A little over 6 months ago, my company decided to change their methodology from the traditional waterfall to the newer, brighter, shinier agile scrum methodology. With relatively little experience within the realm of software design, this being my first assignment in this area, I didn’t think that much of it at first.
My employer is a large multi-national hospitality company embarking on customizing new Sales & Catering Software for their 500+ sites globally. While the company certainly has experience with designing and customizing software, my own background is probably most accurately described as being the customer. Having worked in various roles in hotels and with various types of hospitality focused software for years, I initially joined the project team as a subject matter expert on our customer requirements with little or no knowledge of what goes into designing successful software.
In my career to date I have made every effort to embrace new challenges, so I am no stranger to change. Whether it’s putting my hand up for new projects, pushing for promotion to stretch my skills or even pioneering to set up entirely new job profiles that no one ever did before, I’ve done it. I won’t try to pretend that I was comfortable doing it, far from it, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone never is, if it feels comfortable, you simply haven’t pushed yourself far enough. It is however hugely rewarding!
The beauty of trying something new is that every little win, no matter how small, can feel like a huge victory.
Only the thing is, you have to actually choose to embrace the change. When we were first introduced to “agile” and “scrum” during a team meeting, my first feeling was: “Great. Just as I have figured out how to do my job, you’re changing everything.” I wasn’t immediately excited, I didn’t jump for joy at the prospect of having to start from scratch, I also wasn’t sure that I really liked the idea of agile, particularly its transparency. We all have doubts on whether we are good enough every once in a while, so hearing that “agile improves transparency” was a little scary. What if my work isn’t actually any good? What if I don’t learn fast enough? What if I fail? Enter: the fear of the unknown.
Of course there were training sessions arranged, consultants brought in to teach and support and assurances were made at every opportunity that “everybody knows we are new at this, we are not perfect yet”. So together with my peers of other product owners, we sat through the training, we observed our consultants, we assured ourselves that “everybody knows we are new at this” – and it felt ok. However there is still nothing that can prepare you for the moment where you become the one in charge. Where you need to actually be the agile scrum product owner you have been trained to be. Where you need to take responsibility for your newly formed scrum team. Where you actually need to guide them on what to do. And all of it at a point in your own learning when you are not all that certain as to what that is yet. Scary? Oh yes!
The key to success for me was to embrace the mistakes I made, learn from them, improve myself and then when I eventually got something right, take a moment to celebrate. And the successes do not have to be big. Having a productive team meeting, having a good laugh with my scrum team and see that they are actually starting to trust me, getting a little pat on the back for a nice showcase presentation, delivering a tiny piece of working software. All those things are not huge, but they are little milestones in your journey to embracing agile, to realizing that scrum is fun, that transparency actually helps the team and that continuous improvement, not just of the product, but also of the scrum team, is really what agile is all about.