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Self-Managed Team Challenges

12 May 2014

Avi Gondalia

There are many challenges for self-managed teams. First, it is difficult to find five to nine team members who understand Scrum properly and are professional in nature.

What I have learned is from my experience in development. Teams are mainly like this: One of the guys has five to seven years of experience and everyone else has just one to five, to reduce the cost of production. Due to this team formation, the ScrumMaster mostly deals with the lead-level resource and the rest of the team members don't turn into a self-managed team, which, in turn, is a big risk for the success of the Scrum implementation.

Given this sort of team formation, it is very important to mentor its members about what Scrum means by the expression "self-managed team." In particular, two key meetings bear discussion:

Daily Scrum meeting
This meeting would end up as a status meeting if the development team were not self-managed. They would fail to identify and remove impediments, which is dangerous, turning Scrum implementation into a toss-up. In order to not to fall into this situation, team members should be continually mentored and guided to discuss what they did yesterday, what they are planning to do today, and any potential impediments they see. In addition to that, they have to be guided to listen to what other people are saying, which will help them identify impediments at the earliest opportunity.

Review meeting
The review meeting could turn into a demo meeting where the team showcases the product according to product owner and stakeholder desire, then immediately starts working on the comments given in that review meeting. To avoid falling into this situation, the development team member mind-set should be cultivated so that they don't feel that comments during the review always point out "mistakes" and so start working on changes immediately, without recognizing the highest-priority work needed by the product owner.

If assigned work is finished early/late: In this case, team members will take a rest and do nothing. They have to be mentored to understand and raise issues like this in the daily Scrum meeting, so that each can help someone else who has a heavier load -- or ask for and receive the help needed to ease his or her own load.

If the team is not self-managed, then it will not be a cross-functional team and thus it will be difficult for its members to help each other effectively. So the team should be guided to develop cross-functional skills. Ideally, team members should be eager to work on other functional areas so they can expand their abilities.

If the team is not self-managed, there will be many unplanned leaves and no ground rules set for handling them, putting sprint completion at risk. During product backlog refinement, no good work can be expected for size estimation of new stories, and hence release planning will not be accurate.

These are some of the biggest challenges I have seen teams struggle with when they are not self-managed and self-organized.

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: 3.3 (4 ratings)


Phalguna Ramaraju, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 5/12/2014 8:46:31 AM
Good points Ashvin. Implementing Scrum in true sense is difficult and needs courage at various levels, and awareness & support from top management.
Gurpreet Singh, CSP,CSM, 5/12/2014 2:22:49 PM
Nice article- could not agree more! bravo!
Vishal Gupta, CSM, 5/13/2014 5:29:18 AM
nice article
Jayaprakash Prabhakar, CSM,CSPO, 5/14/2014 12:38:43 PM
Good article Ashvin !

In addition to what you mentioned, I come across another challenge - team not being cross-functional doesn't let the team to be self-managed. For ex., a 8-member scrum team with 4 having dev skills and 4 having only QA skills (or with little automation skills). QA guys don't get anything to do and they just wait for Dev to handover the build for testing.

When such team is formed, the team needs to be given support (in terms of time, effort etc) to learn cross-functional skill. This is what I try. In every sprint, each one should at least do 1 cross-functional task. This helps to bring the cross-skills over a period. Without trying hard, it doesn't work and the team never become self-managed team.
Sweta Paul, CSM, 5/16/2014 6:21:07 AM
A good article listing out many of the hurdles to be crossed to enable a team to become self organising and the solutions are also helpful!

The daily stand up scenario is common to any team new to Scrum. All team members have been in status meetings before. Hence they need a gentle push from the SM. E.g., the SM can avoid the gaze of the team (something my first SM did, succesfully changing the Status meeting into a collaborative daily scrum call).

The point referring to review comments is great! I agree that most of us take comments as critical and need to incorporate them ASAP without even checking if they are relevant to the PO.

I would say that some are the common challenges faced by most teams anywhere - not helping team members, not believing in the team goals and thus taking unplanned leaves. The team should realise that Scrum does not encourage Heroism. All achievements and losses alike are attributed to the team as whole and not to individuals. Task assignation should not be done at any cost. Tasks should be accepted by the team. The SM could suggest it be done in random fashion - one day in alphabetical order of team member names, once in clockwise (assuming all team members are standing in a circle, etc. So non one can guarantee who takes the most interesting tasks each day!

Another thing - a cross functional team does not mean all team members doing all kinds of jobs. It means that the team is self sufficient in that it consists of people with different skills, enough to complete the requirements in the backlog.

These are my humble suggestions. Comments are welcome :)

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