Kafka, Agile Coach

Kafka, Agile Coach

At the latest lean coffee, we had two cards with a similar question: how do you neutralize the bad apples / stop the eye-rolling? Later that night I remembered something I thought might apply, so below I try to craft it into a parable.

(This post offers a huge tip of the hat to Robert Anton Wilson whose first chapter of “Quantum Psychology” describes a similar “parable about [this] parable”. Chapter nine of “The Trial” by Franz Kafka includes this central tale which Wilson treats as zen koan.)

There was once a young scrummaster who had achieved some early success. His new team, however, offered only resistance to his words. Throughout his first two sprints he employed many methods to convince or cajole the team to change their perspective and accept agile / scrum. He offered empathy, used silence and questioning, provided studies and “facts” to support his claims. The scrummaster grew impatient and threatened the team, but they simply laughed him off.

Finally he swallowed his pride and approached the agile coach. She offered the scrummaster a cup of tea.

“This team is impossible!” the scrummaster exclaimed. “Why won’t they buy-in?”

“Let me tell you a story,” the coach offered. After sipping her tea, she began:

A man from the countryside comes up to the door of the Law, guarded by a doorkeeper, and asks for entry. The doorkeeper says he can’t let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he’ll be able to go in later on.

‘That’s possible,’ says the doorkeeper, ‘but not now’.

The man waits and grows older. Any time he asks, the doorkeeper rebukes him. The man offers bribes to this doorkeeper, and the guard accepts each offer saying as he pockets the money ‘I’ll only accept this so that you don’t think there’s anything you’ve failed to do’. Still, the man is not allowed entry.

Over many years, the man tries time and again to get inside. In the first few years he curses his unhappy condition out loud, but later, as he becomes old, he just grumbles to himself. He becomes senile…

Finally his eyes grow dim, and he knows doesn’t have much longer to live. In the moment before he dies, he brings together all his experience from all this time into one question which he has still never put to the doorkeeper…

‘Everyone wants access to the law,’ says the man, ‘how come, over all these years, no-one but me has asked to be let in?’

The doorkeeper can see the man is near death. ‘Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I’ll close it forever’. As the door is slammed shut, the man expires.

The scrummaster all but spits out his tea. “He died?” “Indeed,” the coach assured.

Another sprint passes, and the scrummaster returns to the agile coach, finding her in the lounge outside her office.

“I’ve considered this story from many angles, and I have questions. If the door existed only for this man, why was he not allowed to enter? Why was the door left tantalizingly open? Why did the guard close the door only when the man was too old and weak to enter?”

As the coach poured two cups of tea, the scrummaster continued. “Am I the man in this parable? Is my team the majesty beyond the door? Who is the doorkeeper?” Ignoring his tea, the scrummaster implored “Please. Explain to me the lesson of this dark parable.”

“I will explain it to you,” the coach promised, “if you follow me into my office.”

The coach stepped into the room, quickly turned, and slammed the door in the scrummaster’s face.

At that moment, the scrummaster experienced enlightenment.

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Yeah, I’m with you here. I must have been feeling especially inspired by the book (Quantum Psychology, a fun read) and thought it applied to how I’d felt as a young Scrum Master. Maybe high expectations and seemingly impossible tasks were driving my early years. I guess my ramble here made sense at the time, but now it’s more navel-gazing. Heh!

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