Scrum impacts the entire organization. To unlock your Scrum team’s superpowers, improvements are necessary within and especially around teams. The Scrum.org PSM II class contains multiple exercises that make visible where improvement is needed in order to use Scrum more effectively. In particular the exercise “Management in Scrum”.
In this blog post, I describe how Scrum teams can use it with managers, leaders, and coaches in their organization to effectively remove impediments. I’ll focus on the steps aimed to help Scrum teams clearly express their needs and for management, and how management can clearly respond to those requests.
Why don’t you give this workshop a try with your team and the managers that are needed to resolve persistent impediments?
How to prepare?
A (digital) copy of the card deck “Management in Scrum”. This deck of cards is made available to all participants of the Professional Scrum Master II class. You can also get a full-color card-based version from our webshop.
A set of “What I Need From You” cards which includes a 100-sheet block of tearable help request cards.
A bunch of impediment cards. They’re part of our product kit “Unleash Scrum in your organization”.
In total, the workshop takes about 90 minutes — 2 hours.
Ideally, this workshop is joined by Scrum teams, its supporters (managers, leaders, coaches), and maybe even some essential stakeholders. Everyone that’s impacted by persistent impediments, and able to resolve them, is an appreciated participant in the workshop.
Part 1 — Make the state of Scrum visible
In this first part of the workshop, you explore how management is an integral part of Scrum. It’s not about the manager as a role, but management as an activity. You’ll discover how professional Scrum is often managed differently from how Scrum is managed in your organization, and how this impacts empiricism.
Step 1 — Clarify how Scrum is managed “professionally”
(2 min) Form small groups and select a few cards. Make sure that people understand the various roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Developer, Project Manager, and Line Manager) and what we mean by ‘managing’ in the context of this exercise;
(5 min) In small groups, connect the cards & roles/accountabilities based on a Professional Scrum environment — the way Scrum is intended according to the Scrum Guide (5 min);
(10 min) When everyone has distributed the cards, pick the ones that stand out and have a quick conversation. At the end of this step, each card should be correctly connected to the various roles.
Step 2 — Determine how Scrum is managed in your organization
(2 min) Individually, think of 3 items that are managed differently in your organization and mark them with e.g. red dots;
(10 min) Run three rounds of Impromptu Networking — each round in a different pair — and encourage them to discuss which activities are managed differently in their organization. Invite them to also explore how the differences impact the Scrum framework.
Step 3 — Debrief the impact on the Scrum framework
In this third step, you debrief the impact of the differences on the Scrum framework. Some of the key takeaways you can share are:
There is a lot of management going on in Scrum, but it is distributed across three roles. The Scrum team has all the accountabilities it needs to make any decision regarding the product they are developing;
Working with Scrum does not necessarily mean that (project) managers are no longer needed. But their responsibilities and actions shift towards empowering Scrum teams and maximizing business agility. Managers can show leadership by creating an environment where self-managing Scrum teams are possible;
Some organizations feel that Scrum is ‘too ideal’ for their situation. Your role as a Scrum practitioner is to make transparent where things are managed differently and what effects this has on the empirical process, and the pillars of Scrum: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
Step 4 — Introduce the concept of “impediments”
In a sense, the picture emerging from the exercise becomes your roadmap or transition plan. Each dot the participants marked, is an impediment to the empirical process of Scrum. It’s blocking them to use Scrum effectively. To make this painfully visible, you can literally connect the impediment cards to the activities that are managed differently.
Part 2 — Express essential needs
Scrum teams often need help from others to improve how they work and to remove impediments. But it’s hard for managers, leaders, and coaches to offer help if Scrum teams don’t clearly express their needs. It’s easy to get stuck in vague requests like “We need to communicate openly”, or “We need more management support”. No wonder the response to these needs is often equally vague, like “I will do my best”, or “We’ll see”. Unclear requests for help are often met with equally unclear commitments.
In this second part of the exercise, we’ll use the Liberating Structure “What I Need From You” (WINFY) to encourage Scrum teams and management to work together to start removing impediments by making clear help requests. WINFY allows groups to sidestep the corporate jargon that often muddies help requests, and nudges participants to set clear expectations.
