There is no doubt about the popularity of Scrum as an Agile software development framework. More and more companies, from entrepreneurs to large organizations, are attracted to Scrum for different reasons — including these that I have heard over the last few years:
- The need to get things done but skipping the formalities that traditional software development used to force you to commit
- Being given the magic wand that will fix all their problems
- Increasing the team’s productivity exponentially in a couple of iterations
- Everybody is using it!
More than ceremonies
Companies seem to expect that by following the ceremonies and having an assigned ScrumMaster, product owner, and team members (as per recommendations), then magic will happen. Sadly, the reality is that after trying for only a few iterations, these same leaders witness most groups struggling to work as a team, and not producing what was expected of them. The big question is why did they fail if they had covered all the required elements?
What they have forgotten is that apart from roles and ceremonies, peopled are involved — human beings with emotions and different points of view. They are asked to believe in Scrum, to adopt an Agile mindset, and finally to trust not only themselves but also every single member of the team in just a few days. This request can be translated to Bruce Tuckman’s terms for team formation by asking the team to go through the stages of group formation extremely fast; that is, going through the stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing in a short period of time while trying to adapt to a new mindset and a new project. The result is high levels of stress and no signs whatsoever of the much-desired increase in productivity.
Recipe for successful team creation
Scrum as a framework proposes the use of some elements to make our Agile implementation successful, but it is up to us to read between the lines and identify the gaps. Yes, we can go fairly fast from the Forming to Performing stage by using Scrum; however, we must combine the right ingredients:
- Get the right people to drive this change. Be extra careful when selecting ScrumMasters, coaches, and product owners. These are the people who will be selling the idea to the team members. If they are not well prepared, convinced, or cannot sell the idea that Scrum is going to work for the company in general or the team members specifically, then only a miracle will make your initiative succeed.
- Apply the same level of care in selecting team members as you did with the main change champions. Evaluate the character of each team member. Understand that some people can work together even when they are very different, but there will be scenarios in which certain combinations will not work.
- Set clear expectations. Getting the team to create software in a productive way by applying Scrum principles and practices takes time. Understand that to see results, your team must be comfortable and trust each other before becoming really productive.
- Lead by example. If you ask your employees to believe in the change and to commit to it, then you should be the first to show the right attitude by supporting its team members as individuals throughout this journey. This will involve a lot of talking, coaching, mentoring, and teaching.
Now that you have everybody on board, what’s next for the ScrumMaster?
Team members will be a little bit confused. Looking at a team member as an individual, we will see, in most cases, a team member who does not fully trust the other members. This is perfectly normal, considering that this is the first time the team is working together. Do not forget to consider that the team member has not discovered the full potential of his or her peers! The ScrumMaster can observe as well as engage the team in activities that educate the team in the use of the new framework while exercising collaboration, creativity, and bonding. We need to break the ice!
With the ice broken, some team members will feel free to speak their minds or show their true colors. A chaotic environment will surround them, but instead of looking at this phase as unpleasant, the ScrumMaster can take advantage of it to promote healthy discussions that help good ideas emerge. As the ScrumMaster, we need to do something more than just observe. This is the time when the ScrumMaster needs to become Sherlock Holmes, exploring and not only looking at the big picture but also at each element in the picture. At this point, the ScrumMaster should identify the intrinsic motivators of each team member.
Intrinsic motivators (studied since early 1970s) are those motivators that actually move us internally, making us feel rewarded. It is proven that when an individual feels personal reward, he or she will feel more stimulated and committed to perform better. Intrinsic motivators can be difficult to identify, which is the reason that this task will require a lot of commitment and attention to detail.
Team members tolerate the idiosyncracies of others. Their effort to move forward is apparent. Now that things seem to be calmer, the ScrumMaster can start proving his or her findings about intrinsic motivators. At this point, the ScrumMaster must have a plan for each team member and for the whole team. The plan should contain strategies that will act as catalysts to improve performance at every level (individual and team).
The team is motivated and knowledgeable. Members fully understand each other’s abilities. When asked if they can achieve something, they can answer the question with certainty. Furthermore, estimates can be provided with a low error rate, facilitating a project’s forecasting. Leaders now can perceive the benefits of having a mature Agile team.
An Agile mindset tells us that there is some room for improvement, so our job as ScrumMasters does not stop here. Keep observing and exploring, allowing the team to help you to grow as well. It is amazing how much you can learn every day doing this job.
At the end of the day, nobody wants to join a boring person in a long journey, right? So, most important, show the world that you love what you do!