The league of extraordinarily shortsighted agile superheroes

November 22, 2016 · Agile Scrum Conference Talk Superheroes League Manage-Agile

The Marvel lore is full of unknown superheroes. Do you know the league of extraordinarily shortsighted agile superheroes? They show up in projects, pull our their superpowers and save the day. They are called MicroMan, ImpediTor, CCSar, CrisisAvoidus & ZeroRisika and they are here to make your projects great again... *hum*

We - Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches & Leaders of various flavors - have superpowers. We move people. We help them grow. We help them become more than the sum of their parts. And we do this day in and day out. This is supernatural in itself. Sometimes, it feels like we use superpowers. Those superpowers are good per definition, but they all have some nasty side-effects. Depending on how and when we use them, they will help the team but also leave scars. When we use micromanagement, we take away empowerment and self-organisation. When we use information retention, we prevent networking, root cause analysis and again, self-organisation.

But why would we use this in the first place?

We all carry a big mental baggage with us. This has to be accounted for when we trigger "Change". Some people simply traveling from a waterfall world toward agility. Some others are changing jobs in the process and transitioning from developer activities toward management or Scrum Mastering for example. Some finally are pulling years of experience being silenced and having no-say in what or how things are done. This all has to be accounted for.

When transitioning an organization toward agility, this is the most important thing we have to look for: who is carrying what. The tools we are used to are the ones we will attempt to use in a new context. Take a manager that used to steer a team in a command and control way, relying on micromanagement, information retention and manipulation (excessive steering). Set in an agile, context, this person will try to map those tool to the new state, and most often than not find valid reasons to use them. I didn't have to search hard to find valid reasons to use micromanagement, information retention or manipulation. Those are corner cases but relevant ones. The thing being that I know of the above mentioned "nasty-effects", so I can account for them in the process. It is when you don't that things gets nasty.

So beware when you become those superheroes. Whenever you use one of their superpowers, the clock starts to tick. Whenever you use one of their superpowers, you also start to leave scars...


This post is based on a talk I gave last week at the Manage-Agile conference in berlin. The talk was called 1001 Fallstricke, Corporate Scrum-Master Antipatterns (DE).

Here are the superheroes I talked about with, their superpowers and side-effects:

(+) She can manage 1000 tasks in parallel
(-) The team members lose self-responsibility

(+) He can solve any impediment!
(-) The team doesn't knows how

(+) He centralizes the communication
(-) The team only gets some information, always filtered

(+) He can make any conflict disappear
(-) The crisis continues to grow anyway

(+) Never makes any mistake, never takes any risk
(-) The team doesn't learn from errors

Since then, I have had a lot of talks and gathered a lot of feedback. One comment I got was to attempt creating their counterparts, their alter-egos on the agile side.

So here's the second part of the league, a set of superheroes that, pushed to their limits, are barely better than the first ones:

(+) He can bring any team to self-organize
(-) The team is left alone to take any decisions

(+) He can motivate anyone to solve their own problems
(-) He won't help you with it anyway, ever

(+) His team is 100% aware of what is happening
(-) ... "too much information" is a thing

(+) Anyone feels free to openly talk about their problems
(-) The smallest problems tend to take epic proportions

(+) With him at your side, everything seems possible
(-) The team is all-in, failures are extremely painful

Here comes your part!

  • Have you met any of them before?
  • How did it go?
  • Any suggestion on the superpowers mentioned above? Changes? Wishes?
  • Do you have other ideas for superheroes to add to the list?

I'd love to collect a full cast of superheroes, and for that, I truly need you!

ImageSource: Business Team Avatar Collection by Freepik (CC BY)

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