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Losing My “Champion Skeptic”

During the time I have been advocating changes to Scrum and agile I have encountered many skeptics.  Some were and are more adamant than others.  One excellent engineer was such a strong opponent of Scrum, I feared he would derail all change efforts.  For a while, I also feared talking to him about his objections.

My Certified Scrum Trainer, Micheal Vizdos (@mvizdos, http://implementingscrum.com), taught in my certification workshop that Scrum Masters spend lots of time starting difficult conversations.  He was so very correct.  By this time I had already started many difficult conversations with leaders and managers about agile and Scrum.  I had faced the CTO and come away with support.  But I worried about talking to this collegue.  I had fear of this engineer because:

  • He was very skilled in the craft, with knowledge and the ability to create great software.
  • He had a strong personality, able to decide what he wanted and work for it.
  • He pulled no punches, stating his opinion with conviction.
  • I admired his abilities and work ethic.
  • I didn’t know him, personally, very well.

In other words, to face him I had to know what I was talking about and put my beliefs in the line of fire.

One day, with my training ringing in my ears, I asked him why he objected so strongly.  A difficult and rewarding conversation followed.  It was the beginning of understanding, of many more conversations and of working better together. (I’ll write about the content of that conversation another time.)

Shortly after that first conversation, I started reading “Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.”  The book describes a pattern or method for helping your change efforts by enrolling a “Champion Skeptic” to help.  In a private moment with the objecting engineer I informed him that he was my “Champion Skeptic.”

Surprise: He was skeptical.

Months have passed and our discussions were more helpful than he knows.  He suggested task card improvements, important impediment removal and improved build processes, among other things.  He also blocked some progress in different ways, but that was the skeptic part.  Most important to me, he helped me improve myself.  I was able to present ideas better and improve my arguments for Scrum and agile practices.  He helped me understand deeper his points, and my own.  And we became more friends than just coworkers.

This week he announced that he is leaving the company for other adventures.  The technical loss of his skills to the team and company will be felt for a while.  The loss to me as Scrum and agile evangelist is also significant.  I now need to find another “Champion Skeptic” against which I can hone my skills as change agent.  I’ll need to find someone to talk straight and cut me down to size when my thoughts and ideas fall short.  Oh, I can find people who don’t “believe” in agile, but one who also provides open, truthful conversation is not easy to find.

Who helps you break the echo chamber once in a while, to see what others see?  Who makes you a better agile advocate and practitioner?

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One Response to “Losing My “Champion Skeptic””

  1. Nathan Jamin May 14, 2009 at 10:54 PM # Reply

    Hi Alan,

    A nice post to which I can only agree with. I have my “Champion Skeptic(s)” too and there is nothing like a straight-talker to put some thoughts straight!

    Best,
    Nathan.

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