Step 1— Select the most persistent impediments
In this first step, you allow the Scrum teams and management to get their thinking started about potential help requests they have for each other. Encourage them to use the previous Management in Scrum exercise to gain inspiration. Each dot is basically a potential help request.
(2 min) Introduce WINFY and explain the different roles (Scrum teams & management). If it’s a large group, then separate the various Scrum teams, and management into smaller groups.
(10 min) Ask the Scrum teams to think about the following: “What do you need from management in your organization to use Scrum more effectively? Where do you need help to strengthen success factors or remove impediments?”
Simultaneously, ask management the opposite question: “What do you need from Scrum teams in your organization to use Scrum more effectively? Where can they help to remove impediments?”
Step 2— Express essential needs from each other
The intention of the previous step was to help the group get their thinking started about the impediments they’re facing, and the support they need in order to remove them. In this step, you’ll actually express these essential needs.
(2 min) Ask the Scrum teams and management to first individually write down one or more clear functional requests they have. You can give some examples, like:
“As a Scrum team, we need management to stop changing our composition without our approval”
“As management, we need the Scrum teams to tell us openly what is impeding their work”
(10 min) Invite everyone to share their best ideas within their small group. Each group works together to capture their most important 3 to 5 functional requests on the help request cards. If you do this virtually, move each functional group into a breakout.
(1 min) Ask each group to designate one representative and gather them in the middle of the room. If you’re doing this virtually, everyone else turns off their microphone.
(10 min) One by one, each representative addresses the representative from another functional group they have a request for, and announce it. For example:
“From management, we need the learning budget to be doubled for this quarter”
“From Scrum team A, we need one person who is willing to share these findings with higher management”
When a need is announced to a group, its representative takes note but doesn’t answer. Block any discussion, even when the request is unclear.
(5 min) When all requests have been made, the representatives return to their groups and decide on their answers to each request. Three responses are possible: “Yes”, “No”, “Whatever (Your request is too unclear)”.
(10 min) The representatives gather in the circle again. One by one, they repeat the requests that were made to their group and share the answer of their group. Again, there is no discussion and no elaboration. If the answer was “No”, the group asking for it can trust that their request won’t happen. If it was “Yes”, then the group asking it can be certain that it will happen. If the response was “Whatever”, the request was too unclear.
Step 3 — Decide how to start improving with 15% Solutions
Finally, use the Liberating Structure “15% Solutions to encourage all the participants to identify the first small next step that will help them live up to the promised commitments. If there’s still time left, ask everyone to share their ideas and make them small, more concrete, and specific.
Depending on the situation you can do additional rounds of making requests and giving answers. The goal is to make (painfully) clear how crucial it is to be specific when asking for help, as unclear requests and unclear commitments are a sign of ineffective Scrum. Do another round when you are certain that not being able to ask new requests causes more harm than the learning of not being able to ask again.
Some tension during this experiment is natural as groups express clear requests and (finally) get clear answers. Recognize and accept it when it happens. Encourage participants to continue communicating their needs outside of this gathering using the same format. If a request was not understood or denied, try asking differently.
If you see members of a group complaining about and blaming other people, ask them what it is they need specifically and whether they have communicated this need adequately.
Part 3 — Do it again!
When a Scrum team says “Yes” to a help request from management, this means it’s a commitment from the team to do everything they can to make it happen. The same goes for the commitments management made toward to team. It’s our strong recommendation to bring the group together a couple of weeks later. During this session, you can reflect on the progress everyone made with the given commitments. Maybe a Scrum team or manager needs more support or clarification to fully live up to their commitment. Or new help requests have emerged.
Making clear help requests and following up on them should become a habit for Scrum teams and management. Most likely, new impediments will continuously emerge, but at least they’ve found a way to express the desired support and set clear expectations on what needs to happen to remove them.
Give it a try, and let us know the results. Let’s learn and grow, together!
Interested in learning more about Scrum and this Management in Scrum exercise? Join our public Professional Scrum Master II course. Send us a message to explore in-company possibilities.