George Schlitz

We all made attempts to reason with the no avail.

“No” is a Valid Answer

George Schlitz, BigVisible Solutions

I’ve had many light bulb moments, and still occasionally have new ones. One of my first agile light bulb moments occurred when I was a project manager going through my ScrumMaster Certification course taught by a wise mentor, Ken Schwaber.

During one exercise, our team had completed a sprint and the product was inspected with positive feedback from our customer. Thinking “mission accomplished!” we started to relax, when the customer requested a major change that could not be implemented with no time remaining. This request was so like the frequent last-minute changes I was used to burdening the team with at work in the past—the results being death marches, quality slips, delays, and worse. 

We all made attempts to reason with the customer, applying all the good trade-off and prioritization techniques that allowed us to get as far as we did, to no avail.

The light bulb went off when the simple answer - No - a word unused by me or any other project manager expecting to keep his or her job - was uttered in the wrap-up. The light bulb was that as a ScrumMaster, there will be times when “No” is the right answer, and that the word is not taboo. Protecting the team and the principles of working that result in reliable quality and success, sometimes requires standing up to people in important positions, and helping them to learn ways they can get what they want and not suffer the consequences of old ways of working.

Since then, of course, I’ve learned many additions to this, such as using “no, but” (offering alternatives). That anything other than “yes sir” could be uttered in a corporate environment was an important light bulb moment for me.


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