The tale of the overflowing tea cup.

This post is for Jenny and Michelle. Jenny because she pointed out that I haven’t written a blog post for a while, and Michelle because I was discussing the topic of this post with her. More specifically, Michelle and I were discussing how, when introducing Scrum, different individuals are often at different points of learning.

Some will be eager to learn and will quickly adopt Scrum principles and practices. This was the case for me, because I’d been through one too many death march projects. I had reached a point where I was looking for something more meaningful than moving to the next level of management.

Not everyone is interested, or even willing to learn about Agile software development. The reasons for this are often related to a perceived lost of position or control. And, frequently, the arguments that are raised are related to personal belief. I worked with a Data Architect [at one of my last clients in Seattle] who was the prefect example of this. I was coaching his team, and had talked about breaking down work into chunks of several days worth of work (User Stories). His response was that he didn’t believe he could ” … break my work down into anything less than 6 weeks.”

This also occurs with Architects and Developers when we talk about Sashimi slices where we deliver “a thin slice of a product which contains all aspects of the final product.” [1] This is conceptually orthogonal to how many Architects and Developers have been trained to deliver software, so the concept of Sashimi slicing can be very difficult to understand. Similarly to the Data Architect I mentioned above, objections to Sashimi slicing are often phrased in terms of belief, such as, “I can’t believe that it’s possible to deliver large complex projects using Sashimi slicing.”

The truth is there are many Agile and Scrum teams out there that are breaking down their work using User Stories, and are delivering software (including large complex projects) using Sashimi slices.

The barrier in both these examples is not whether it’s possible or not. Rather, it’s the individuals belief that doesn’t allow them to accept alternatives might be possible.

This was more eloquently described in Zen by the follow story [2]:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”