Posts Tagged With: team building

How many hats should a Scrum Master wear?

I’ve run into a few situations recently where Scrum Masters (SMs) are performing multiple roles and while they might have the capacity to do so, on any moderate sized initiative, it might be difficult for them to fulfill all the responsibilities of the SM role.

Some people may challenge this by stating that the SM needs capacity for daily standups, sprint planning, sprint reviews & retrospectives, but that should still leave them plenty of time to take on another role.

This perception is incorrect.

Agile ceremonies represent just the tip of the iceberg for an SM. As the intro to the SM role in The Scrum Guide states: “The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.” Notice the use of the word “everyone” instead of “the Development Team”. Surrounding any project or release are many stakeholders who the SM needs to work with to ensure that their interactions with the Development Team are in alignment with Scrum values. And as any good Project Manager will tell you, effective stakeholder management consumes a lot of time! Removing impediments from the team’s path will also take significant effort.

If the company does not have separate agile coaches to work on elevating organizational capabilities, the SM will likely spend effort on activities such as coaching executives, training functional managers and collaborating with their fellow SMs to identify patterns.

But let’s say we have agile coaches and there are minimal stakeholders for the SM to work with. Couldn’t an SM play another role?

Even if capacity permits, I’d still recommend avoiding either of these roles:

  • Product Owner: Even if an SM has sufficient product domain knowledge, an effective PO has to spend a fair bit of their time interacting with all the stakeholders who have needs and wants related to the product and the effort required to distill these requirements into a clean product backlog is significant. There is also a potential conflict of interest by having the “what” and the “how” intermingled.
  • Technical Lead: I know that a true agile team is “flat”, but for organizations going through their transformation journey, until quality development practices have been institutionalized and the shift from specialists to generalizing specialists is well underway there will be a need for senior technical contributors to review the work of more junior team members, mentor them and make key solution decisions. It might be difficult for one person to balance the servant-leadership and coaching stances of an SM with the more directive nature of a technical lead. When an SM is providing guidance to a team member, will that team member know which hat the SM is wearing?

Focus is one of Scrum’s five values. An SM playing multiple roles may not be providing their team with a good example of this value in action.

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Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Need help team building? Try to escape an escape room!

There are multiple types of external events which a project manager or Scrum Master could consider to increase the level of collaboration and cohesion within their team. Escape rooms provide a fiscally responsible, but highly effective option.

For my readers who have never experienced one of these, an escape room provides a small team (ideally no more than eight people) with the task of completing a set of puzzles within a fixed duration of usually 45 minutes to one hour. These puzzles are incorporated within a fictitious scenario such as escaping a prison or surviving a zombie apocalypse. The narrative and challenges in lower quality rooms will follow a linear path and focus on solving one combination lock after another whereas better ones will provide the opportunity for parallel and alternate paths as well as providing puzzles which test multiple senses.

So why am I such a proponent of this type of team building activity?

Collaboration is a must, not a nice-to-have

I’ve enjoyed almost a dozen escape rooms and the mental and physical work involved in solving most challenges requires close collaboration. If one is shackled to a fellow “cell mate” at the start of a scenario, both have to work together to ensure that the keys to their shackles can be reached. Many puzzles require team members to coordinate their activities across different points in the room so once again, you can’t go it alone!

We is greater than the smartest Me

It’s a lot of fun trying to solve escape rooms with a group of self-stated Type A leaders. As the clock ticks down, it becomes apparent that the wisdom of the group needs to be harnessed rather than relying on a single leader. Situational leadership is exercised as some puzzles require spatial acuity, some memory or mathematical skills and others will demand physical dexterity. Escape rooms often have a few fiendish red herrings which can mislead one or more team members and ignoring these can be a good exercise for overcoming group-think.

We all need a helping hand sometime

All escape rooms provide teams with the ability to ask for assistance from a staff member at least once over the duration of the game. Deciding when is the right time to ask for help can pose its own challenges, especially if some team members are unwilling to show vulnerability. The same is true within the team – someone might believe they can solve a puzzle, and refuses to ask for help, but with limited time, the team will need to have the discipline to swap them out if they aren’t making progress.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

With clues to solve a puzzle scattered around the room or even split across multiple rooms, team members need to effectively communicate with one another in order to efficiently solve puzzles.

Focus

There are lots of distractions in an escape room. Multiple puzzles, false clues, artwork and interesting (but useless) trinkets and gadgets can trap us into losing focus. Support from the team is needed to help individual players focus on solving one puzzle at a time.

Unless the escape room is very simple it’s rare that a team will complete their first escape room. When time runs out, rather than just rushing to the nearest watering hole, it might be worth holding a quick retrospective to understand what everyone learned and to identify opportunities for improvement with the next escape room event as well as with our projects.

To plagiarize Michael Jordan, a single team member’s talent can solve individual challenges, but teamwork completes escape rooms.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Time to turf these project management terms!

Project management practices have been used since human beings first started to work together to achieve greater outcomes than they could have accomplished as individuals. Modern practice of the profession started in the 1950’s so it is natural that certain practices, tools and nomenclature will be discarded as the profession evolves.

Unfortunately, some anachronistic project management terms still linger in spite of overwhelming evidence that their time has passed.

Waterfall & Traditional

Waterfalls usually provide a one-way journey for those unlucky enough to take a ride over them. Even the most deterministic lifecycle will provide some instances (no matter how small) of iterating back. Traditional is a subjective term. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was signed in 2001 and before its arrival launched agile into the mainstream, adaptive lifecycles had been used for many years. Traditional could be equally applied to deterministic and adaptive lifecycles when we consider that many new project managers were born around Y2K!

Resources (when referring to people)

The PMBOK’s Project Resource Management knowledge area might cover the management of both people and materials, but calling our team members “resources” encourages poor management practices by equating them to commodities and furthers the myth and resulting risks of fungibility. There are many positive synonyms which can be used to reference the people on our teams including their names(!), “talent”, “contributors” and “performers” so there’s no reason to use such a divisive term.

Best practices

I applaud the efforts of the PMBOK Guide, Sixth Edition volunteer team in adding the Tailoring Considerations section to each knowledge area chapter but this is just the first step in a long journey of providing guidance for adapting project management practices and tools to the context of a specific project and organizational culture. Certain other professions might have standard procedures which are appropriate in all circumstances (e.g. turn the power off before working on an electrical circuit) but while the principles of project management are universally applicable, specific practices or tools are not.

The practice of trepanation was used in ancient times as a cure for the evil spirits possessing sick people’s heads. However, if a doctor was to approach your head with a drill, in all except the most extreme circumstances, you would be forgiven for running away! If we wish to demonstrate the evolution of the project management profession, similar Spring cleaning is needed with our lexicon.

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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