Monthly Archives: January 2015

Letting go of the reins in Scrum, even when it’s hard.

Rugby Scrum

Wanting control is intrinsically human, even more so when there’s a lot of money on the line. For companies just embracing Agile and Scrum in particular, stripping away levels of managerial control is an important hurdle. It might be an issue of corporate culture, or just having a boss with a strong personality.

While Scrum is not completely at odds with oversight, one of its main tenets is self-organising teams. It’s a much repeated maxim: A good Scrum team doesn’t need a Project Manager.

You might be asking yourself why self-organising teams are so important, here is just one reason: it makes everybody responsible. Empowering employees is something management coaches have been preaching for some time now, but what does that mean for Scrum? Empowering the team means that it can make its own decisions, but at the same time that it assumes responsibility for those decisions.

Scrum teams can tell their Scrum master that they need a new piece of software, or that having someone from the testing/integration/etc. department on the team will streamline the process. The Scrum master then tries to make that happen, but it’s the team not the Scrum master who decides what it needs. Most teams seem to be ok with this concept until they reach a difficult position. An example we often hear is teams coming to the Scrum master and asking him or her to deal with a colleague that is delaying the team, it might be that he’s lazy or just that his work is poor quality.

This is a make or break point for a Scrum master, of course you want to help solve the problem and make sure the team works at its full potential, but if you interfere as a Scrum master, you’re sending a signal that even though you’re not officially in charge, you really are. The hard reality is that in a Scrum team if something internal isn’t working it’s the team’s responsibility to fix that problem. The Scrum master removes impediments for the team, he doesn’t remove impediments in the team.

Old habits are hard to break, and if your employees see that you intervene and chastise a team member, it just resets the team to the default “you’re the boss, we’ll just do what you say” mentality. Weeks of increasing your team’s self-reliance can be undone with one “stop slacking off” speech from a Scrum master. OK I might be exaggerating, one chastisement might not bring you back to the starting line, but it will definitely set you back.

And why would you want to step back and let the team lead itself if it’s so hard for everybody involved. Well for one, if the team sees that you’re not just saying that they’re in charge but that you actually enforce that in one of those make or break moments, it means that the buck really stops with them, there’s no team leader who’s going to be ultimately responsible to the Product Owner. They’re all responsible, and that sense of ownership of a product is what inspires people to give it their all.

There’s a reason it’s called Scrum, it’s hard, and everybody has to pull together, it doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s amazing.

Learn how to let go in scrum with Certified ScrumMaster courses from Learning Connexions.

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The 90 days

You’ve been doing agile development for a while and want to formalize your knowledge. You just changed jobs and your current company is very agile and expects you to be on the same page. Your organization might just be embracing agile and you’re a bit lost.

What do you do? For most people the answer is: attend a training course (hopefully willingly!). Simple enough! You’ve just had two days of training, now what? You’re in those 90 days of limbo where you’ve attended the course but haven’t passed your exam. Scrum Alliance is rather generous by offering three months to pass the exam, but their generosity makes it easy to procrastinate, which makes it easier to forget some of the theoretical aspects of agile and Scrum that your organization might not use.

CSM Countdown

86 days to go

You usually get two kinds of people in these situations, the ones that want to take the exam right away, get certified and be done with it and the cautious ones who might have test anxiety and want to wait.

I’ve been involved with agile and Scrum for a while now, but only recently considered and completed a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course, so I know how you feel. Regardless of which category you fall in, I have three pieces of advice for you, drawn from my experience with the process:

  • Read up. Even though two days might not seem like a lot, you’re going to cover a lot of material and despite you (hopefully) feeling like you really understand this Scrum thing now, take some time to revise before the exam. Scrum Alliance does have some technical and “principles” questions in the test, which you have to prepare for.
  • Supplement your knowledge. Even though your trainer will try to cover everything in the exam, some items might get pushed off the agenda, so if you’re not very familiar with Scrum it would be a good idea to read some Scrum blogs (the official Scrum Alliance one is a good place to start). The exam is open book and not timed so you can research while taking it, but it’s a good idea to shore up your knowledge before you start.
  • Trust your instincts. It might sound weird to say this about a technical exam, but you can overthink questions about roles and tasks. After two days you should have a good enough instinctual grasp of what responsibilities each member of a Scrum team has.

One last piece of advice: Don’t worry (too much). Scrum Alliance offers each candidate two chances to pass the exam. So if you fail it’s not end of the world.

by Vlad Mihailescu

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