As an agile coach and trainer, I get the opportunity to facilitate many Scrum teams’ first sprint planning meetings. Now these meetings do start out like typical meetings, with everyone sitting around a table and one person talking. But as the meeting progresses and discussions begin around the work, it can begin to look like chaos to an outsider. What I didn’t realize until recently however, was that it can also look like chaos to some of the insiders as well!
In the midst of the chaos during one of these meetings, the first with a newly formed team of Scrum beginners, I turned to the ScrumMaster and said, “Isn’t this wonderful?” His reply – “Is it? Are you sure?” woke me up to his concerns about seeing everyone talking with one another without any obvious structure. As the team started swarming, it was just simply not like any meeting that he was used to seeing.
So this brings me to the two things about chaos that I like to share with my new teams. They’re both from Rob Brezsny’s book on optimism, Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.
It’s a neat book full of interesting and upbeat information and stories.
The first chaos item is simply a quote about chaos:
“Chaos comes in two varieties. One is destructive and disorienting; the other is rejuvenating and exciting.”
Scrum’s chaos is the latter form! Those who are involved in the sprint planning meeting discussions appear to be energized and enthused, and this feeling carries forward through the sprint. As a Scrum Master or other agent of organizational change, you should be on the lookout for the former version of chaos, one that is the result of missing or improperly applied agile disciplines and principles.
The other item about chaos is a story about the ability to go on a wild ride, have fun, and still maintain balance. It’s called “careen-stable,” a variant on chaos. Here’s Rebecca Rusche, again from Brezsny’s book, to tell you of the term's origin:
"In high school, my mom used to let me use her VW Beetle to go to basketball practice. One night after practice, a friend and I were chatting and drinking Coke when we decided to see how fast we could get the Beetle going down a nearby dirt road. Soon we were careening at 65 mph, shouting 'careen!' every time we hit a bump and went flying into the air. When we arrived back at the gym and got out of the car half an hour later, we saw my Coke can sitting on the front bumper next to the license plate. I nudged it softly to see if it was lodged in there somehow, but it fell right off -- wasn't stuck at all. I thought, 'There must be a word for this magic,' and thus 'careen-stable' was born. It came to mean anything that maintains its poise in the midst of wild, fast movement."
So to answer the ScrumMaster’s earlier question – “Is it okay? Are you sure?” – I can respond with a resounding “Yes!”. Scrum provides the framework to contain, focus, and direct this chaos, and lively discussions are part and parcel of the whole.
Enjoy your careen-stable rides!