Wednesday, October 01, 2014

La Russa Agile Innovation #15 of 17: When Being "No Fun"
Makes For More Fun  

In Agile projects, as in Baseball, your Fun Quotient doesn't have to be "at eleven" as a norm, but to get the best sustainable production, you certainly want to err on the side of building an environment that stimulates (not just allows) fun. In Agile, as in Baseball, that will mean, more often than not, you as the leader won't be showing off as much fun as the team, and that is, in most environments, a necessity.

Tony La Russa embodied this stance as brilliantly as any successful Agile leader has, and his transparency is useful to any Agile practitioner or aspiring leader. As he explained in his most recent book, One Last Strike (p. 103-105), it's critical both to actively promote the fun aspects of the project while also being the eye of the hurricane, the calm, unflappable go-to, solid, reliable, relentless make-it-happen center, even if that means you're not looking like you're having much fun.

La Russa wasmore than a master of hiding how much fun he was having (and he was having fun), he looked and acted when at work as impassive, unemotional, neutral as he could. If you ever saw him on televeision during a game, you saw that steely resolve. And having spoken to him a few times in his office when he managed the White Sox, I can testify he was like that off the field, too.

The book makes it clear that was purposeful...part of his natural character, but deliberate, too. He talks about his determination at the beginning of the season that he will retire at the end of it, regardless of the outcome. He, personally, wasn't thrilled with the evolution of the work, which was trending towards more corporate-like interactions, less personal, less Agile.

Put simply, it wasn't as much fun as it had been. That mioght sound strange coming from a person with my reputation for intensity and from someone who was often noted for not smiling.I took seriously the responsibility I had but I loved the competition, the winning and the losing, and the relationships we built

It's true I didn't smile a whiole lot during games. I wanted to maintain the same exterior whether things were going well or going badly. One reason for that is I wanted to set an example for our players and also to be a constant they could rely on.

This is a vital crux of Agile. The Coach or Scrum Master or whatever the team calls the project-organizing, customer-facing human should be the eye of the hurricane, she should be the "constant they could rely on".

Yes, there were lighthearted moments in the dugout, on the field, in the clubhouse {snip} but in the middle of the competition, I wanted to be that concentrated center in the middle of the storm.

I had to work at that because on the inside I was a festival of nervous energy, anticipation, excitement, anger, frustration, elation and about just every other emotion you can name. {snip} I will say this about my intense level of concentration: I have zero regrets about how I went about my business, day in and day out. I might have made plenty of mistakes, but none of them came from lack of interest or from lack of attention.

The effective Coach has to be a La Russa-ian manager...relentlessly paying attention to the big and little factors, personalities, issues, risks, and freeing up the rest of the team to do their work. And that means even at the cost of the opportunity to lean back and ease off for some of the fun things the team should/must do.

Ultimately, none of this was ever about me; it was always about the players and about winning. Call it "old school" or whatever you like, but the level of seriousness I brought to my job was purposeful and long-standing. {snip} I couldn't alter who I was as a person to conserve my energy or to take shortcuts. I couldn't slow down.It was either do it or don't do it.

And that's the essence of Coach or Scrum Master, too. If you're going to do the role, do it like the project's success depends on your relentless, serious attention. In Agile, as in Baseball, that may mean you don't always get to publically show the high and lows the rest of the team does.

But the Coach's relentless commitment to holding things together does mean the team can have more fun. And more fun delivers generally better quality and quantity, more sustainably, in Agile as much as in Baseball.

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