Appreciation

It’s the end of the year, and that’s always a good time to reflect back. So how about if you do a very different retrospective this time, and instead of focusing on improvements talk about some great things which happened this year. What did you change which helped you to be a better team? What made you happy? What do you appreciate about your colleagues?

You can say it directly, print the cards, use the images in a Mural template where people can fill them in, or design your own cards. It’s not about the form, nor tool. It’s raising the positivity of the space, showing others your appreciation. Great teams do that regularly. Great organizations do that across the teams and departments. You might be one of them, and this suggestion would feel like nothing new. However, too many organizations are busy to stop for appreciation. They need to deliver, work faster, achieve the goals. If that feels like your environment, break your habits, and introduce more positivity, more appreciation. Not only before the end of the year but regularly. It will bring the results soon.

Failing Fast

To my huge surprise, I realized that the concept of failing fast and learning from failure is difficult for some people to accept. They always feel the frustration when I say that ScrumMaster needs to feel comfortable to let the team fail so they can learn. I wrote about it here a few times, so you most likely know it, but the goal of a ScrumMaster is to make teams self-organized. They are not their assistant nor their mothers (as it might end by being dependent on a ScrumMaster), they are not their managers (the team is self-organized, fully responsible for their decisions), ScrumMaster is a coach, facilitator, helping the team to take ownership and realize they can solve most of their problems by themselves. And with every decision you take, there is a responsibility going hand in hand, and risk that you might fail. It is OK to fail if you learn from it. So ScrumMasters are not responsible for preventing failure, but for making sure the team will learn from it and figure out how are they going to work differently next time, so it will never happen again. And that’s very different from what the project managers have in their job description. And here is why – Project Manager is responsible for making decisions, ScrumMasters is not. It’s either the Development team (for how are they going to organize themselves to maximize the value towards the Sprint Goal), or Product Owner (for maximizing the value, prioritizing the backlog, and achieving the overall product success including the return on investment).

Agile is about safety to experiment and learning from feedback. In the VUVCA world, you never know what is the right functionality which will multiply the value and success. You need to inspect and adapt. Learn from failures. Be ready to respond to changes and be flexible to shift the direction based on feedback. Scrum has it all. Short Sprints which make it safe to fail, Retrospectives which ensure fast learning, Sprint Reviews which create a platform for frequent customer feedback, and Product Owners who take care of maximizing value and return on investment. It’s one thing to read it, and another to live it. What happens in your body if you hear “Your Sprint just failed.” Is it closer to the panic and looking for who to blame or is it closer to being curious and excited to search for improvements? It’s a simple question that indicates the level of agility. Failure is a good thing. All you need to do is learn from it.

New Scrum Guide

There was a new version of ScrumGuide published last week. And I have to say that I mostly like it. It’s lighter, less prescriptive, and simple. Here are a few differences.

#1 – Scrum Guide 2020 is Simple and Clear

Scrum Guide 2020 is clearer. Finally, there is a sentence that is easy to read, and that describes what Scrum is:

Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.

In a nutshell, Scrum requires a Scrum Master to foster an environment where:

  1. A Product Owner orders the work for a complex problem into a Product Backlog.
  2. The Scrum Team turns a selection of the work into an Increment of value during a Sprint.
  3. The Scrum Team and its stakeholders inspect the results and adjust for the next Sprint.
  4. Repeat

Scrum is simple.

Yes, Scrum is simple and so the Scum Guide. It’s easy to read and understand. With this version, we got rid of many long and complicated phrases full of details. For example, one of my favorite changes in this space is that daily Scrum finally not suggesting the three questions but recommend that people “can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal…” Isn’t that awesome? After all those years of individual status meetings where people were reporting to someone what they did. It’s finally gone!

#2 – Focusing on the Mindset

I like the fact that the new Scrum Guide stresses the three empirical pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation and explains what are they about. The five values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage are clearly defined there now as well. It focuses on people’s behavior, over the processes and practices.

I also like the new Scrum Guide to remind us about the primary need for Agile and Scrum in complex and unpredictable environments: In complex environments, what will happen is unknown. Only what has already happened may be used for forward-looking decision making.” All over, if you know what needs to be done, can plan it, then all you need to focus on is how fast are you going to deliver it. In such a world all different estimation techniques, velocity, burn-down, and burn-up charts are considered useful. Unlike Scrum, which builds on empiricism and inspects and adapts the plans on the way.

