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Howzat! A change in mindset – can the 7 principles of ‘Bazball’ be applied to Scrum?

Posted By - Robin Hackshall

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Agile Mindset in Cricket

In 2022 the English cricketing summer began in what could be considered disarray. There had only been one test match win in 17, they had a new captain, a new head coach and a new managing director. What happened next was completely unexpected. Over the course of five weeks in June and July the England test match team appeared to completely turn themselves around following four back-to-back wins against New Zealand and India (the two highest ranks teams in the world). And what is considered to be at the heart of this rich vein of form – a change to an agile mindset.

When Brendan McCullum was appointed as the England Men’s Test Head Coach, just 3-weeks before the first test against New Zealand, he made the following comments;

“In taking this role on, I am acutely aware of the significant challenges the team faces at present, and I strongly believe in my ability to help the team emerge as a stronger force once we’ve confronted them head-on. I’m no stranger to bringing about change within a team environment, and I can’t wait to get started.”

The primary reason that a change to a more agile mindset occurred can be said to account for this dramatic upturn in form is the fact that there had been very few changes to the playing squad over the period where the team could seemingly not ‘buy a win’.

What is ‘Bazball’?

During his playing career, Brendan McCullum (Baz) was known for his bold approach to the game of cricket. In his final test match for New Zealand he scored the fastest test match century off just 54 deliveries. Brendan has brought this approach and agile mindset with him, sharing his vision with the England team that has changed the way in which they play the game.

A year earlier England had decided not to chase 273 in 75 overs against New Zealand.

So what is this new philosophy of ‘Bazball’? ‘Bazball’ is a term created by the English media that encapsulates the change in mindset and attacking style of play that England have adopted following the appointment of Brendan McCullum as head coach and Ben Stokes as captain. ‘Bazball’ has been identified as having :

  1. A less reflective environment
  2. No negative chat
  3. A win-at-all-costs mentality
  4. No fear of failure
  5. Praise – even for the little things
  6. Simplicity of message
  7. Embracing mental freedom and fun

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Can the principles of ‘Bazball’ be applied to Scrum?

When first looking at the principles of ‘Bazball’ it may be difficult to draw parallels with Scrum, or agile ways of working. But if you scratch the surface and go beyond the words to look at the underlying messaging, then it is possible to see how they support a change to a more agile mindset and approach that can also be applied to Scrum.

Take the first principle for example – a less reflective environment.

This statement is akin to the wording of the Agile Manifesto, where one item is valued over another and not that the item on the right has no value. In the context of English cricket (and many other sports and activities) there has been a tendency to dwell on the past, and in particular poor performances.

This principle encourages the team to be more forward looking and rather than thinking about what they should have done, think about what we can do better next time. This is the same approach that Scrum Teams should take in Sprint retrospective – what they we do to improve the situation, and once things have improved, what is the next thing that can be done to make the next improvement.

The second principle of ‘Bazball’ – no negative chat – can be seen to follow-on (no cricketing pun intended) from the first.

Where something has not gone to plan, we may continue to look back and analyse (possibly over analysing) the situation. This can lead to a lot of negative conversations and ‘negativity breeds negativity’. Creating a positive environment is likely to have a positive effect, particularly within a Scrum Team where we are looking to continually deliver value to the customer.

“The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible”

Winston Churchill

The positivity continues in the third and fourth principles of ‘Bazball’ – a win-at-all-costs mentality and no fear of failure.

Caution must be exercised when considering a win-at-all costs mentality within a Scrum Team as it is important to consider the impact that you may have on other individuals, teams and the organisation. Ensuring that your Product backlog item is delivered could impact the delivery of other items, resulting in additional work in the future. The good news is that events, such as the Daily Scrum, exists to promote continued collaboration and engagement within the team. This regular discussion point helps to identify where there may be dependencies and/or degradation of a system by continuing down a particular path.

Even with these regular ‘check-ins’ we will not always make the correct decision and things will go wrong – that it ok. In fact, its extremely positive. When things don’t go to plan (not wrong, as wrong is negative) it provides a learning opportunity, whether you are a cricket team or a Scrum Team.

We were in situation ‘A’, we tried option ‘B’ and we did not get the outcome that we expected. Let’s reconsider options ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’. Based on what we have learned, are any of these options now more likely to succeed, or, have any new options come to light?

Every member of a team, be it a cricket team or a Scrum team, will always be trying their best – no-one goes to work wanting to do a bad job. However, the best that a team member can give on any given day will be different, due to an unlimited number of factors, for example:

  • not sleeping well
  • being late for work
  • missing breakfast/lunch
  • context switching
  • major incidents

The fifth principle of ‘Bazball’ is to provide praise, even for the little things

When we see that a colleague is ‘having a bad day’, praise, even for the little things (the fifth ‘Bazball’ principle), can go a long way changing both their mood and the value that they can provide. But you don’t need to wait for a colleague to be having a bad day before giving them praise.

