I attended Scrum Gathering in Phoenix, where Mike Cohn did a lightning opening keynote speech. His message to question your assumptions really took on and “I could be wrong” was heard during speeches, workshops and discussions during the rest of the 3 day long conference.
We were reminded of that we all make assumptions. Making assumptions is an inherent function of the human, actually assumptions is needed to make every day life and conversations smooth.
But assumptions also hinder us from learning new things. When we have reached a certain level of skill in any area, we tend to to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses. This is called confirmation bias and explains such things as e.g. why a person that you think has been objectively proven wrong, still persists.
Mike urged us to embrace the fact that when we meet new areas of expertise, we will be blind. The less we know, the more we are certain that we are right. This is the phenomenon that makes people sign up for for Idol contests, though most people around them would advise them not to. Of course, there is a name for this: The Dunning-Kruger effect, which states that for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- fail to recognize their own lack of skill
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill
He told us about a lot of things that he was certain of when starting working as an agile coach. One of those things was starting with sprint planning on Monday ... when he discovered that people really did not long for going back to work on Mondays, and the mere fact that they will be sitting in a meeting planning the whole week could make some people start booking dentist's appointments and finding ways not to attend. Mike went on until today and asked questions ... as if we really need User Stories – couldn't there be a better way to describe what is to be built?
He also urged the agile community to avoid brand loyalty, what matters is if it works. If it is Scrum with a twist, then be it, as long as it works! And in the end we might stop talking about Agile, just call it Software Development. To hear that from a person like Mike with such an extensive knowledge of Agile work is big, and an example of what he referred to as exhibiting some intellectual humility. Still, Mike knows his trade. He hosts a site called comparativeagility.com that provides agility assessment instruments that will enable companies and projects to compare their use of Agility against other companies to help determine actionable next steps in their own agile improvement efforts.
To me it was mighty liberating listening to a very experienced Agile coach that encourages the agile community to be open minded. Not to be so sure of “what is the right way of doing things”. “Remember”, Mike said, “that when the agile community started, they all were waterfall-but".