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Scrum Teams and Street Performers

Observations of their similarities

7 July 2017

Sachin Sharma, CSM
CresTech Global solutions

While walking near Delhi University, I encountered a group of enthusiastic people setting up on the street corner. I found what they were doing interesting, so I stopped to watch them. I observed them throughout their activity, and I learned amazing things in those two to three hours. They were a team of street theater performers, and their activities spurred me to highlight the following major similarities between a street theater team and a Scrum Team.

Applying the whole-team approach

One of the main success factors of a Scrum Team is its whole-team approach; it is the absolute and dedicated performance by the complete assembly of team members that decides the success or failure of a project or sprint. I observed the same tactic in the group of street performers. Everyone had a specialty — singing, playing instruments, acting — but everyone was collaborative in their relationships and cross-functional during their actions. This is what is expected from Agile teams — members must be cross-functional and not work in their own hard silos of programming, testing, and business analysis.

Becoming a self-organized team

I didn’t see a manager or anyone acting in the capacity of a supervisor during the performance; instead, everyone was self-disciplined. They were well aware of their parts in the play and how they were helping each other by matching their specialties with their team members’. Scrum Teams also need to be well disciplined and self-organized. It's not necessary to have a manager or supervisor, as everyone should be aware of their own defined role and responsibilities.

Managing the team through a facilitator

Yes, it was there (and I think in any arrangement of people engaging with one another) that I saw a leader, moderator, or facilitator (call it what you want), the type of person who typically has his or her eyes on everything happening at a high level and helps team members if they are facing any impediments.

I observed a person who was passing props and allowing people to move ahead according to their plan. He was also taking care of the audience and coordinating the performance. Most importantly, I believe this person was well versed in his responsibility; he was ensuring a smooth performance by asking how it was going instead of what the performers were doing. Doesn't it sound like the ScrumMaster's role in Scrum? Absolutely yes. The ScrumMaster guards your process, not the product. He takes care of how things are going and coordinates the pigs and chickens in the organization.

Focusing on the goal and the plan

This street play had a goal, which was to generate awareness about a public safety issue. The team was focused on their goal. Whatever was planned to be enacted was linked to this goal.

Scrum also suggests that teams have a sprint goal and always complete sprint planning. A well-known fact I have read: "Planning is essential; following a plan is not important." The street performers had also planned something (I am sure about this, as things were happening sequentially), but they were adjusting the performance in relation to changes in location, availability of performers, and unavailability of a few props. This adjustment to changes is directly related to the adaptation principle (Scrum framework) and responding to changes (Agile Manifesto).

Executing the plan

I learned something new and useful from the street play. Suppose this group of performers had waited for the proper stage, materials (music system), big sponsors (money), forum, etc. They wouldn’t have been able to go ahead with the play. Even this team was not waiting for an audience. They started their performance when they saw a few people watching them, and within 10 minutes, the crowd that gathered around them was big enough to handle easily. This very point taught me that Scrum need not wait for a perfect team to form, tools to be selected and implemented, and resources (white board, development floor, additional money) to be gathered before starting Agile. If this is the case, we cannot start the journey of being Agile.

I recommend that we follow the same approach as that of the street performers. Start implementing agility in your team without waiting for other setups and implementations; people will automatically see the interesting thing that your team is doing, and they will express an interest in getting involved.

Having fun

Of course, having fun is one of the best similarities I found between Scrum Teams and the street performers. All the performers were having fun while performing, which also made their clients (audience) enthusiastic about investing (time, in this case) in them. Some people make the point that "fun" is nowhere mentioned in Agile principles, not even in the manifesto. However, we must understand that it's mentioned in discussions about the needs of an Agile team and cultivating "motivated” individuals.

Apart from the above points, I also observed a few more facets of street theater that resemble the Scrum framework, such as transparency, courage, focus, respect, openness, and commitment. It was really a treat to watch and I could relate this event to what my Scrum Team does. I shared this experience with my team, and we appreciate that we all are performing as enthusiastically as the street performers. A bonus is that our “audience” is happy with everything that we do.

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.

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