Learning from the Agile Community

Photo by awee_19

Photo by awee_19

My first agile meetup was in April 2009. I was going alone and didn’t know what to expect. My experience with agile was limited, and I was shy. Awkward small talk while waiting in line for pizza. Uncertainty about where to sit. Gratitude when the session started because I could relax and listen.

Thankfully my shyness wore off, my agile experience increased, and I’ve since welcomed a number of folks to the Dallas-Fort Worth agile community. Local meetups and events are great opportunities to learn and connect with others. Many people—myself included—are relieved to discover that they are not alone in the challenges they face in agile adoptions.

I wrote about my community experience as part of Tips from the Trenches, a compilation of wisdom organized by Yves Hanoulle for Scrum Masters and currently available on LeanPub.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Facilitating Great Sprint Retrospectives

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Last month's DFW Scrum user group meeting was on Overcoming the fear of Sprint Retrospective.  I love retrospectives, so I was excited that the group was going to talk about them for an entire night.  Here's why the topic was suggested:

Sprint Retrospective is by far the most underutilized and under appreciated meeting. Team members dread to go these meetings. Every Scrum Master has his own technique on how he overcame this and still there is always room to grow. Can we request a retro meeting please? Where we can share some thoughts on how different Scrum Masters of our group handle it & has seen success? :)  Thanks

I agree that retrospectives are probably the most powerful and most underutilized ceremonies in scrum.  And I think it's because most people don't know how to facilitate them well.  Excellent retrospective facilitators know how to instill trust for openness and sharing, inspire creativity and brainstorming to generate new ideas, read the room to pick up on what’s not being said, handle conflict in a positive manner, maintain the timebox, and guide group decision-making.  How do you learn to do all of that?  Below is a lunch and learn presentation that outlines the format of retrospectives with some tips and tricks:

Great retrospectives don't just happen--they are the result of good planning and facilitation.  Thankfully following scrum means a facilitator gets an opportunity to practice his skills each sprint!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Making the Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Photo by m kasahara

Photo by m kasahara

Many of the Scrum Masters I work with come from a project management background, and making the transition to being a servant leader does not come easily.  I’ve noticed that especially in times of stress, a new Scrum Master might revert back to acting like a Project Manager.  Or other folks in the organization continue to ask the same questions even though the person’s role has changed from Project Manager to Scrum Master, and it is confusing to the person in transition—who does the organization want you to be??

The trick is to create what you need to learn your new role.  Stepping back from the project details can provide space to practice being a neutral facilitator.  Remind people that your new role is different—you can be a messenger for the team but do not make decisions or commitments on behalf of the team.  Admit when you overstep into project management.  Recognize what is triggering you to move into command and control behaviors and (if appropriate) discuss it with your team—what are you seeing or hearing that causes concern?  Perhaps your intuition is picking up on something the team needs to discuss and take action on.  Let go of having the answers and controlling the outcomes.

When you’re more settled into the Scrum Master mindset, you might realize that it’s not so much what you say as the way that you say it that conveys a command and control mindset versus a servant leader mindset.  Practice standing in a place of empathy and team building.  Radiate information to stakeholders and provide insulation to the team so they can focus on work.  Be curious.  Introspect.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Questions We Ask

Photo by LEOL30

Photo by LEOL30

Back when I was a project manager, I asked the question, “Are you done yet?” on a frequent basis.  A person being done with his work meant the next action could happen—either the next person could do her work, or I could do my part and communicate something to a client.  Managing a project meant seeing the entire Rube Goldberg process of getting work done: knowing what was in progress, what would happen next, and making sure the steps happened like they should.

Recently a developer told me that in his experience with Scrum, he has been asked this same question by Scrum Masters.  I’m sure those Scrum Masters had good intentions, and I wish they’d asked a different question

Becoming a Scrum Master is not easy.  It means becoming a different kind of leader.  And as difficult as it is to make the transition to being a Scrum Master, it is also difficult for others to see us in that new role.  That is why the questions we ask matter so much.  If we use the same language as we did before Scrum, the transition will be harder.  I wonder what the Scrum Masters wanted to know when they asked, “Are you done yet?”  I hope it was, “How can I help you?”

What other questions might a Scrum Master ask?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Presentation on Wed, Mar 5: Scrum Master as Team Coach

Photo by mwms1916

Photo by mwms1916

Becoming a Scrum Master is often a significant transition from other roles you've played, and even after attending certification classes, you may be struggling to make the transition.  What are the soft skills you need to be a great Scrum Master?  

Cherie Silas and I will be sharing our insights at the DFW Agile Community of Practice on Wednesday, March 5.  Inspired by our own journeys in making the transition from project manager to Scrum Master and our current work coaching Scrum Masters in their new roles, we created Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach--

The role of the Scrum Master is about more than removing impediments and facilitating meetings. Scrum Masters act as mirrors for their teams and mentor team members great Scrum Masters coach their teams to high performance every day. We will share a metaphor for teams to use on their journey to high performance and teach Scrum Masters how to be coaches for their teams. Come learn how to give meaningful feedback and ask powerful questions to grow a team.

Join us on Wednesday to learn how you can become a coach for your team (and why I picked a photo of a tree for this post).  

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Scrum teams need Scrum Masters close by

Photo by Soren Cosmus

Photo by Soren Cosmus

It might sound odd that the Scrum Master needs to be close to the team since seems like an obvious requirement (where else would he be, right?), but that isn't always the case when dealing with distributed team members.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master's service to the Development Team includes:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Teaching and leading the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

The Scrum Master's job is more than setting up and facilitating the scrum events, and it's unfortunate when the value of the role seems to be diminished to those few meetings. The Scrum Master does not disappear during a sprint until impediments are raised, and his job is more challenging when some team members are geographically dispersed:

  • A Scrum Master spends time getting to know his team members individually and coaches each of them; this comes more naturally when a team is co-located, but the Scrum Master needs to find a way to do this regardless through phone calls, IMs, video conferences, and if possible, the occasional face-to-face meeting. 
  • A Scrum Master is encouraging the sense of team and self-organization; again, this is easier when the team is co-located, but activities that are inclusive and add play can contribute greatly to this.  I've heard of a team that would include a distant team member in office birthday celebrations via webcam just so he would feel like a part of the team. 
  • A Scrum Master is observing and listening to the team as it works so he can reflect back to the team areas where improvement may be needed so they can see them more clearly and address them. Probably the most challenging, the Scrum Master needs to have a trusting relationship with team members so they can have "how was your day?" conversations without fear of micromanagement. 
  • A Scrum Master is ensuring that information radiators are created and reflect the team's reality.  I love posters and scrum boards on walls, and these same radiators need to be made visible to those outside the office, whether it be through an electronic tool, video, or photos.

A Scrum Master doesn't just attend a daily scrum and remind the team to update its task estimates each day until the end of the sprint.  He has a serious job to do, and his team needs him to be close by--no matter how far apart they might be geographically.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.