Coaching Scrum Teams

18 June 2008

Bent Myllerup
agile42

One of the cornerstones of Scrum is the self-organising team: one able to make decisions in relation to the target to which it has committed. In my work implementing Scrum, I have largely addressed how to form groups of individualists into cohesive teams, where the members support each other and make use of each other's strengths.
 
Three main factors come into play in the shaping of a high-performance team: team structure, team relations, and the team's processing capability. These are briefly presented in Figure 1.

 

Team Structure 
Team Relations 
 Processing Capability
  • The team's vision is clearly defined and negotiated with the team.
  • The team's goal is measurable, clearly prioritised, and can be translated into everyday focus and negotiated with the team.
  • The roles are discussed and clarified and the relevant knowledge is present in the team.
  • Scope in relation to time, quality and economy are clear and communicated to the team and stakeholders.
  • A clear division of competences exists, so that power struggles and self-positioning are avoided.
  • The team's discretion in relation to the rest of the organization is clearly defined.
  • The division of powers between the management bodies that are related to the team’s work is clear.

 

 

  • The team is in a position to make good decisions on its own.
  • The team has good common plans for the solution of the tasks.
  • The team has well performing procedures that enable them to work effectively in the various activities that are involved in forming the solution.
  • The team has developed the capacity for learning as an integral part of the work.
  • The team has developed agreements and rules of the game on inclusiveness.

 Figure 1. Highlights in forming an efficient team

The strategy I normally use when building high-performance Scrum teams is in line with a model developed by the American psychologist Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s (described in the article, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups”). Tuckman defines four stages that teams go through in terms of shared experiences (forming, storming, norming and performing). Awareness of these phases helps the manager / coach determine what action is appropriate, depending on the theme and the needs the team has at a particular stage. A brief description of the various stages of development and leader interventions in those stages is specified in Figure 2 (source: [Storch & Søholm 2005]).

 

Stage 
Stage Characteristics
 Leader Interventions
 Forming

When a new team is formed, they answer questions, such as

  • Who participates?
  • What are we going to do?
  • How shall we do it?
  • Who are we referring to?
Introduction of participants and the clarification of basic terms, objectives, vision and values.
 Storming
Coordinating, resolving difficulties regarding establishing common understanding, roles and procedures. Conflict resolution, dissolution and the development of team-specific common understandings of roles, routines, etc.
 Norming

The team establishes a common understanding, roles and procedures through self assessment and agreements.

The community will be established and each individual will accommodate himself.

Encourage development of the team-specific common understandings, roles, working, etc.
 Performing

The team can primarily concentrate on getting the job done instead of procedures, cooperation and organising.

The cooperation works and there are less talk about process and self assessment.

Encourage work performance through a focus on excellence, potentials, new targets, etc.

Figure 2. Tuckman’s Team Development Model including leader interventions

There are two main points in the model:

  • The group's current stage affects its ability to work.
  • The help and assistance of the leader/coach must be adapted to the stage of the group.

Concepts in team development

Attractor, a Danish institute of systemic management, communications and intervention, has developed a model with a set of concepts that can help leaders determine the right level of guiding versus coaching when working with teams. The model is described in [Juhl, Nørlem, Storch & Søholm 2007] and includes the terms direction, relations, scope and latitude, collectively known as the DNA of the team (see Figure 3). 

 

 Figure 3. Concepts in team development  

The terms of this model correspond directly to the main aspects of Scrum, which I address in Figure 4. The concepts are important markers in relation to team development and in the daily work of management.

 

 

Development Focus Points
 Concepts Related to Scrum
 Direction
It is essential that the team has clear direction as to its global and daily targets. Facilitators must align work with the team's vision, purpose and formulated values. The team values must be in line with the values of the organisation. In relation to Scrum, the team's direction is determined by the prioritised product backlog, which describes the desired end result for the project. The sprint backlog describes what is to be delivered in the current period. It is essential for the team's sense of responsibility towards its commitments that the Sprint backlog describes specific and achievable goals in relation to the team's working conditions and resources.
 Relations

The concept of relations covers both internal team relations and also relationships that exist with other teams / stakeholders in the organization. The team’s communication and interaction are important parameters. The way team members interact, rather than individual personalities, define what the team can accomplish. Internal relations create action in relation to conflict resolution, synergy, process improvements and knowledge sharing.

In addition to supporting this within the team, the leader must also work hard to shape relations with the rest of the organization.

Within the team, relationships are supported by the daily scrum meeting with an open dialogue on work progress. A skilled ScrumMaster will ensure that help is offered to those who need it, that the team together decides which tasks are launched, and that there is knowledge-sharing and quality assurance in the form of pair-programming, design and code review. In the field of external relations, the interaction with the Product Owner the most important. The balance in the relationship, where the Product Owner has product knowledge but is not to define the solutions, is an important point of awareness for the ScrumMaster.

Compared to the rest of the organization the ScrumMaster also has responsibility for removing obstacles to the team's momentum.

