak the hard messages when needed.  The Agile Champion still wins in the face of resistance, by not faltering in composure and marching forth the banner of “I have a different way…”.

Part 3 of this post will identify more Dark Champions and strategies on how to carry the day!

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Manny Segarra

I am a helpful teacher with a warrior spirit...I am devoted to the Scrum Values and coach teams to ground their thinking and practices in these values... Forever learning and passionate about the people which trust me to guide them in the direction of kaizen and being better teammates...
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Image of mannysegarra

Manny Segarra

I am a helpful teacher with a warrior spirit...I am devoted to the Scrum Values and coach teams to ground their thinking and practices in these values... Forever learning and passionate about the people which trust me to guide them in the direction of kaizen and being better teammates...

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