Scrum, Agile and failure
May 25, 2021 • ⌛ 5 min
Today I would like to write a little bit about a subject that we all know about, but it’s been always difficult to deal with - failure. It is part of your life, it’s part of my life and no matter how much we try, we are not able to prevent it. Actually, we can prevent it, by not doing anything, but… Wait, isn’t it a failure too?
In my last post I quoted Brené Brown and I would like to do it again, because I strongly believe in her words:
There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.
Failure will always be part of our lives, but we can experience it and learn from it or struggle with moving forward. What do you choose?
Scrum & Failure
You could wonder - “Why is she talking about failure, if this blog is about Scrum, Agile etc?“. The answer is simple - failure is an inevitable part of the Scrum framework and Agile way of working.
As you may remember, Scrum is founded on empiricism and following the Scrum Guide:
Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is observed.
If knowledge comes from experience, it means that we learn based on events that occur in our lives - either positive or negative like failure. Following this conclusion, failure is an important part of the Scrum, because we can learn from it and adapt our behaviour.
Failure & Agile mindset
Nowadays there are many ways of interpreting Agile, but I will keep repeating like a broken record that it is not a methodology, it is a mindset. I wanted to highlight it, because to be able to deal with failure, we need to have the right mindset. Being open for changes, even if they potentially can bring failure is important.
With that mindset it is easier to find better solutions when you experience failure or any issues in your life.
I keep learning every day to stay focused on the positive impact of every situation in my life, even if it’s not easy for me. That’s how you can not only “do Agile”, but “be Agile” in your daily life.
Failure and environment
There is one crucial aspect in dealing with failure that can change everything - environment, conditions in which you operate.
It is easy to say “I cannot understand how she/he didn’t deal with that failure and what they did with their lives. If I were she/he in this place, I would overcome it easily or solve it differently.”
The thing is - you are not in her/his place, because you probably have a totally different environment that would help you to deal with failure. Not everyone is so lucky e.g. losing a job for someone who has a supporting partner, family will be a totally different experience than losing a job for someone who has depression and is fighting with their family everyday.
One of the Agile principles in the Agile Manifesto is saying:
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
I would like to highlight two parts of this principle “environment” and “support they need”. To be able to learn from your failures require the right environment and support that you need.
In the business context it is not as easy as it sounds, because in many organizations there is no space for any failure or mistake.
What does it mean for people? They will not even try, they will not be creative, because they will be afraid of making mistakes and being punished for that. That’s definitely an environment that we would like to avoid. Employees are the most creative when they have space to try new things and they have support from the organization.
Failure and Perfectionism
I am one of the people who are struggling with perfectionism in their life. Sometimes it is a blessing for me, because I aim to do everything the best I can. Unfortunately, it is also an issue, because I am struggling if I don’t achieve 100% and I don’t deliver something perfect. You can imagine what happens in my mind when I fail.
For a long period of time in my life, I was blaming myself for every mistake, even small. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was impacting my next actions.
I learned how to stop doing it through Ultimate Frisbee - a sport that I play. I noticed that every time when I was blaming myself for mistakes on the field, I was making even more mistakes and it was stopping me from enjoying the game. At some point I decided to focus only on my next move, instead of thinking about the past mistakes.
It is easier in sports than in daily life, but I try to apply it to my work & other personal activities as well. I am sure that I am not the only person who is struggling with perfectionism, because I’ve met many people like me in my career.
If you are one of these people and you are struggling with thinking about your mistakes, failures, don’t be harsh on yourself. I know how difficult it can be, but I also know how important it is for mental health to focus on your current or next steps instead of blaming yourself for mistakes. Whatever you think, ask yourself if you would say the same words to your close friend if they would make the same mistake. Most of the time, the answer would be “no”, so analyse if you want to talk to yourself that way.
Understanding that nothing is perfect is an important part of the Agile way of working. It allows people to fail and try new solutions or discover why the action didn’t bring any value.
To summarize, failure is an important part of Agile/Scrum, but what is more important - it is inevitable part of our lives! Think about it as an experience that you can learn from. Don’t forget about support for people around you who are struggling with failure in their lives. Your few empowering words can change someone’s day and help them to move forward.
Last, but not least, don’t be harsh on yourself when you experience failure in your life. Treat yourself the same way as you would treat your friend.
Let me know what you think about failure. Do you agree with my opinion that it is part of Agile & Scrum? Feel free to comment here or start discussion on LinkedIn/Instagram.
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