Scrum was created to help organizations and teams to solve complex problems. Scrum does this by delivering increment(s) of value in a Sprint, created by a Scrum Team who continuously experiment and seek feedback along the way to learn and improve as they deliver solutions to complex problems. A Scrum Team is therefore instrumental to the success of Scrum.
In this blog, I provide answers to the following questions in relation to the Scrum Team:
- What is a Scrum Team and what are their accountabilities?
- What is the purpose of a Scrum Team?
- What are the characteristics of a Scrum Team?
- What must a Scrum Team know to deliver value?
In each section, I have also raised a number of follow-up questions for you to consider. These questions are there for you to reflect on and for self-assessment purposes.
What is a Scrum Team and What Are Their Accountabilities?
A Scrum Team is a small team of people (typically 10 or less). It consists of:
- One Scrum Master (who is accountable for establishing Scrum and team effectiveness).
- One Product Owner (who is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team).
- Developers (who are committed to creating any aspect of a usable increment each Sprint).
How Big is Your Scrum Team?
- Is it too small, too large, or is it about right? If it’s too small, do you struggle to be cross-functional and be able to deliver an increment at the end of a Sprint? If it’s too big, how does this impact the team’s ability to self-organize, self-manage, collaborate and communicate effectively?
- What patterns / behaviors have you noticed? Are team members stressed due to the demand of work (for small teams)? For larger teams, have some team members ‘checked out’? Have smaller sub-teams formed? Has a team boss emerged?
- For larger teams, do you have a single shared Product Goal or Sprint Goal? Or do you find it hard to craft goals? What challenges does this present for you? If the Scrum Team is too big, have you considered reorganizing the team into multiple cohesive Scrum Teams, each focused on the same product?
- Are they able to live the Scrum Values? Is there trust within the team?
- How transparent are you as a team? Is the team enabling effective empiricism? Are they learning together and adapting together as they learn new things? How visible is the process of work?
Do You Have a Scrum Master Who:
- Is a change agent to enable a culture in which Scrum teams can flourish? Are they accountable for establishing the Scrum process within the organization? If not, who within the organization is? How does/will this impact the effectiveness of Scrum to deliver value?
- Is a coach who coaches the Scrum Team on mindset and who models the Scrum values? For example, do they reinforce a teams’ commitment when they facilitate a Sprint Planning?
- Fosters team courage by creating safety for teams to have difficult conversations?
- Encourages team focus, by ensuring full team member participation in each Daily Scrum?
- Encourages openness in Sprint Retrospectives?
- Has developed respect in their teams? Team members listen to each other in Sprint Planning.
- Is a mentor who transfers their agile knowledge and experience to the team?
- Is an impediment remover and is actively championing agility within the organization and works to remove organizational impediments? If not, what impact does this have on the Scrum Team’s ability to deliver value?
- Acts as a true-leader, measuring their own success by the growth of the Scrum Team?
- If no, to any of these questions, how does it impact trust within the team? Are you as a team willing to be vulnerable with each other?
Do You Have a Single Product Owner Who is:
- Empowered to make decisions to maximize the value of the product?
- Willing to make decisions with incomplete information and who is able to make decisions with a degree of risk?
- Willing to try new things, explore, and experiment?
- Just a Project Manager in disguise? Not interested in value but is an output maximizer? Remember the purpose of Scrum is to generate value. What is important to you, outputs or outcomes?
- A subject matter expert (they think they are) and describe not only the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of the Product but also ‘how’ work should be done? Do they create a task list for you to complete? How does this make you free? Are they violating scrum values?
- A ‘visionary’ and is able to communicate the Product Vision, Strategy, Business Goals etc.
- A true collaborator and actively seeking input from all stakeholders and setting expectations with them?
- A decision maker and is available to help answer questions and guide the value created by the Developers during the Sprint
Do You Have a Group of Developers Who:
- Are a team of experts? Do they have all the skill sets to deliver an increment each Sprint? Are your Developers t-shaped in person? Do they exhibit empathy and enthusiasm about other Developers disciplines, to a point where they actually start to practice them?
- Have autonomy over how they develop and deliver the increment within the guardrail of a Sprint?
- Pursue technical excellence? Do they have a clear understanding of the definition of ‘done’ that they have created? Which they improve and enhance over time to ensure quality? Do they use Extreme Programming practices as a source of inspiration?
- Refine the backlog as a team? Everyone is involved and not just a few ‘senior’ developers?
- Know how to have fun with each other? Is there a sense of camaraderie? Are some of the best decisions made around the ‘water cooler’?
- Dislike Scrum events and skip them? Do they feel these events as pointless and of no value? Do you skip events to keep up with work demands? What impact does this have on the effectiveness of Scrum?