#3 – Scrum Team Focus

The biggest change seems to be that we don’t have “Development Team”, ScrumMaster, and Product Owner but “Developers”, ScrumMaster, and Product Owner forming a Scrum Team together. It looks like a big change, but it’s rather cosmetic as they all have to collaborate and self-organize (or self-manage if you like) to maximize value towards the Sprint and Product Goal. So, no real change there, we’ve just finally got rid of the very typical dysfunction where the Product Owner was like an enemy and the team was delivering to the Product Owner only. Now there is no such mentality in the Scrum team, they are in it together, responsible for all product-related activities. They are a team in the first place, a team that is cross-functional so can deliver end-to-end value together. ‘Developers’ is a poor name, as most people somehow read it as software developers but it’s more like a product workers. They are still the people who create working product increment every Sprint, while Product Owner focuses on maximizing the value and ScrumMaster on improving teams and organizations.

I also like the new Scrum Guide to make the scaling approach clearer than before: “If Scrum Teams become too large, they should consider reorganizing into multiple cohesive Scrum Teams, each focused on the same product. Therefore, they should share the same Product Goal, Product Backlog, and Product Owner.”

#4 – Product Goal, Sprint Goal, and Increment

Finally, the last change is the new language about Product Goal (new) and Sprint Goal (improved), and Increment (clarified). All over the Scrum Guide is catching up with the industry and adding a Product Goal as an artifact. It also provides a definition of a product, which is much broader than many organizations think: “A product is a vehicle to deliver value. It has a clear boundary, known stakeholders, well-defined users, or customers. A product could be a service, a physical product, or something more abstract.” Product Goal is a long-term objective for the scrum team – a vision. Sprint Goal gives meaning to each sprint and defines the value we are focusing on now. The increment is a useful output. Well done, verified, and delivering value towards the Sprint Goal. Simple and straightforward. Finally, there is a much better language about the Definition of Done: “The moment a Product Backlog item meets the Definition of Done, an Increment is born.” It’s almost like a poem.

All over, I really like the new version. It doesn’t change much from what I was teaching and using, just brings a more clear and crisp definition of Scrum as I know it.

ScrumMaster Mind

Great ScrumMasters are patient, can give space and dedicate their time to help other people grow. They are servant leaders and Catalysts. It sounds simple and not conflicting at first look, however, the real disconnect people feel at first, when they came across the role, is often about their ability to let things go. As a ScrumMaster, you are not responsible for the delivery. As a ScrumMaster, you need to let them fail. As a ScrumMaster, you can’t make a decision for them. “But I need to make sure they deliver the Sprint!” people often say with fear in their eyes. “I need to make sure they are efficient!”, “I need to tell them … ”.  Not that quite. Being a ScrumMaster is a very different role than being a Project Manager. They actually can’t be more different from each other. Project Managers are responsible for delivery, they shall manage, make decisions. ScrumMasters are coaches, they help other people to grow. They are facilitators, help the conversation to flow, but don’t interfere with the content. The team is responsible for delivery, the team is responsible for organizing themselves, and the team is also responsible for improving their way of working. ScrumMaster can help them, but not push them. The ultimate goal of the ScrumMaster is to do nothing – or if you wish to build great self-organizing teams.

ScrumMaster builds self-organizing teams

For example, imagine a team, which is super confident that they are going to finish all the parts they planned for that Sprint. In the middle of the Sprint, you can see from the board that they are not in the middle of the work, not even close. They started many items but didn’t finish much. It seems to you that they are not well organized, abandoning problematic tasks and not collaborating. What are you going to do? When I ask this question at the classes, most people feel a strong need to guide the team, tell them how they shall organize, and when we talk about the fact that as a ScrumMasters they have no power to decide for them, they are very uncomfortable. “But I have to make sure they deliver it”, they say. “I can’t let it go, what my manager would think?”.  And it’s very hard for them to accept the fact they can’t push them. They can try their best to coach the team and show them what can possibly happen, but if they are still confident and don’t see that as a risk, eventually you need to let it go and let them fail. Failing one Sprint is not a problem. At the end of each sprint, there is a Retrospective and that’s the time where you can help them reflect on what just happened and come up with action steps on what are we going to the differently next time, so this will never happen again. ScrumMasters are not responsible for Sprint delivery (the team is), ScrumMasters are not responsible for the product delivery (that’s Product Owners job), but they are responsible for making the team self-organized and improving. It’s not that hard as it looks. Try to let things go next time, failure is a good thing. Fail fast, learn fast.

Great Product Owners

Great Product Owners are not only having business knowledge, authority and time, but also a few additional skills which people often don’t expect.

“Great Product Owner is a facilitator, coach, negotiator.”

