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Watch Out for the Horns!

I saw my first bullfight today in Madrid. It was an impressive spectacle with all of the pomp and circumstance, blood and cheers that I had expected. Much of the work done by the matadors and toreadors was a game of distraction. Watch my bright red cape! Seeing the matador dancing inches from the horns of the bull reminded me of a few projects I’ve been on where it seemed my job had been to distract the bull too.

Now don’t get me wrong, you’ll never see me in those Spanish tight pants the matadors wear (pause now, while the world breathes a collective sigh of relief). Nevertheless, there have been a few different metaphorical project bulls to face:

  1. Product Owners

  2. Architects

  3. Other Project Managers/scrum masters

Each is deadly in its own way. We all like to think of Product Owners as an integral part of the team. In the consulting world, this is often not the case. The product owner can be someone who is hostile to the team and looks upon them as a fall guy to be beaten whenever expectations aren’t met. It’s dysfunctional as hell, but it happens. In that situation, the role of the Scrum Master can very quickly look like that of a matador – It’s your job to distract the product owner from the team. This way the team gets their work done unmolested.

A similar thing can happen with Architects who try to micromanage the teams development work. Again, your role as Scrum Master is to distract these sorts of people away from the team, “Hey, can you show me your brilliant UML diagram again?”

It can even happen when dealing with other project managers. Scrum Masters can get very good at defending their teams, sometimes even too good. After all, we give them that mandate. Most of the time it works out well, but there have been times when I’ve set off the defensive reflex in a scrum master and found myself saying, “Dear me, where did those sharp, pointy horns come from?”

Like the matadors, sometimes we manage these situations well, and other times not. Eventually we all get lots of practice. It’s a thing of beauty to watch an experienced project manager handle a crowd of rabid stakeholders and walk away unscathed. But you need to be wary – watch out for the horns!

#bullfighting #matador #projects

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