Praise provides intrinsic motivation, and motivating your team (regardless of the size of your team) is key to successful leadership. Providing compliments that are specific and regular in their frequency will have a greater impact than those that are more generic (‘good job’) and infrequent. A regular and specific piece of praise helps to show that you care about the individual and the work they are undertaking.

This can be taken a step further by mentioning the impact the work has had or the team, on the organisation and/or for the customer. Depending upon the situation, providing praise in public can also have an impact of the rest of the team (or other teams) in that great work is appreciated and noticed throughout the organisation. This can be powerful and motivating for someone behind the scenes.

Throughout the summer there have been players in the England test match team who have been criticised by the media due to their lack of runs, with their place in the team being questioned. However, the consistent message that has come from the Ben Stokes and Brendan McCullum is that the team are playing in the way that they play and that they are a valuable member of the team that will help them to win test matches.

The penultimate principle of ‘Bazball’ – simplicity of message – is probably one of the easiest principles to connect with Scrum as it embodies communication.

There are numerous communications touch points and methods that are used by Scrum Teams. The starting points are the Scrum Events and Scrum Artefacts, which result in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Then as the team get to work they are likely to utilise communication and backlog management tools that allow virtual communication. However, with all of these different methods and repositories available, it is possible for the message to get lost. Therefore, it is important that Scrum Teams have an agreed location to record the ‘final’ decisions and priorities.

The final principle of ‘Bazball’ – embracing mental freedom and fun – is the one that may be most difficult to adopt.

Pressures exists both on the cricket pitch and in the workplace and as these pressures increase it can begin to restrict our ability to think clearly and discretely on the task at hand. In Scrum, it is the role of the Scrum Master to defend the Scrum Team and remove these pressures, allowing the team the mental freedom to focus on what needs to be done. In addition, ensuring that the team is having fun creates a positive environment, which results in a more productive environment.

Applying Scrum requires a change in mindset

It is hoped by England cricket fans that the change in mindset that has been seen during the early part of the English cricketing summer will lead to further success. In fact, it may even lead to a change in the way that teams approach and play test match cricket, much like the introduction of Twenty20 (T20) cricket has seen an evolution in the 50-over game.

The first T20 matches took place in 2003, and at that time the highest international 50-over score was 398/5 by Sri Lanka against Kenya. Due to the short format of the game, players needed to look to score at a faster rate, becoming more inventive with their shot selection in order to maneuverer the ball into the gaps in the field. This resulted in the invention of shots like the ‘ramp’ and ‘switch-hit’.

This faster flowing and free-scoring approach was embraced in the 50-over format, with England now holding the three highest international scores, with the most recent seeing the score 498/4 against the Netherlands. These shots and scoring rates were also seen in parts of the test match series against New Zealand, highlighting the change in mindset.

To be successful when applying Scrum you need to throw yourself in and immerse yourself in this new approach to delivery. A half-hearted ‘dip your toe in the water’ approach is doomed to fail as confusion arises over ways of working, authority and commitment to the cause. Individuals, teams and organisation need to embrace that new way of working, the roles, the events, the language – as the saying goes, – only then can a team really identify where improvements may lay for continual evolution, understand which experiments worked, which didn’t and more importantly why they did or didn’t.

Teams new to Scrum are likely to have an existing set of cultural practices in place based upon their previous ways of working. As you begin to adopt Scrum processes practices, you are very likely to encounter conflict between those existing norms and the new ‘Scrum Values’. It is important to promote a positive transition and to be aware of key differences between what has gone before and what you are trying to achieve. The embodiment of Scrum Values by individuals, teams and organisations will help the everyone adjust their mindsets accordingly, allowing teams to have a foundation for future growth. A change in mindset will support an environment where complex problems can be addressed and resolved.

One key thing to remember as you look to take on a change in mindset is that you may not always be successful, and that is OK. Despite playing some fearless cricket, there were periods where the frailties seen in the England cricket team remained. What changed was the fact that faith in those that had been selected to be able to apply the new approach – they were to be given time. In the past, continuing failures would have seen players dropped, possibly never to return. Now it is the approach to delivery that is being backed and that if the individuals in the team are working to that remit, they will be backed and supported. In an interview on Sky Sports after the third test against New Zealand Brendan McCullum said,

“I’ll do the media when we lose, but I think that it is important that these guys are recognised for the success that they have been able to achieve.”

It is this supportive culture that needs to be created when applying Scrum. Individuals and teams need to be encouraged to try new things in order to continually improve, rather than maintaining the status quo. To achieve this a change in mindset needs to be not only by individuals and the team, but by managers and senior leaders within organisations.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out another article I wrote on the similarities between Cricket and Scrum.

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