 Scope
Scope and latitude cannot be considered independently of each other. The scope must be visible so that the team can determine whether they play inside or outside the lane. The scope for the team's work is put into practice by external stakeholders as customers / users, or senior management, and comes in the form of economy, resources, product requirements, priorities, timetables and organisational structures. The Product Owner is the customer / user representative and has described the product requirements in the Product backlog (preferably as User Stories). Backlog items are prioritized in relation to each other and the individual items are described and defined so that the team can see what’s in scope and what’s out of scope. If there is doubt, decisions will be made through a dialogue with the Product Owner. The time is defined by the length of the Sprint.
 Latitude
The latitude includes the team's responsibilities and decision making. In other words it is the co-management of the team. Through the latitude, the team's own ambitions, objectives, improvements, ideas and autonomy can develop. Whether a team suffers from cut backs or not, there is always a margin for maneuver. A skilled team coach is able to help the team to clarify and make use of the right maneuvers in relation to the agreements. One of the main points in Scrum is that when the team, at the end of Sprint Planning, commits to deliver, it also has the right to all decision-making in relation to planning its work and making decisions about solutions. As long as the project's economy, the length of the sprint, the agreed specifications and the quality is not degraded, the team has the full right of decision-making.


Figure 4. Concepts of team development described and related to Scrum

Practical Suggestions

These models may be useful to know in relation to the development of teams, but it’s equally important to have some concrete actions you can take as a change agent or Scrum coach.

First and foremost, use the tools Scrum gives you, including retrospectives, where the team meets at the end of each sprint to evaluate the process: what went well, what can be improved and what concrete steps should be taken to do better? As a coach, I cannot recommend strongly enough the necessity of devoting the time and the resources to carry out this activity properly. Remember, a Formula One car is only performing and competitive if it is constantly maintained and improved by competent mechanics. While the creative ScrumMaster will soon find his or her own style as facilitator for this process, great inspiration can be found in the Derby and Larsen book on the subject [Derby & Larsen 2006].

Retrospectives are good activities for continuous improvement and maintenance of the team's skills and relationships, but good teams do not appear spontaneously. It may therefore be useful to carry out other activities to build up the teams.

When planning and implementing teambuilding activities, it is important to recall one of main points from the team development model of Tuckman: The help and assistance of the leader/coach must be adapted to the stage of the group. For maximum benefit, a teambuilding activity must, therefore, be tailored to the team prior to implementing it. The following activities can be carried out when a team is in the early stages of development.

Market of Skills

Market of Skills was developed by Peter Lang, a psychoanalyst in the field of systemic organizational theory. Participation in the Market of Skills activity strengthens the team's awareness of their combined skills as well as the areas in which team members can support and educate each other. The activity is both an appreciative aspect of team identity and a way to know one’s teammates better. The activity is especially useful in the forming phase and is performed as follows.

Imagine that each of you owns a booth on a market. Make a poster that tells

  • Which competences, skills and abilities related to the team are available at your booth
  • What is available under the counter of your booth? (In other words, which competencies, skills, and abilities do you possess that may not be relevant to the goal of the team?)
  • Which competences and so forth would you like to achieve or learn from some of the other team members
    Production of posters should be time-boxed to twenty minutes.

Next, each person presents his or her poster. During the presentation everyone else notes the following (one note on each sticky label):

  • The competences and so on that you are especially excited that this person offers (this could be on green sticky labels)
  • Other relevant competences and so on that you know this person possesses but didn’t mention (this could be on red sticky labels)
  • How you can help the person to gain the competences, skills or abilities he/she wants (this could be on yellow sticky labels)

After the presentation, the other team members give their feedback one by one. Try to limit this part to ten minutes per presenter (the presentation and feedback). The feedback notes should be hung under the poster.

Check on the Team

Check on the Team is a team development tool that can be used both in the storming and in the norming phases. It was developed by Kasper Lorenzen and can be downloaded from the Attractor website: http://www.attractor.dk/. This questionnaire should be given to each team member to help assess the team’s development. The tool is designed to help teams to become more efficient and effective by identify how the individual team member believes the team's position is in relation to the following dimensions:

  • Objectives - goals and direction for the team's work
  • Results
  • Management - coordinating and management of the work of the team
  • Cooperation - social aspects
  • Learning culture - the team's ability to evaluate themselves
  • Relation to the nearest leader

The answers to the questionnaires should be collected and assessed, and the overall result presented (see Figure 5). An Excel spreadsheet in English with the questions and graphs can be obtained by contacting the author of this article.

From the results, the team can choose two dimensions it wants to develop and agree on concrete action plans.

How you coach a team depends greatly on how far the team has developed. A high performing team needs different coaching than a team that is just forming. Understanding what stage a team is in, the individual personalities within it and tailoring your coaching accordingly will yield the best results.

Some persons are skilled coaches by nature and other may learn it through training. Personally I have found it very beneficial to get a formal coaching education and use the tools and techniques I’ve learned in my work on implementing Scrum.  

 

 Figure 5. Results from Check on the Team

 

References

[Derby & Larsen 2006]  Agile Retrospectives Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. Pragmatic Programmers, ISBN: 978-0977616640.

[Juhl, Nørlem, Storch & Søholm 2007] The leader as team coach. This book is only available in Danish: Lederen som Teamcoach by Thorkil Molly-Søholm, Andreas Juhl, Jakob Nørlem, Jacob Storch and Asbjørn Molly-Søholm. Børsens Forlag, ISBN: 978-87-7664-244-0.
 
[Storch & Søholm 2005] Practical team based organisations. This book is only available in Danish:  Teambaserede organisationer i praksis by Jacob Storch (red.) and Thorkil Molly Søholm (red.), Dansk Psykologisk Forlag, ISBN: 87-7706-460-7.

 


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (1 ratings)

Comments

Erik France, CSM, 7/16/2008 1:39:14 PM
Thanks for the good summary article. There are several tools and suggestions here which I think my team can work on. I really like the last two sections as I have not heard of these approaches before.

You must Login or Signup to comment.