You will usually hear about coaching and facilitation in the connection with the ScrumMaster role. So why do we talk about Product Owners and facilitation and coaching? Can’t they just use the service of the ScrumMaster? They can. However, in many environments Product Owners are not the ‘heroes’ who decide on everything. Quite the opposite. They are great listeners, who have respect for different customer voices, and their highest value to the system is they can find alignment through coaching and facilitation. Customers (users, stakeholders, shareholders, sponsors, …) never agree with each other, they all have their own preferences and needs. Great Product Owners can help customers to reconnect with their needs instead of pushing what they want. In order to be able to do so, they need to step back, acknowledge that their requests are representing just one way of achieving their goals, and search for other options that would satisfy the needs of more groups than before. In other words, they need to be good at integrative negotiation and finding win-win solutions.

Finally, the last skill great Product Owner needs is visual facilitation. It seems like an unimportant skill, but the good picture speaks for more than a thousand words and can create real magic in searching for alignment. Visualization creates transparency, and transparency is ground for accountability. You would be surprised how good visualization of a conversation and different perspectives can help people to change their mind and proactively help you in searching for alignment.

Maybe those skills are not on the top of the Product Owners list at the beginning, however, the same skills differentiate great Product Owner from the newbies.

Who is Driving a Change in the Organization

Managers are very often asking me who is driving the agile transformation and expecting some special position like VP of Agile or Chief Agilist. To their surprise, there is no such position needed. I already wrote here about Agile Organizations and hierarchy. Real Agile Organizations are flat and lean, so they don’t create any new position for a problem, issue or initiative. In Agile Organizations, we already have ScrumMasters to introduce change.

“If you want to drive Agile transformation, you need to become ScrumMaster.”

It’s simple and straightforward. We don’t need another role, we don’t need another layer. Referring to the #ScrumMasterWay model, ScrumMasters are not only responsible for growing great self-organizing teams (My Team level), helping the ecosystems around their team to be self-organized (Relationship level), but also helping the entire organization to be self-organized (Entire System) and embrace agility at all layers. Scrum Masters competencies cover not only agile, business, and technical practices, but are also responsible for driving a change because, at the end of the day, agile brings significant change, new culture, a new way of working.

ScrumMaster is a leadership role, so it’s a good fit for managers who want to make a difference in the organization, who care about helping others to become leaders, who are passionate about changing culture, who are Catalysts. ScrumMaster is a Servant leader. They are not having any positional power, they can’t tell people what to do. But they have an influence. They can coach and facilitate to unleash the potential, helping people to find their own way of working. That’s what self-organization is about in the first place, that’s what agile transformation is about.

Great ScrumMaster is a Catalyst Leader

ScrumMaster is a Catalyst leader introduced by Bill Joiner in his book Leadership Agility. Catalyst is the third step on the leadership journey from Expert to Catalyst. In a very simple way, Expert is the person who knows better and therefore can advise and lead others by example, using his own experiences. Achiever is oriented to the results, they are very competitive, like the stretch goals, clear objectives, and believe a good challenge is the best motivator. They take people as resources towards achieving their goals. Finally the Catalysts understand agile deeper beyond practices, roles, and frameworks. Their key focus is to create a space, an environment where people can be successful. They care about the culture where many-to-many relationships emerge, focus on collaboration, transparency, and openness. They empower people around them, work with teams not just individuals. They are good at complex situations, seeking different perspectives and diversity, looking for innovative and creative solutions.

At the first place, ScrumMasters need to be Agile believers, the highest enthusiasts about agile from far around. Otherwise, there is no way they help others to embrace true agility. They need to be good at all five ScrumMaster State of Mind approaches explaining, storytelling, root cause analysis, coaching teams, not just individuals, large group facilitation, and that not all. Their knowledge goes wider than a few frameworks, practices and methods. They need to improve their leadership skills, understand organizational design, structure and culture models, overall business agility and be good at change management because agile is a huge change of the way we think and approach things.

As Expert leaders, they only drive a car on one gear – teaching. The Achievers are adding a pressure which is not really helpful if you think about ScrumMaster’s goal of achieving self-organization. So being Catalyst is the only way how to become great ScrumMaster.

