The scrum guide is a powerful document that is too often overlooked, forgotten, or ignored. Even some scrum masters have told me they don’t read it. That’s a huge missed opportunity. If you’re a scrum master or leader in an organization using scrum I’d expect you to be very familiar with the scrum guide. In it you’ll find powerful principles, along with some practices, and of course the components and rules of scrum.
In my view the scrum guide captures collective experience and wisdom in a concise manner. Those who apply its concepts will find them useful. Seek to understand why it promotes the included concepts. What was the context and background? Why is it worth including?
It’s important to understand a few things about scrum before we dig in too deep.
Scrum is a framework to help teams deliver value. It is not a process. Applying scrum will make many problems visible. However scrum won’t solve these issues, it will be up to you to solve them.
Scrum is based on empiricism, which is all about learning from experience and adapting as we go.
Scrum is not comprehensive nor prescriptive – there are always blanks to be filled in for each team and organization.
My basic approach with the scrum guide is to use it to clarify why something might be worth pursuing or not and what will support or hinder its application. Here are a few examples.
Why use sprints?
“Sprints are the heartbeat of Scrum, where ideas are turned into value.” – Scrum Guide 2020
Sprints are about focused effort to create value. Sprints work best when each sprint has a fixed purpose and the plan is adapted as needed in order to meet the goal or purpose. They are intended to protect the team from constantly changing priorities so that something of value can be created.It is not agile nor productive to have a team spinning themselves dizzy with direction changes. Leaders need to support teams in accomplishing the sprint goal during this time, not interrupt and distract them. If you have input on what to work on next, save that to share with the team at the sprint review.
Sprints form a natural rhythm for a team. Is the organization aligned? Or are teams with 2 week sprints asked to also provide a weekly report or attend other status meetings at other intervals?
Too many organizations sabotage the value of sprints by not understanding what makes them valuable. Instead, help each team learn what’s most important to focus on each sprint, then help them to stay focused during each sprint.
Do: Enable teams to focus each sprint, help get information ready that will guide the next sprint planning.
Don’t: Dismiss sprints as a concept for the teams to implement and everyone else to ignore. Constantly interrupt or distract teams.
Purpose of a scrum master
“The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.” – Scrum Guide 2020
The scrum master might be the most misunderstood accountability of all time. Yet the scrum guide makes it clear, it’s all about the effectiveness of the team.
A scrum master is focused on the team itself. The energy, collaboration, health, and so on. Being a good scrum master means learning how to influence teams, without authority, to help them improve as needed. Often scrum masters will teach, mentor, facilitate, and coach teams on how to co-create a better culture, environment, and use practices to continue improving.
A scrum master is not a fancy name for a project manager. They do not assign tasks, track risks, publish status reports, make decisions for the team or anything like that. If you’ve hired a scrum master and expect them to act as a project manager there has been a major misunderstanding. If you’re hiring scrum masters you need to be educated so you can set them up for success. Tip, invite them to help you better understand scrum, agility, and teamwork.
“Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization.” – Scrum Guide 2020
Scrum masters work with teams while agile coaches work with organizations right? Actually the scrum guide makes it clear that a scrum master has accountability to help the organization as well. Again,through influence without authority. If you’re a leader in an organization I recommend meeting regularly with scrum masters to better understand what you can do to better support the agile teams. Find a way to support and encourage scrum masters in effecting positive change and increasing their circle of influence.
Scrum masters serve the product owner, the team, and the organization. Doing this effectively takes elite skill and commitment. The scrum guide offers clear guidance on specific things they do in each of these areas. https://scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#scrum-master
Do: Take the time to understand the role of scrum master, why the scrum guide calls them a true leader, and listen to the scrum masters in your organization.
Don’t: Assume the scrum master is another term for project manager. Fall into the trap of thinking a scrum master is a simple role or not important to overall success.
How a scrum team operates
“The entire Scrum Team is accountable for creating a valuable, useful Increment every Sprint.”
Have you ever encountered a team where the common practice is for each member to only concern themselves with the things that are in their job description? Scrum is about the opposite of that. The entire team needs to be on a mission that they all believe will be best achieved by working together.
The idea is to have a team that is fully invested in the success of the team and organization. A team that understands that with autonomy comes accountability. When every team member understands they must take ownership for success there’s a different level of commitment, energy, and collaboration.
“Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint.”
“The Scrum Team is responsible for all product-related activities from stakeholder collaboration, verification, maintenance, operation, experimentation, research and development, and anything else that might be required. They are structured and empowered by the organization to manage their own work.”
Modern organizations need to move quickly. Hierarchies and bureaucracy are not known for their speed. The approach scrum takes to moving quickly is empowered, cross-functional teams. Teams that can make a lot of decisions on their own and have all the skills necessary to deliver value. Any team that needs to constantly wait for approvals from one or more chains of command will not be moving fast. Same for a team that’s constantly waiting for other groups for necessary support.
Organizations that find ways to truly empower and support their scrum teams will find much greater success.
Do: View the team as the core unit of delivering value. Empower and support teams, help them with meaningful metrics, data, customer perspectives, and opportunities to learn and grow.
Don’t: Underestimate the enormity of this change as it requires a paradigm shift to allow leadership to let go of control and hand it to the teams.
“Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living five values:
Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage
… When these values are embodied by the Scrum Team and the people they work with, the empirical Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life building trust.”
Behavior matters. It matters greatly. Living the scrum values and helping others to live and promote them is a powerful way to support behavioral change. A team whose members live the values will find trust and energy in abundance. It will be an amazing experience.
Note, the values are not just for the team members, but for “the people they work with” as well. If you’re in a leadership role of any kind please strive to understand and live these values. As you do, the teams you work with will have greater trust in you. Increased trust will lead to increases in other important areas.
If I’m ever unsure what to do or what went wrong, an evaluation of these values has always guided me to something important to improve.
Do: Take a deep dive into the five scrum values and why a focus on people always helps technology teams to improve. Start by inspecting how your behavior could benefit from a better application of each value.
Don’t: Underestimate the scrum values as inconsequential, changing human behavior is critical to improving overall.
The scrum guide has been thoughtfully crafted and frequently updated to help teams and organizations elevate their vision and be more successful. While aimed primarily at individual teams it also speaks volumes to the type of environment organizations can create to help their teams to thrive.
Scrum promotes a philosophy of ennobling the people performing the work. Scrum teaches that the power is in the people. Scrum is about unlocking untapped potential, elevating to a better way to work together. That’s why I look to the scrum guide frequently for help with purpose and motivation. It’s worth a careful study and frequent review.
As much as anything, leadership is about eliminating the unnecessary and focusing on the essential. Pondering the wisdom found in the scrum guide can be very helpful in this pursuit.