Everyone can’t do everything in Scrum

On our Scrum journey, some of the ‘buzz’ words have really taken with management and the teams, and the one that I feel does a great deal to misalign people on a common path is ‘Everyone can do everything’.

Firstly, let me clarify, I’m not an expert in Scrum, who has read all the documentation and studied the ancient scrolls. But I am a team member and a voice of the system, therefore my notes here are obviously anecdotal. Alternatively, follow this link if you want a more expert opinion;

Back to the phrase and it’s stickiness with management and consultants, I say ‘consultants’, as I was one for a long time, and I know how many times we use words and phrases without having the luxury to actually explain what they mean, think ‘Real-Time’, ‘Big-Data’, etc. so no offence intended.

That said, the phrase ‘Everyone can do everything’, is half based on truth and half based in misdirection.

The phrase for me lives somewhere between the inclination of people to underestimate a task they don’t understand (Planning Fallacy), and the nature of human beings to overestimate their own abilities (Dunning-Kruger effect), and therein lies the rub.

To support the first thought, how many times have you or someone in your team said the words ‘it will only take 5 minutes, just do it guys’ and to support the second, how many times have you thought, ‘this will only take me 5 minutes’.

Only 5 minutes take 5 minutes, everything else worth doing, if you understand the risks and consequences, takes a little longer. – B

Photo by Javier Quesada on Unsplash
Photo by Javier Quesada on Unsplash

Right, so let’s unpack the two parts of the statement, the first being ‘Everyone’. Everyone in this context means everyone on the team, so that’s quite simple, but there is a sharp edge here. Everyone who knows what they are doing.

And that is where the first part of the statement needs a little bit of a rethink. Everyone in your team is an expert. You did not hire them for their sparkling personalities and great conversation skills. You hire them because they are the best at what they do.

So consider the following scenario. You have a room with 10 people, 5 males, and 5 females. Now apply the phrase ‘Everyone can do everything’. Everyone starts laughing the minute you give George from accounting the chance to ask everyone if ‘he will make a good mother?’. You lost the audience and you need twice the amount of time to implement your plan because now you need to go to every person's desk and re-assure them that they are all needed.

The team here is the base of the ‘everyone’, and the team may be limited to a specific subset, such as a Development team. If the team can not achieve the objective, consider that the goal requires additional skill, training or partnerships. As a Scrum master consider filling in these gaps in the teams; like finding that missing unicorn test Automator, or clearing every boulder in the way. Just a reminder, that the Scrum master and Product Owner are also part of the ‘everyone’, even though they are not part of the Development team.

Now for the next part, ‘can do everything’. This is the part that should have any compliance officer waking up in the middle of the night, screaming like they are in a horror movie. Why? Because this statement introduces some serious risk factors to your setup. You are assuming that everyone can now do everything, without clearly stating that there will be strict controls in place.

You never see the marine superhero disarm the nuclear missile without a two key, synchronised, hexadecimal password that he has to type in while bleeding out and ten guys firing at him for good measure. So stop thinking that in your organisation you will let a Junior Tester restart the Oracle Database server because his team lead told him to, and ‘everyone can do anything’, oh and ‘it will only take 5 minutes’.

To this point, I have not been kind to the phrase, but the above has helped me highlight the misdirection part of my argument.

The truth in the statement is a simple rewording and an inclusive approach. I suggest that we change the phrase to ’Together, as a team, we can transition a story from idea to done’. (If we follow the processes and respect the constraints of our environment).

‘Together, as a team’ helps to communicate that you are part of the team, and everyone else has a common goal.

‘We can transition a story from idea to done’ states that we are working on a specific story or object, and reduces the broadness of the statement significantly.

‘If we follow the processes and respect the constraints of our environment’ this part is me adding the terms and conditions, but it is important, because if you have seen Scrum and Agile working in an organisation, you would have known that the team will tackle the processes and constraints that interfere with their progress by themselves, you just need to support them.

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

The trick here is not the improved statement, but the clear definition of the transitions, a definition of who can do what in the process, and in what combination it can be done. Remember our superhero marine? He could only deactivate the nuke if he had the synchronised keys and all the extras. So there were fail-safes in place to protect him from himself and everyone else for that matter.

So consider the following before you start having everyone run around with the keys to your fortress. Does every team member know and understand the decision tree and transition requirements when they need to get an idea to done?

Does your team know that if George from accounting is off sick, they can ask his assistant Bob to approve a request, but only if his line manager also approves? And how can you help the team as a Scrum master get Bob and his boss in a room so that the approval can happen as soon as possible?

Anecdotal, I remind you. B

Minimalist, Optimist and Bonsai Novice..

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