10 Most Common Mistakes of ScrumMaster

Great ScrumMasterBeing great ScrumMaster is a journey, where you have to learn a lot about Agile, Scrum, coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, technical practices, leadership… But all over it all starts with having the agile mindset. This time, I’m not focusing on who you need to be, but quite opposite what you should avoid, as one of the very common questions at the classes is what are the most common mistakes of ScrumMaster. So here is the list:

Being a Team Assistant

Taking care of the team, solve issues (impediments) for them, plan meetings… It’s easy to get there as it seems to be helpful. But only in the short term. Long-term, it will create unconfident people who rely on ScrumMaster and never take over responsibility and ownership. Instead, you shall show them they can solve most of their problems by themselves, and be a good coach, facilitator and servant leader.

Share ScrumMaster Role with Another Role

Such ScrumMasters have usually lack of focus. They don’t spend enough time observing, finding better ways for the team to become great, and are happy and done with the role once everything is ok. Instead of sharing ScrumMaster role with another role, have ScrumMaster full time, let them focus on how they can become great ScrumMasters and truly master the agility so it will help the entire organization. Give them space to invest more time to the other levels of the #ScrumMasterWay concept.

Team Only Focus

Speaking about #ScrumMasterWay concept, many ScrumMasters believe that their only role is to support their development team to be great. I mean this is fine, but it’s just a tiny part on the ScrumMaster journey. It’s like a kindergarten. You need to experience it. That’s where you learn and practice all State of Mind approaches, that’s where you get confidence in yourself as a leader and change agent. But even if you are super successful, it’s only changing at the team level. You need to go broader and follow the other steps of the #ScrumMasterWay model and change the entire organization into an agile organization.

Technical Expert

Being a technical expert is dangerous for ScrumMasters. They feel a strong need to advise people on what to do. If you know a better solution, it’s just easier to tell them, then help them to figure it out. Instead, ScrumMaster shall trust the team they are the experts and coach them so they become better.

Manage Meetings

ScrumMaster is neither manager of the Scrum meetings, nor responsible for scheduling them. Instead, ScrumMaster shall be a facilitator, who takes care about the form of the conversation, not the content.

Don’t Believe in Scrum

How many times you’ve seen ScrumMaster who is doubting about the core Scrum so much that no one is following them? You need to be sure it works, need to believe in it, need to be the biggest Agile enthusiast all around. Otherwise, you can’t make the others to follow.

Apply ‘Fake Scrum’

Sometimes ScrumMasters take Scrum as just a process, don’t search for deeper understanding. Just do it (Daily Scrum, backlog, ScrumMaster role, …) as Scrum says so. They don’t have the right mindset. Agile and Scrum is not about practices, it’s a different way of thinking. It’s about “being” not “doing”.

Waiting for Someone Else to Start the Change

ScrumMasters often wait for someone else to initiate a change. They are reluctant to take over responsibility and ownership and the organization is not moving anywhere. Instead of waiting forever, ScrumMaster shall be a change agent, responsible for the entire organization Agile journey.

Scrum and Agile Expert

It’s enough to understand Agile and Scrum. Which is simple so we are done. Being ScrumMaster is a journey, and you can never stop learning. Even if you feel you know Agile and Scrum, there is always something new. And there are those other domains you need to master: coaching, facilitation, change, business agility, team dynamics, technical practices, leadership, … The learning is never ending.

We Are Great Team, We Are Done.

Often ScrumMasters let their team believe they can be done. The team is good, we finished our Agile transformation. Don’t bother us with new ideas. We know how to work. We are self-organized. You can never be done in a complex environment. There is always a better way. So instead of this false believe, ScrumMasters shall coach the team so they see other opportunities to inspect and adapt.

Do we need CEO in Agile Organization?

Agile at the organizational level changes everything. I wrote here already about Agile HR, Agile Board of Directors, and Agile at the Executive Team Level. Let’s have a look at the top of the organization. Should it remain the same? Or shall we go one step further and change it as well?

Searching for an “agile mindset CEO” is frankly a nightmare. Everyone who tried it can confirm that. There are not many CEOs with enough Agile experience yet in the world and those few who has it are not likely looking for a job as they are usually quite happy in their current organization. So, no matter which executive search firm you choose, or what you write to the position description, the search firms are no real help here. Unless you already spent effort up front on growing the talent internally, you need huge luck to get someone who understands agile more than a basic theory. No matter how desperate you are searching for a CEO, this is still just a small obstacle, not the real reason for a structural change.

The real need for top-level change starts when most of the organization is having an agile mindset. The Agile transformation is about being agile. How many times you’ve heard this request: “How about if our management give us more support on your Agile journey?”, “How about if our executive team is Agile and don’t just push it to us?”, “How about if they practice the same way we work as well?”Would that make it a difference? Maybe. So why don’t we go one more step ahead and change from the top and become a role model for the entire organization? As the organization has changed and Agile is not solely the domain of the IT anymore, but the business agility got into every department, the need for a change at the top level is inevitable. Why do we need a CEO in the first place? Just because that’s how organizations always been? Shouldn’t we ‘eat our own lunch’ and change the way we work entirely? Shouldn’t we apply the same principles the team do? Sounds simple, right.

