Tools Don’t Make the Team

Today I was involved in a meeting with our team about switching from scrum to kanban. The details of the meeting aren't important, however one person's question stands out in my head.  One of our team members asked, "What's to stop the team from always picking up the 'fun' cards and leaving the crappy projects waiting?" My immediate response was, we'll just have a policy, always take cards form the top.  Problem solved. Right?

Wrong. You don't have to fix this problem because we have a good team. Good people know what to do and they get it done.  They don't need people telling them what to do or how to do it.  If you have a problem like the above where people selfishly only work on things that are fun and leave the crap work for others, then you have a problem. No tool is going to magically make people something they are not.

Scrum, Kaban or whatever methodology you choose are really just tools to help your team wrangle in the complexities of business outside of your team. Processes like these help point you in a direction. That's it. They are designed to bring order to the chaos that ensues from this: "We need x,y and z and we need them yesterday. Also, a,b and c would be nice too. No wait, foo is now the most important thing. If we don't have foo, then kittens will die!!1!" Business people don't understand the perils of task switching. They really don't care about best practices or testing. They care about output. (until that output breaks in front of clients, then they suddenly care...)

Since the people outside your little team are guaranteed to be certifiably insane, then we must provide them with constraints.

  • Scrum - "We've committed to {x} amount of work for the next {t} week(s). Put it on our backlog and we'll prioritize it for next sprint."
  • Kanban - "We can only have {n} things in progress. If we push this into our Todo queue, then we'll need to pull something off. What would you like to delay?"

That's it. The tools here just provide a consistent means to constrain work and set expectations for people outside our circle. If there is no buy in from those outside your group to being constrained, then no tool is going to fix that. If the people within your group suck and they do what they want, then you're doomed too.

With all of that said, a good team can benefit from better tools. But please remember, they are just there to facilitate your goals. Don't fall into the trap of valuing your methods over your work. All wrenches turn bolts, but an impact gun does it faster. The focus isn't how fast we can spin lug nuts, it's how fast we can get in and out of the pits and not have the wheels fly off mid race.

Man Rule #1: Borrowing Tools

One of the joys of being a man is getting to work with your hands. It's an excuse to tear things apart and build them back again. Nothing makes a man feel more, well manly, than replacing spark plugs or fixing some plumbing. It's just wired into us.

In order to do these manly things that we do, we need tools. It's not always feasible to go out and buy a tool that you might need only a few times in your life. You could go out and rent a tool, but that costs money. The next best thing is to borrow something from your buddy. Before you go out and borrow your friend's chainsaw, please read on.

Image courtesy of HVargasTake care of the tools. There is nothing worse than letting someone borrow something only to have it returned dirty, scratched up, and rusted. Sure, they are tools, and normal wear is to be expected. At the very least, just clean it up before returning it. I've returned some things in better shape than I found them. It's the least that you should do considering you were getting something for free.

Return the borrowed tools in a timely manner. It really sucks when you go to use a tool that you own, only to realize that your buddy still has it. Where did I put my reciprocating saw? Oh yeah, Fred still has it from when he rebuilt his deck a year ago. Bastard. Don't let this be you. This is a sure fire way to get on my never-borrowing-my-tools-again list. If you need to borrow a tool for an extended period of time (big project!), you had better say so in advance.

If you break a tool, you bought it. Sorry, that's just how it goes. Borrowing tools for free has its risks. If you happen to be the unlucky sucker in possession of a tool when it kicks the bucket (no matter how careful you were with it), then it's your responsibility to fix it or replace it.

Borrowing tools gives sweat equity to the tool lender. The next big project I have that requires help (moving!?), I'll be calling on my friends who I've loaned tools to. Of course, you can get out of this by returning the favor or returning the borrowed tool with a gift (beer, gift card, or other manly gift).

That's all I have on this subject for now. I really like my tools and I worked hard to earn the money to be able to buy them. I expect others to treat my tools with respect.