Sunday, October 23, 2016

New Scrum Master: Problems to solve in your first days

In the previous two posts. First day as Scrum Master and Second day as Scrum Master, I talked about you as a new Scrum Master to a team and some steps you can take to ease yourself into the team's world. The first post talked about a group meeting with all team members including Product Owner. That meeting set up some introductions and gave you some clues as to how the team interacts and possibly some team dynamics. You followed that up with some one-on-one talks with each member of the team. In this post I'll talk about interpreting the results of your one-on-one discussions with the team members.
Once you've finished your talks with the team it's time to pull all the information together and begin planning your actions. The problems mentioned by the Product Owner, developers, testers, BA's, UXD, and others on the team will likely fall into several categories. What's listed below can be used as a guide but doesn't take the place of your own analysis based on your unique set of circumstances.

Team's ability to self-organize and be cross-functional

One Team, One Goal.
This will be by far the most common area of weakness based on the many discussions I've had.  The clue to this will be problems brought up by the team that they can clearly solve themselves but they'll need your help. Some comments might include:
  • "Requirements are poorly written",
  • "Working on things before we know what to do e.g. UX Designs incomplete",
  • "Too many hand-offs", and
  • "Definition of Ready and Definition of Done missing".
I'll look into the first comment, "Requirements are poorly written" in some detail. When the Scrum Development Team say this, I'm thinking there's both a communication issue and possibly some role based barriers in place. The comment given by the Development Team makes me think they're not feeling completely responsible for making sure the user stories are backed with heaps of conversation. Both communication and not feeling it's their job can be resolved through well facilitated grooming sessions. The team can become better at self-organizing by tackling head-on the issue of shared understanding of the customer problem documented in user stories. The team can also build their cross-functional capabilities through greater contributions to the user story including the acceptance criteria. For a developer whose experience may be waterfall and where the sole contribution of the developer was code, helping to write the requirements can be a new and possibly frightening turn of events. You as Scrum Master are there to help facilitate this transformation.

Business or company culture as impediments

We do it that way because that's the way we do it.
Problems or issues cited by the team that fall into this category might include:
  • "Too many sign-offs and approvals (Designs)",
  • "Little interaction between test and other departments",
  • "Business emergencies and no way to stop them", and
  • "Fixed end date regardless of start date"
It's clear the company culture is not controlled by the development team but they can have an influence. The comments above could make you think the company is a top down Command & Control shop and you'd be right. One thing I've seen in this kind of environment is nothing is written down, it's all done based on memories of past practices. One way to begin affecting this culture is to document how current work is done paying specific attention to the time it all takes. The Scrum Master and team can do this documenting of existing process and then present an alternative process with the now documented benefits and savings. As Scrum Master, you should also seek out and secure executive support or at least, a powerful mid-level manager who can support change. Without support, you're chances of success are severely limited as I've recently learned first hand.

Technical challenges or knowledge gaps that are impediments

Thomas Edison - Incandescent light bulb
This is something I usually note as a result of listening to the development team but it's rare that the team will directly say something with the exception of how testing is done. What I commonly see is a team hampered due to:
  • Specialist on team that can't assist in other technical areas
  • Test treated as a separate group or sub-team
  • Testing always done at the end of sprint
These fall under a team being cross-functional but to get there will require specific training and strong guidance from the Scrum Master.  I once had a team with one tester doing all the testing. I suggested that the developers help out with the testing to speed it up and relieve the pressure on the sole tester. Luckily there wasn't a rope handy as I'm sure the developers would have hung me then and there for speaking such blasphemy. One developer suggested to the managers that they needed to hire more testers. The managers, GM of Product and GM of R&D both told the developers that hiring wasn't an option and that they would need to better support test. Once the management support was established, I was able to help get the developers to run acceptance and system tests. Baby steps. It was the opening needed to begin the longer term goal of spreading a little knowledge throughout the development team. When I left that company, the Scrum Teams did all the UX, testing, and infrastructure work themselves whereas in the beginning, each of these areas had specialist teams doing this work.

How this helps

After my first days and weeks with the team, I continued doing one-on-one talks with all the developers and Product Owners, noting what changes they felt had occurred in the previous month or two, how exactly these changes affected them, what further changes they wanted to see, and what makes them happy to come to work. I often find myself listening to the team chatter but asking the team to tell me their struggles and their delights helps me focus better on serving them. That's my role as Scrum Master, to serve the team.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.


  1. Cross-functional teams can provide options to “hard wired” approaches to problem solving and promote buy in across the organization.
    Statutory Government Approval Consultant | Industrial Employees Relations Consultant

  2. It's Very Informative Blog... Thanks for Posting...


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