A Scrum Master's Guide to Building a Successful Team
Feb, 03 2020
In the movie Gremlins (a timely 36-year-old reference), when Billy is given a strange creature called a mogwai as a pet, he's given the warning to remember three important rules that must never be broken. Do not expose the mogwai to sunlight, do not let it come in contact with water, and, most important of all, never feed it after midnight. That seems easy enough, but Billy does feed him after midnight and the creature spawns awful little green gremlin creatures and hilarity ensues.
How does this relate to building a successful Scrum Team?
Well, it's a fair question, because it sounds pretty far-fetched even to me and it's my idea. It relates this way: I believe you can follow three simple rules to build a high functioning Scrum Team. Here are the rules:
1. Create Team Consistency
2. Have a Dedicated Product Owner
3. Assign a Strong Development Lead
You build out a Development Team (software developers, designers, and testers), find a knowledgeable and willing Product Owner, and then you need a Scrum Master to organize this bunch. The Scrum Master creates daily standups, backlog grooming, planning, sprint review, and retrospective meetings, and that's it! You are good to go. Your team is ready to churn out fantastic software. Ok, it may not be that simple. Here they are, my three simple rules for building a successful scrum team:
#1 - Create Team Consistency
I can't emphasize enough how important this is and how ignored this is in almost every organization. The company has done a great job hiring talented developers, testers, and designers. No matter where these individuals get placed, they will do a great job. That very well may be true on an individual level. However, your Scrum Teams are going to struggle to develop a rhythm. The biggest mistake I see management make is not giving Scrum Teams time to gel. You are throwing 5-9 human beings together and expect them to crank out quality software, which they will do if given some time. Now, how much time? Well, that is the tricky part of the equation. You have 5-9 people that are all motivated by different things and 5-9 people with different personalities.
These teams are not plug-and-play. I know, you pay these people a lot of money to figure this out. In my experience, given enough time and the right leadership, they will figure it out and produce quality software. Always, mixing up personnel is the most common and most significant mistake management makes. People crave structure. We say we don't, and the "same 'ol, same 'ol is killing us," but our brains feel warm and cozy with structure and routine. I get my coffee at 7:30 every day at this coffee shop. I go to this meeting every day at 9:00. We always discuss A, B, and C. Well, development teams aren't that different. I am familiar with this codebase. I know the effort takes this long. I know changes take this long. I know Steve will test it. I understand sometimes it doesn't work out, and management must make changes. Maybe a team member should be removed who has become a toxic personality and threatens the team's success. There are times when the whole thing isn't working and you have to pull the plug on the entire team. Those instances are rare, but they do happen.
My former Director, friend, and colleague, Brad Kloch, stated, "It is an art, not a science."
Of course, "it" being software development and building a Scrum Team. I know it is difficult, but I advise you, managers and directors, to be patient, not rash. Each team is a little ecosystem, and they communicate, grow, and function in their own unique way.
#2 - Have a Dedicated Product Owner
The Product Owner (PO) is a full-time job. Let me repeat that - the Product Owner is a full-time job. It is not a hybrid role in the Marketing department or a part-time job for your Business Analyst. If your organization does not dedicate the resources to having full-time POs, your Scrum Teams will not be nearly as successful as they could be. I have worked with Scrum Teams that had all the "A-List" talent on one team; however, with a distracted and unengaged PO, those teams struggled because of the lack of availability and vision. A present and engaged PO that is there at more than just the daily stand-ups, who can groom a backlog and knows what work they want from sprint to sprint is invaluable to the team. You can even dedicate a PO that does not know how to do those things and train them, and it is still better than a part-time PO that does have those requisite skills.
#3 - Assign A Strong Development Lead
While Development Managers and Directors typically don't forget about this role, they often don't call it out. I know, Scrum is a collaborative team effort, and we want to encourage that.However, I find the more successful teams have a hierarchy — someone who can make tough technical decisions (on the fly or after thorough research). The group of all "A-Listers" will seem like a great idea without a lead, but they often try to one-up each other. There is that competitive mentality that creeps in with a team of high performers:
Kevin is taking on fifteen points worth of work, so I'm going to take twenty.
While some good-natured competition is not bad, too much competition often leads to over-promising and under-delivering, which is not a good look.
A solid Development Lead helps guide the work to the appropriate developer. The more successful teams have a mix of abilities and skill sets, and the leadership to guide those abilities and skill sets in the proper manner.
Why should you listen to me? I have been a part of or run countless successful Scrum Teams in the last 10 years. If you follow the central tenets of Scrum, have patience with your teams, bring in dedicated POs, and have excellent technical leadership within the team, the odds of team success will increase. I don't have a success percentage for you; it's an art, not a science, remember. I do know that you'll have fewer gremlins running around.
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