Monthly Archives: November 2013

Do we need Scrum Masters?

Let’s first revisit what the Scrum Guide has to say about Scrum teams and Scrum Masters.

[…] Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. […]

The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. […]

If you’re doing Scrum by the book, the Scrum Master isn’t part of the team, but stands between the outside world and the team. I’ve always found this a bit odd. When I’ve been working as Scrum Master, I’ve always wanted to take part in the development and be part of the team.

In my opinion, Scrum Master capabilities are part of that “competencies needed to accomplish the work”. In the team there should be someone who is naturally interested in agile stuff. Someone who is generally interested in continuously improving the workflow and promoting agile values around him/her. Someone who would be doing scrum mastering even without having an explicit role.

Not everyone has to be heavily interested in soft stuff. The team benefits if there are members with diverse interests. Perhaps one server admin guru,  one front-end wizard, one math expert with algorithm experience — whatever is needed to accomplish the work.

So let’s assume we have perfect set of capabilities in our team. That team has needed capabilities and intrinsic motivation to get stuff done.  Leadership emerges as it’s needed. In these kind of teams we don’t need labels — we don’t need Scrum Masters. Or technical leads. Or server architects. Or … Product Owners?

On the other hand I can come up with reasons to have assigned Scrum Master for the team:

  • If there is no assigned person to fulfill a certain role, groupthink might happen. Difficult questions might not be raised or group handles them ineffectively while trying to avoid conflict.
  • In practice there are always gaps in the team’s competencies. If no-one is interested in process improvement, how does the leadership around that area just automatically emerge? Some issues may not even be handled at all, since everybody assumes that it’s someone else’s responsibility. And nothing happens.
  • It’s might be easier for outsiders to find correct person to talk to. I need to talk about features… I go to PO. I need to ask about sprint reviews… I go to SM.

To conclude: We don’t need Scrum Masters. We need someone (or multiple persons) who has got intrinsic interest in people and process. However, if someone likes to call that person a Scrum Master, that’s fine.

PS. I prefer to call myself Scrum Shepherd. IMO it’s more descriptive. =)

The reason why you should have picture of a sunset as your desktop background

Back to kitchen psychology!

There was a group of psychologists (*) who conducted an experiment on a group of people. The participants were divided into two groups and they had to play a game (rules irrelevant here). Group A played the game in a room with a briefcase and a fancy business pen. Group B had neutral items in their room, like backpack and a wooden pencil.

Results? Group A played the game in significantly greedier and competitive way. They were merely exposed to “business items”, which affected their thinking unconsciously. When they were asked why did they played the game the way they did, they made up an explanation and believed it was true.

Pretty amazing and also scary. I guess this is why advertising works.

So how does this should affect you? Firstly, I would suggest being exposed to end users as much as possible. I guess it might trick your brain into thinking their needs, even though you would maybe just see them passing by. If you ever have seen those standing real-sized cardboard user personas, they might do the same trick.

Secondly, even though you can’t prime yourself consciously, you might consider surrounding your life with people and items that supposedly create positive rather than negative primings. Soothing desktop background image, clean desktop, being nice to each other… I know that sounds awfully tacky, but hey, I’m allowed to be tacky in my own blog!

Thirdly, when creating presentations, you can slip in slides that contain subliminal messages. For example if you’re presenting something to your boss, you can add words like RAISE, MORE MONEY, PROMOTION there. Just remember to show those slides just like a couple of milliseconds so that your boss doesn’t realize he saw those slides. Profit!

Ok, the last one was a joke. Kinda.

(*) 2003 Kay, Wheeler, Barghand, Ross. Sorry no proper reference.

Reasons why I like end-of-sprint Retrospectives

There are people who think that retrospectives should be stopped. I guess the idea would be to have continuous reflection on work processes, in the same way that daily meetings have continuous reflection on the product itself.

I think we should have both. If you have a rock in your shoe, you just remove it. You don’t need retrospectives or reflection for that. If something bugs the team’s work process, just change the process.

On the other hand, I like the idea to have a retrospective at the end of each sprint for the following reasons:

  • For some changes it takes sprint or two to see if it works or not. If you keep changing too rapidly, you might not have big enough sample to really know if the change is needed.
  • People like predictability. As a scrum master I wouldn’t want to shout “hey, let’s have a 15 min extra reflection!”. There is a time and place for people to bitch about the process and make some changes. During the sprint people can expect just to deliver kick-ass software.
  • I prefer to have sprints ending at Friday, and have a retrospective on afternoon. I like the idea of cleaning the table, perhaps even let some steam out, perhaps have a beer afterwards and then starting a fresh new sprint on Monday.

The way I see it, a sprint is lot like a hockey or football match. During the match you concentrate on the game, maybe do some small tactical changes.  After the match there is time and place to watch the game video and make larger changes.