1. Create Focus during the Sprint Planning
Usually, when I start working with a new team I ask them to put all the activities they are currently doing onto post-its. As soon as all post-its are on the wall, the conclusion is that they are working on a lot of things. People tend to promise to accomplish multiple things at the same time and then start working on five things simultaneously. This results in getting these five things half way done instead of finishing at least one of them. In other words, there is no focus.
Scrum uses a time-boxed period, called a Sprint, for example, a period of 2 weeks. At the start of the Sprint, during the Sprint planning, the team needs to decide what their Sprint goal is and how they are going to accomplish it within the timeframe. Yes, all things on the Product backlog are important, but as a Scrum team we must choose the items which will satisfy our Sprint goal at the end of the sprint. The Sprint backlog will make it transparent what we are working on and show us that we are focusing on our current Sprint goal. At the end of the Sprint we have a “Done” increment, which meets the Scrum team’s Definition of Done. This means there are no more loose ends to tie up and we can move our focus to a new goal to work on in the next Sprint.
2. Courage to work on tough problems during the Sprint
During the Sprint we work on the items from the Sprint backlog. This is usually where the hard part starts. We don’t have all the answers to how to tackle unforeseen problems and there are no written out plans to follow, so we need to figure it out as we go along. A big dose of courage is expected from all team members. The courage to take risks needed to solve tough problems, but also courage to ask questions or to admit you are in need of help from others. A Scrum team is self organizing, which means there is no manager from the outside telling them what and how to do it. The team itself needs to figure this out and organize as they see best. Yes, this may result in making decisions that end up wrong in the end. But this process helps them learn to do it better.
3. Make Commitment transparent during the Daily Scrum
Are you in or are you out? When working with other team members it is always good to know if they are equally dedicated to the task at hand. Ideally a Scrum team consists of team members who are all fully available to accomplish the work together. The key thing is that you have volunteered your time and attention to this task. You need to have a sense of ‘we are all in this together’. If you are only there to give comments and suggestions, but won’t be there to do the work, you will not be perceived as a committed team member. This usually manifests itself during the Daily Scrum, where we discuss with each other if we are still on track to achieve the Sprint Goal. Commitment becomes transparent by personally asking each other what their contribution to the Sprint Goal will be today.
4. Openness about challenges and uncertainties at the Sprint Review
At the end of the Sprint there is the Sprint Review. This is where team members share the increments which have been completed during the Sprint and stakeholders and/or end users are able to give their feedback. The visibility of the product and progress of the work being done ensures that risks can be tackled early. Openness about challenges and uncertainties that team members encountered during the Sprint increases trust amongst everyone involved. What you see is what you get, there are no hidden agendas and no need to hide things. It’s not always possible, but I encourage teams to ask for feedback from stakeholders as soon as the work is done. The feedback loop happens throughout the Sprint and at the Sprint Review there are no surprises.
5. Effectiveness of the Sprint Retrospective is based on Respect
Finally, at the end of the Sprint we have the Sprint Retrospective. This is the event where the team inspects itself and finds solutions to improve the way of working. At the start of the event, I like starting out by stating the Retrospective Prime Directive by Norm Kerth:
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
Basically, what it says is that as team members, we respect each other. There is no one to blame and everyone deserves to be heard, regardless of background or expertise.
A team can only flourish when individual members flourish. Individuals need to feel respected for who they are, so they are able to increase their effectiveness within the team.
The Scrum values
Have you noticed the 5 benefits as described above not only fit nicely in the five Scrum events, but also in the five Scrum values? In an attempt to make these Scrum values more tangible within the Scrum events, I’ve attached each Scrum value to an event. Here is how:
- Sprint Planning → Focus: Everyone focuses on the work of the Sprint and the goals of the Scrum Team
- Sprint → Courage: Scrum Team members have courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems
- Daily Scrum → Commitment: People personally commit to achieving the goals of the Scrum Team
- Sprint Review → Openness: The Scrum Team and its stakeholders agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work
- Sprint Retrospective → Respect: Scrum Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people
Although they have been added to the Scrum guide in 2016, people still tend to skip over these Scrum values. That’s a shame, because understanding what these values mean in practice makes it easier to embed the rest of the Scrum framework. Making things work within your team is not only about understanding the definition of Scrum. In fact, it should start by understanding what these Scrum values mean to you and how you can apply them to becoming an effective team member and team.