Why Don't I Floss My Teeth?

I’ve been going to the dentist for over thirty years. Whenever I visit the dentist, I’m told to floss twice a day. Flossing fights cavities, bad breath, and disease. Flossing is simple: it takes about two minutes and costs just a few cents. And yet I rarely floss my teeth. Why?

The problem is not at the knowledge level. I know why transitioning from not flossing to flossing is a good idea, full of wonderful benefits for me and my teeth. The problem is not at the behavior level. I know how to floss my teeth because my dentist enthusiastically practices on me everytime I visit her.

So if the problem is not at the knowledge level or the behavior level, what is the impediment that causes me not to floss?

Understanding the answer to this question is, I believe, key to understanding why Scrum adoption is so difficult. Understanding what Scrum is (knowledge) and what to do (behavior) is fairly simple. But there is another level, the emotional level, which I have found contains the key impediments to the successful adoption of Scrum.

Many Scrum coaches have transition plans which include garnering the support of senior executives, providing appropriate training and coaching, and creating a transition committee. While these are certainly important considerations, they do not address impediments at the emotional level. A person who has to transition from being in QA to being a member of a Scrum team and is worried, nervous, afraid, and anxious is not directly helped by knowing that the larger organization has a Scrum Transition Committee or has implemented a Scrum Pilot Project.

For ideas on how to address emotional impediments, I have found that studying Weight Watchers is instructive. Weight Watchers was started in 1961 when Jean Nidetch confessed to a group of friends that she was overweight because she could not stop eating cookies. In launching Weight Watchers, Nidetch explicitly said that while she knew how to eat right, she needed emotional support. Today, Weight Watchers provides weight loss information (knowledge) and teaches a point count system (behavior). But, most importantly, it provides emotional support for people who want to lose weight.

A successful Scrum transition effort will do the same. Not only will it bathe people in the knowledge and behavior needed to do Scrum, it will provide individuals, teams, and organizations with support at the emotional level as they transition to Scrum.

This article was originally published at the web site of the Scrum Alliance.

Michael de la Maza

I am an agile coach and an angel investor. As an agile coach, I have consulted and trained at dozens of companies. Major agile coaching engagements have been with Paypal, State Street, edX, Carbonite, and Symantec. I typically begin with culture first and then proceed to process improvement and business results. I believe in a non-confrontational, non-coercive approach to change in which people are invited to be and act in a new way. This takes the pain out of agile transformations.

With Rob Rubin, an online education pioneer and the Founding VP of Engineering at edX, I recently created DemingWay.com, an online agile education portal that we plan to grow until it has the best agile content and the best learning platform.