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Embrace the Inner A-hole, or, What to do when Scrum Fails?

This GDC 2012 diary asks the question, what can you do when your studio will not embrace the scrum process? The suggestion, embrace your inner a-hole and publicly, mercilessly and unapologetically call people out on missed commitments until they change.

Ethan Levy, Blogger

March 10, 2012

2 Min Read

During a GDC beer break, I had an interesting talk about scrum with a former colleague who works as a scrum master type (your studio may classify him as a development director, producer or project manager depending on culture).  He vented his frustration with his current game team.  Like me, he is a believer in scrum methodology and has seen it catalyze teams into cohesive units that produce powerful results and ship great games.

But, scrum only works when team culture buys in to the philosophy.  My colleague is fighting widespread ambivalence.  He faces ambivalence from studio leaders, who are stretched too thin to deliver their influence and feedback against a timeline, helping create stability.  He faces ambivalence from senior team members, who are content to finish their individual tasks without reinforcing the team-centric mentality.  He faces ambivalence from junior team members, who are not mature enough to have internal motivation driving the completion of committed tasks.  He is fighting an uphill culture battle with no support and he is losing.

I floated an interesting suggestion for him.  What would happen if he just embraced his inner A-hole, and started calling people out painfully, frequently and publicly for their bad behavior.  This is something I have never tried (at least not intentionally… I know full well that I have been a huge A-hole at work on many occasions) but would be eager to hear the results.

As a manager and/or team lead, it is difficult to be critical (at least for most of us), because you want to be liked by your teammates.  I often find myself couching criticism with mitigating statements, or sandwiching a criticism in-between two praises, or generally letting things slide because it feels relatively trivial next to the impact of openly being an a-hole to my peers.  Just because I am a person’s boss doesn’t mean I want to treat him like I’m his boss.  Just because I am person’s boss doesn’t mean I enjoy chastising him for bad behavior publicly or privately.

In these instances, I am doing more harm to the employee, the team and the product, then any good I am doing by cultivating a perception of not being another a-hole boss.

So, my suggestion to my scrum master was, if behaving positively was not working, begin an open, up-front, public campaign to modify the team’s behavior.  Mercilessly call people out for missing their sprint goals.  Mercilessly call people out for letting their team down.  During sprint retrospectives, give shame trophies to the team members who do the worst job.  And tell people up front why you are doing these things.

What would happen if you just said, “I am disappointed in everyone’s performance, and I am going to be openly, publicly and mercilessly critical until we start working as a team and filling our commitments.”?

What would happen if you embraced the inner a-hole?  Would tough love change people’s behavior where coddling fails?

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