30 Mar

Why is Scrum so much fun? Part 4 – Voluntary participation

Voluntary participation

No matter how engaging an experience is, or how much effort you put in designing cool rules and goals: If someone feels forced to engage in an activity, they will find it utterly boring. In this fourth and final part, we are addressing the last aspect of what makes a game fun: Voluntary participation. How does this notion apply to Scrum?

Voluntary participation is at the heart of fun

Imagine that you had never played a drawing game (such as “Pictionary”) and that I wanted to get across how much fun it is.

Voluntary participation

“The word was “observatory”!! How could you not guess?” – classic Pictionary conversation.

I could explain to you the rules and mechanics, tell you that the best team wins, and relate enthusiastic stories about previous game sessions with my friends and family.

But I’m not sure if you would be convinced by my explanations. Your fears or prejudices might get in the way. You might not understand the essence of it. You might wonder: “Is this game really for me? I can’t draw, I will feel ashamed… And if we have to judge each other, wouldn’t it create conflicts within my family?”

Let people try it and make their own opinions

A way better method would be to play a game session with you. After a few minutes, you would probably have a blast, forget about your initial doubts and realize that the hideous drawings are actually what makes this game so much fun.

Likewise, if you are not convinced that Scrum is right for your team, a long explanation will not get you more excited. It is much more constructive to let you try the method in a risk-free environment, for example on a small project.

In most cases, people will see the value of Scrum, because:

Teams are likely to experience that Scrum is fun! Afterwards, they will logically choose this method for project management over a more “traditional” one.

However, if at the end of the trial the team doesn’t see the benefits of the method, then one should avoid force-feeding it to them. There might very well be a good reason for their resistance.

Consider that resistance can be justified

Too often, organisations try to implement Scrum but fail to embrace the Agile mentality. This can be catastrophic, as the spirit of the rules is distorted to serve the purpose of a control-oriented management system.

Here are some examples of non-Agile uses of Scrum:

Velocity points are used to track individual performance or to request an ever higher productivity; retrospectives get hijacked by finger-pointing managers; “Planning Sprints” appear where nothing gets produced but long lists of requirements…

Pushing Scrum on a team without embracing the Agile culture can lead to a strong – and justified – rejection of the method.

Imagine if we would distort the rules of Pictionary in a similar way:

  • You have to play the game every day and reach a certain score, otherwise you don’t get to eat dinner.
  • The first game sessions are replaced by “game planning” where you have to discuss all the possible words that could be drawn, then prepare and present a document outlining your strategy for the next 22 game sessions.
  • Every time you do a bad drawing that your team cannot guess, you get shamed for your lack of talent.
  • If you fail too often, you are excluded from the game, but you still have to stay and watch as your team blames you for having delayed them.
Voluntary participation

Playing with friends might not be as fun if you get punished for it.

Even with well-designed rules, if someone enters the game with a hidden agenda, the other players won’t fail to notice.

Scrum has been designed to increase the autonomy of multi-disciplinary teams. Using it as a tool to control employees is bound to fail.

In order for Scrum to be fun, all parties have to engage in the activity with the same mindset of trust and goodwill.

This means that teams have to be able to make mistakes and to learn from them, without the fear of being judged. In most cases, this is the hardest part of Agile transformations. In risk-averse organisations with well-established processes, the idea of celebrating failure is a true paradigm shift. 

“We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools” – Agile Manifesto

Play with the method

Voluntary participation means listening to the team and letting them experiment. Maybe Scrum won’t work for them, because it’s too constraining. Or because they are not managing a project, but rather a constant flow of similar tasks. In any case, you will never know if you don’t test it and make it yours.

If you’ve never used it, go and try Scrum. And if it doesn’t work, play with it! Keep on experimenting.

The aim of Agile is simply to build a stable framework that gives people enough leeway to solve problems creatively. After all, isn’t it why you want to hire humans, not machines, in the first place?

This concludes our 4-part series on Scrum. I hope you found it interesting! If so, don’t hesitate to share this post in social media, or to give your feedback in the comments.

One thought on “Why is Scrum so much fun? Part 4 – Voluntary participation

  1. ‘In risk-averse organisations with well-established processes, the idea of celebrating failure is a true paradigm shift’. This is so true!

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