And as usually it is simple to understand, hard to do as it needs courage. Courage to say “We are going to be different.” We will have Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner instead of a CEO because it will be closer to the way we work at this organization, fits our values, and last but not least we believe it will help us to be more flexible and adaptive at the organizational level. And that’s worth of trying.

The Organizational ScrumMaster would be focusing on the right culture, mindset and structure, so we become high-performing innovative organizations which embraced agility, and Organizational Product Owner would be focusing externally to the business, vision a purpose to we know where are we heading and why and are value driven. Both roles need to respect each other and be open with each other, the same way as it is in a single Scrum team, as together they will be part of the Organizational Leadership Team, and the network structure of self-organizational teams. There are two roles in Scrum by a reason instead of one. When you ask people if they would suggest to combine them, no one feels it is a good idea. And at the top organizational level, we would still do it? The similar reasons are valid at this level as well. When you think about it, it fits the way we work much better, then a single CEO – supports the right organizational mindset, transparency, and collaboration, it is consistent with who we are.

From a legal perspective, it is perfectly possible, and it’s not that much work either. You might need to change the bylaws a little, but there is no reason why you can’t do it. From a hiring perspective, it’s much simpler, as you are not looking for that ‘superhero’ personality who would be great with both internal and external sides. Try it. As I said already, all you need is courage. And that’s one of the Scrum values anyway. Experiment, and from that stage inspect and adapt. Now, do I believe that this SM-CEO or PO-CEO will eventually make themselves out of job? No, I don’t. It’s the same as the team level. Even if the team is self-organized and knows the business well, there is still work for ScrumMaster and Product Owner. Similarly, at the organizational level, there is still a need for Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner even when the network of collaborative teams got self-organized, business value-driven, and customer-centric. The Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner would use Leader – Leader style to build other leaders around them, and if they are successful, the organization will become purpose driven where leadership will be emergent and structure liquid. The same way as it is in the Scrum team, the Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner will move from those who explain, tell and share, to those who coach, facilitate, and keep the system spinning. And that’s what is the Agile Leadership about.

Five books every ScrumMaster should read

I have several books here, I would recommend every ScrumMaster to read (check the five books every Product Owner should read, and five books Agile Leader shall read). It’s a mix which will help you to understand ScrumMaster role in much broader perspective. In addition to the ScrumMaster guidebook which summarizes all you need to know to become the great ScrumMaster, you need to get better at forming great teams, team coaching, servant leadership and change management. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Great ScrumMaster: #ScrumMasteWay is a guidebook for all ScrumMasters, Agile coaches and leaders who want to transform their organizations. It’s intended to give you a reference to general concepts which every ScrumMaster should understand and point you towards resources which may help you in resolving difficult situations. It was designed as a slim illustrated book, which you can read during the weekend and won’t get lost in too much heavy stuff. However, it is supposed to be your starting point in searching for help or ideas on where to go next. On top of that, it’s full of practical examples of how to apply each individual concept.
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is the world’s most definitive source on practical information for building teams. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the root causes of politics and dysfunction on the teams where you work, and the keys to overcoming them. Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they don’t die easily. Making a team functional and cohesive requires levels of courage and discipline that many groups cannot seem to muster.
  3. Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition is a guide to the role of Agile Coach. Most people are wondering, “What is my role in a self-organized team?How do I help the team yet stay hands-off?”  Many respond by going too far to either extreme.  Coaching Agile Teams turns these questions into answers, and answers into action by offering practical ways to adapt skills from professional coaching and other disciplines to coaching agile teams toward high performance.
  4. Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders is how-to manual for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution. Since Turn the Ship Around! was published in 2013, hundreds of thousands of readers have been inspired by former Navy captain David Marquet’s true story. Many have applied his insights to their own organizations, creating workplaces where everyone takes responsibility for his or her actions, where followers grow to become leaders, and where happier teams drive dramatically better results.
  5. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions has all you need to know about the change management. It is a simple story about doing well under the stress and uncertainty of rapid change. The tale is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles and clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. The penguins offer an inspiring model as we all struggle to adapt to new circumstances. After finishing the story, you’ll have a powerful framework for influencing your own team, no matter how big or small.