The Team is supposed to improve. It is expected to simply learn from its mistakes and work even faster. Many Managers doubt that this can work, considering that their Teams are currently not even delivering or delivering without complying to the requirements, as deadlines are ignored. How is it possible to push a Team towards working faster and more efficiently?
As a matter of fact, even dissenting Managers that have been infested by the agile methods, Managers that reject traditional thought patterns as they notice that these have led us towards a dead end, wonder how it can be possible that a Team’s wish for more autonomy and self-determination will help in getting more out of the Team?! But let‘s be honest: This is the crucial point! It is what the management framework Scrum is all about!
Is it okay to be discontented?
Managers and, by now, also ScrumMasters are dissatisfied with the performance of their Teams. But are they even allowed to feel that way? If you believe in the agile ideology, which is vehemently defended by several Agilists, then demands and expectations of the Team are wrong. The belief is that the Team should decide for itself in what way it wishes to work and how much it wants to deliver. The Manager simply has to live with the results. My reason behind using the word “ideology“ is the fact that it works well with the elements of ‘good‘ and ‘bad‘. The ideologically-charged agile discussion on “bad“ traditional management and “good“ new agile ways leads us towards thinking in categories. I believe that to be absolutely pointless in this respect. No higher moral authority exists which could decide whether the one or the other is actually “better“.However, it is important to say that my rejection of moral reasoning certainly does not stem from arbitrariness – instead, I strongly believe that it matters whether you work in an agile or a traditional way. It is reasonable to say that agile methods and agile thinking are more effective than traditional schools of thought, such as classical project management or hierarchical organizational forms, since they deliver better, empirically-traceable results. The Standish Group’s 2011 report has made this very clear.
The answer to the initial question is yes. As a Manager, I am certainly allowed to be discontented with the performance of my Team. I am just as much allowed to have my own opinion as the Team is allowed to. We all know the highest principle of the Retrospective: that everyone has tried to give his best at all times. This maxim, of course, also applies to the management and the Manager’s personal thoughts. He can‘t help but have them. “It‘s not your fault“, says the psychologist Sean Maguire to Will Hunting in the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’. Here, Sean shows Will that he is simply a product of his own upbringing and environment. While he cannot exactly be held responsible for what he has done in the past, it is certainly his responsibility to learn from his experiences. However, it does not result in him being morally good or evil. Similarly, the Manager is neither to blame nor is he ‘evil’ if he tries to communicate performance expectations to the Team. These expectations are just as important and okay as the statement of the Team that it can only deliver what it delivers. Is it possible to justify this statement? Up until now, I have had difficulty in doing so. As a philosopher and sociologist influenced by natural sciences, I have always understood Norman Kerth‘s Prime Directive as completely logical. However, up until now, I have never gone through the trouble of actually substantiating it.
Beyond good or evil
The philosopher and journalist Michael Schmidt-Salomon closes the gap for me in his book Beyond Good or Evil – Why We are Better Humans Without Morals (original title: “Jenseits von Gut und Böse - Warum wir ohne Moral die besseren Menschen sind”). In a logical-empirical and grounded way, he makes it clear that humans cannot be morally guilty. This does not mean that we have to tolerate or endorse the actions (of criminals). However, according to Schmidt-Salomon, we have to accept that even the worst criminals in history were not guilty, as the validity of the laws of nature proposes that they had simply not been able to act differently than they had in fact acted. How does he come up with this proposition? In the previous 199 pages of this recommendable book, he contradicts two premises that many people take as a given, although they are simply wrong (as they are empirically and logically unsustainable) by saying:
- Freedom of Will is an illusion. It is simply impossible that – under exactly the same conditions – someone could have decided differently.The Principle of Alternate Possibilities has to be dismissed.
- ‘Good‘ and ‘evil‘ are moral fictions that have no equivalent in reality.
This leads us directly to the Prime Directive of the Retrospective. The dismissal of the two central premises of the Fall of Man syndrome has made its practical consequence obsolete too: the principle of moral guilt and atonement. It makes no sense to hold a person morally responsible for his decisions, when the person’s disposition and past experiences had led him to only being able to choose one thing in a situation. Exactly this had to be proven. Norman Kerth‘s Prime Directive states that
"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”
This way, Kerth does not create the wrong frame of arbitrariness or of “fatalism”, as Michael Schmidt-Salomon calls it. This, however, is difficult to argue against persons who do not see the clear difference between morally wrong and ethically wrong. All of the Team’s actions are neither morally good nor bad, nor are they correct or wrong. Every Team member had only been “able to do” exactly what he had in fact “done”. In hindsight, one can and should judge whether different actions could have been more quantifiably useful in the sense of effective for the reaching of a goal. Only then is it possible to regret one‘s failure and improve the next time around – without having to feel guilty.
This realization helps in strengthening one‘s courage for freedom and courage for freedom of action. The author emphasizes that if the results of the logical-empirical research are taken seriously and we rid ourselves of the Principle of Freedom of Will, it could lead us to the strengthening of our courage for freedom. Knowing that the Principle of Alternate Possibilities is a deception reduces the fear of failure and with that the psychological pressure, which many try to escape. Those who know that they were only able to act in the way that they had acted will still regret past mistakes, but will probably work on reacting differently from now on. They will not start with self-accusations, as it is pointless to blame oneself for something that had to happen in exactly the way it happened. This leads to a more relaxed approach towards oneself: if you forgive yourself, you will find it easier to forgive others, thereby creating a more relaxed relation towards your fellow human beings.
There it is – this recognition that I was only able to act in the way that I had done. It means that today I can correct my actions due to knowing what I did “wrong“ yesterday and try something different instead, something more promising. This again leads us to the credo of acting, which inspires my Team in their daily work: “Doing as a Way of Thinking!”
This approach is based on the awareness that one naturally takes on an objective responsibility for one‘s deeds. Schmidt-Salomon clarifies this in the way that there is an important differentiation between feelings of guilt and feelings of remorse. Both emotions stem from the same root. We feel guilt or remorse when realizing that we have acted wrongly and caused some kind of damage. The difference between these two emotional reactions is that in the case of guilt, we judge ourselves to be morally bad people because of the mistake that we have made. In the case of remorse, we regret our mistake and search for ways to correct, compensate or avoid the mistake in future, but we relinquish the moral condemnation of ourselves. This might sound philosophical as well as smug, but it makes one thing absolutely clear: that the participants, ScrumMaster and Team members mix up exactly those two emotions during the Retrospective.
A Retrospective is never about guilt …
… but all too often, emotions are released that are not properly directed by the ScrumMaster, as he often lacks the right training. I am not criticizing. I know that it is truly difficult. Often, even experienced therapists fail in exactly this point when dealing with groups. It doesn’t always work that the person affected or the group judges itself only in an amoral way, thereby remaining capable to work. However, if the Team does manage not to morally judge itself (which is actually what the 6 Step Heartbeat Retrospective had been trimmed for, which I had invented 6 years ago and only realised a second ago), then something fascinating happens according to Schmidt-Salomon: While feelings of guilt can torture, paralyze or use up our entire energy, feelings of remorse make us active. Feelings of remorse do not affect our self-esteem.