Scott Adams and Agile

April 16, 2008 Michael James

I’ve collected a dozen Dilbert cartoons relevant to Scrum. This week brings us a couple cartoons depicting a dysfunctional daily Scrum (an exercise we sometimes use in class). Previous cartoons have lampooned user stories, working without plans or documentation (“Just start coding and complaining!”), and forcing Agile approaches from the top down.

Various Agile advocates get offended each time this happens. I’d suggest they look a little deeper to see how these cartoons actually reinforce our message, particularly about inappropriate involvement of the boss (pointy haired, or not) in team self-organization.

Years ago, I saw a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon of a female chimpanzee finding a blond hair on a male chimpanzee. She asked, “Conducting a little more ‘research’ with that Jane Goodall tramp?”

The Jane Goodall Institute was on the verge of suing until Goodall herself endorsed the cartoon and eventually wrote the preface for one of Larson’s Far Side books. Unfortunately, the chimps had the last word. In 1988, one of them gave Larson a bit of a roughing up when he visited Goodall’s research park in Tanzania.

Research suggests humor is an important ingredient in transformation. Try to imagine a high-performing team doing creative work in the risky problem space of new product development with no sense of humor. If it’s not safe to laugh at ourselves, how can we do any kind of meaningful retrospective?

How can we grow a sense of fun on a team that’s too stiff? Games from improvisational theater (or “improv”) show promise. I’ve found improv skills such as co-creation (“Yes, and…”), comfort with risk taking, and allowing chaos within constraints to translate directly to Scrum teamwork. Contact us for specifics on how to use these to create breakthroughs in your team.


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