What is the Purpose of the Scrum Team?
The Scrum Team exists to deliver a series of valuable product increments. The Scrum Guide adds that the ‘Scrum Team is responsible for all product-related activities.’ In addition, the Scrum Team owns their artifacts. Each artifact maps onto a Scrum ‘commitment.’ The three commitments are:
1. Product Goal
The Product Goal describes a future state of the product which can serve as a target for the Scrum team to plan against. The Product Backlog commitment is the Product Goal.
2. Sprint Goal
The Sprint Goal is the single objective for the Sprint. The Sprint Backlog commitment is the Sprint Goal.
3. Definition of Done
The Definition of Done is a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product. The Increment commitment is the Definition of Done.
- Is your Scrum Team able to perform all of these product-related activities? Is your Scrum team cross-functional and able to take a feature from idea to implementation? If not, are the Scrum Teams dependent on other teams within the organization to perform these activities? What impact does this have on the team’s ability to be empirical? What impact does this have on the flow of work and the Scrum Team’s ability to create a usable increment each Sprint?
- Has your Product Owner articulated a clear Product Goal? Does the Product Goal align to business objectives? Is your Product Backlog ordering influenced by the Product Goal? Is the Product Goal realistic and attainable in a timely manner? Does the Product Goal enable transparency in that it aids the objective of building the product? Do your Sprint Reviews merely inspect specific increments, or does it monitor the progress in achieving the Product Goal?
- Do you craft a Sprint Goal during a Sprint Planning event? Does it clearly describe how it serves to achieve the Product Goal? Does your Sprint Goal describe the ‘why’ of the Sprint and the outcome that is desired at the end of the Sprint and its associated value? Have the Developers created a Sprint Backlog which is aligned to the Sprint Goal, which has been created and is an actionable plan and owned by them? Do the team think that the Sprint Backlog is fixed and is a detailed plan? How often is the Sprint Backlog updated as new insight is learnt? Do Developers recognize that the Sprint Goal is an operational commitment by them?
- Have your Developers written and own its Definition of Done? Is it transparent? Does it create a shared understanding of what work needs to be created for an Increment to be created?
What are the Characteristics of a Scrum Team?
Typically, a Scrum Team exhibit the following characteristics, it is:
- The team members share the norms and values
- They act as a whole, collectively accountable for the delivery of the Product Goal
- They are empowered and work autonomously
- They are self-managing and cross-functional
- Able to adapt to feedback from stakeholders and the marketplace
Is Your Scrum Team(s) Self-managing? For Example:
- Are they able to determine how it does its work? Has the team taken ownership of its processes (i.e., how it converts ideas into increments?)
- Does the Scrum Team share knowledge and Skills? Are they open and transparent? Do they have a shared commitment to one another?
- Are they empowered to make changes to its processes and tools to be more effective and efficient?
- Does the Scrum Team craft its own Sprint Goal which includes the team collaborating on the why (the Product Goal), the what (product backlog items) and the how (the work to be done).
- Do the Developers determine the work it will executive on a daily basis on new insight and feedback.
- Is the Scrum Team able to maximize the value of its work, minimize waste and maximize the flow of its processes (and reduce the average cycle time of work)?
- Are your Scrum Teams working on multiple projects/products simultaneously and context switching/ What impact does this have on team morale and efficiency of the team? Does the value you gain from the work outweigh the cost or potential waste?
If not, is Scrum actually understood to help the organization and teams to create value?
What Must a Scrum Team Know to Deliver Value?
Scrum Teams must:
- Understand the motivations, behaviors, and needs of user’s and customers, the business and their capabilities
- Align the product’s vision, its strategy, and the mission and objectives of the organization and
- Measure the actual value delivered
- Are your Scrum Team(s) able to speak directly to the customer? If not, what challenges does this bring in your ability to deliver products / solutions that deliver a value proposition to your customer?
- Does the Scrum Team work align to business goals and product vision? Or are you just a feature factory delivering ‘stuff’. How does this impact the motivation of the Scrum Team?
- How do you measure value? Are you focused on output (e.g., story points delivered, no defects, unit test performed) or do you use outcomes (changes in customer behavior, customer retention, revenue and sales). How will you switch from focusing on outputs to outcomes?
I hope you were able to answer as many questions as possible. What next?
Go back and look at your answers. Now consider the current trends for each one:
- Is the Scrum Team moving toward desired outcomes?
- If not, what can the Scrum Team do? How would you order your list of improvements? What is urgent now, which will have the biggest impact on the team’s effectiveness?
- In which areas do you feel the Scrum Team is moving backwards?
Why not take your findings to a future retrospective and share your thoughts on your answers. After 3 or 6 months, revisit these questions again. Have things improved? If you have any questions, reach out to me.