Permission to fail (Pt. 2) – Getting back to my Agile roots

As I was lying in bed thinking about my very first blog post, it dawned on me that giving “Permission to fail” is more than just part of my self-allowance, it’s part of Agile.

“Fail fast, fail often” is a widely-known yet rarely-embraced agile tenet: The idea is that 1) you decide to try something 2) you time-box your experiment 3) you measure the results 4) you iterate and improve (We tend to do alright at steps 1 and 2 but fall a bit flat on the measuring, iterating and improving parts). The above referenced article notes that “Fail fast, fail often” has a negative connotation – the bloggerist prefers “Learn fast, learn often”. I like that – but man, there is something about calling it a “failure” that strikes a heart chord with me – really urges you to change. And quick.

The article also notes several successes that resulted from failure:

  • It took Thomas Edison thousands of failed attempts until he found the correct filament for the light bulb.
  • Kleenex tissues were originally created to help women remove make-up.
  • WD40 gets its name from the number of attempts to get the water displacement formula correct.
  • Post-It notes were invented to replace bookmarks. Their idea was a failure.

Who knew?

What I DO know is that I tend to learn more from my failures than my successes (perhaps sadly, but it is what it is) and that often hitting rock bottom is the best thing that can ever happen to you – I can personally attest to this one (another story). I love this quote, “The lower you fall, the higher you’ll fly. ~ Chuck Palahniuk”. The bloggerist referenced it here:

So, as I continue my Scrum Master (and life) journey, this is one tool that I’ll remember to keep handy in my tool belt – you should too.


Permission to fail

I’ve always given myself permission to fail.

However, I’ve never taken myself up on it. Until now. I have 17 years of IT experience behind me in the form of Software Developer, Development Lead, Project Manager, Scrum Master, Tester and Test Manager (and I’m sure I’m missing a title somewhere). I’ve always taken on the next role while giving myself permission to abort mission and return home at any time. But, each time, I’ve enjoyed the next challenge and happily kept plowing ahead. Until now.

Before my current position, I was a Test Automation Manager (see, I told you I missed a title) at a smaller company (500 employees) where I’d been for 4 years. Although I was a manager, I lead my team by following the Scrum practices that had endeared themselves to me while I was a Scrum Master several years ago. My team, my family really, had met a huge goal – the end result of that goal was that they should be matrixed out to their Feature teams. My heart was broken, but it was the right thing to do. So, I was ready for a new challenge when a recruiter rang my phone. She described what seemed like a rare opportunity (even before she mentioned words like “Senior Manager”, “Incentive Plan” and “Pension”). I was intrigued. I knew that this job would present much more responsibility than I was accustomed to – I would have 5 times the number of direct reports, work with much larger teams and deal with the politics that come along with a multi-billion dollar company. I agreed to an interview. I went into the process with the attitude, “I am interviewing THEM”. Well, THEY aced the interview and I turned in my notice. But, before I accepted the offer, I do what I always do – I gave myself permission to fail. If it turned out that this illustrious opportunity was just not for me, I had tasted success in many other arenas and could return home to any of them. But that allowance was quickly forgotten.

I excelled. I “Exceeded Expectations” on performance reviews and moved the needle, righted the ship and many other overused cliches. All of that. Then, an Organizational change. And 6 months later, another one. 6 months later, yet another. I started losing my way. Without consistent support, I became directionless, complacent, passionless. A slap in the face presented itself in the form of a meager “Meets Expectations” performance review. I was crushed. A wake up call. I had to do something.

I briefly thought about leaving. But I loved the company’s enterprise commitment to Agile, as well as the people and the paycheck. I was stuck.

Then one day in a meeting, I was awestruck by the words of a new team member. He spoke with passion, sincerity and conviction. That spoke to me. That used to BE me. After the meeting, I asked him to be my mentor. I needed some of that. Best. decision. ever.

In our first session, I told him my story – the same one that I just told you. He saw my passion when reliving my previous job opportunities. He saw ME. He GOT me. And then he gave me permission to fail.

This blog is a journal of my journey from Senior Manager to Scrum Master. A pay cut, a self-demotion, a less shiny status, a happiness gain, a passion inducer, a purpose-fulfilling life change. Doing what I love.

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