What to address first?

Last post 07:36 pm October 13, 2015
by Ian Mitchell
6 replies
Author
Messages
04:24 pm October 12, 2015

Ok, certainly not an ideal situation, but I could use some advice.

Recently joined a company as a Scrum Master. They claimed that they were a mature Scrum shop, but after a few weeks of observing, they are far from it.

- Teams are unstable. Company frequently moves individuals from team to team based on specialization and project/product needs

- Stories are groomed by a silo of Business System Analysts, who act as a liaison between the business and the team(s). Team members are occasionally consulted for story detail

- Stories are groomed adequately, but are poorly designed. Often reflective of technical solution. Usually dependent on other work being performed by other teams

- Stories targeted to specific individuals, and relative estimates are provided by those individuals (not the team)

- Team currently serves several Product Owner roles, and there is significant overhead and complexity in pre-sprint planning meetings (before Sprint Planning) to determine what the possible sprint offer may be

This is the poorest "Scrum" implementation I've experienced, and it is indicative of many inefficiencies and poor practices with traditional project management. However, it certainly provides many opportunities for improvement. ;-)

Hence, my question to the community - what should be my focus first? If I were to prioritize the above dysfunctions, which one is at the top?

My thoughts are around the need to create stable teams more than addressing the other areas.

07:55 pm October 12, 2015

> what should be my focus first?

Have you found any organizational sponsorship for bringing in any improvements at all?

02:52 am October 13, 2015

what should be my focus first?

1. I think the first thing you should try to do is to get some informal feedback from the team member on how they feel about all these. Connect this with your own observations for definite actions plan to be taken.

2. Next , observe if this practice is common across other projects undertaken by the organization.

3. If so, then there is definite lack of understanding or insufficient knowledge on executing projects using the scrum framewor. You could then make a presentation to the organization management team on the best practices to be adopted that address the current pitfall and how it will help to fix the problems and add benefits and value to all people involved - to the customer, scrum team and thus for the organization itself.

Thank you

09:15 am October 13, 2015

The first thing to find out would be if they are open to improvement suggestions from 'the new guy'. Like what Ian said, only more basic.
If they are open to suggestions (and have sponsorship for it), schedule a session to identify the current non-ideal situations (your colleagues must also know a couple of them, even ones you've missed), and add them to the (or make) improvements backlog.
Decide on a way to prioritise it together, refine them, and plan item(s) per sprint. Scrum it! :-)

10:11 am October 13, 2015

Posted By Ian Mitchell on 12 Oct 2015 07:55 PM
> what should be my focus first?

Have you found any organizational sponsorship for bringing in any improvements at all?

I have met with several executive-level members of the organization (PO's, Directors, etc) to discuss current Agile adoption and pain points, and I've tried to use those opportunities to make suggestions and educate them on alternatives to their current processes. Unfortunately, there are many entrenched and tenured interests within the organization that are simply unwilling to embrace change, and are more than willing to re-label inefficient practices under the guise of becoming Agile. I am experiencing firsthand Craig Larman's second law of organizational behavior:

"any change initiative will be reduced to redefining or overloading the new terminology to mean basically the same as status quo"

There is an emerging Community of Practice within the organization that understands the current dysfunction and is working on initiatives to remedy them, but that will of course take time. In the meantime, my role appears to be more of a traditional project manager that facilitates Scrum ceremonies in name only.

So my question is, instead of acting like a contrarian to all that is currently being practiced, is there a specific area of dysfunction that I can try to influence that would provide the biggest opportunity for overall improvement?

12:33 pm October 13, 2015

My suggestion would be to get the development team involved fully in grooming, estimation etc. That would solve some of the issues you had mentioned like poor design. Even though teams may change from time to time, getting them fully involved will result in better morale.

07:36 pm October 13, 2015

> There is an emerging Community of Practice
> within the organization that understands the
> current dysfunction and is working on
> initiatives to remedy them, but that will of
> course take time

Assuming that the CoP is empowered, then that's where I'd put my focus. My advice to the CoP would be to stabilize team boundaries and composition. Without that they will be building agile practices on sand. My immediate action would be to provide transparency over dysfunctions & antipatterns like this, and then encouraging the organization to resolve them using better patterns.

The area or type of localized improvement is less important than having the organizational air cover to see it through. You need sponsorship that is adequate for improvement, at the point where the improvement is to be made. If a team cannot sponsor their own changes then sponsorship for change must initially come from elsewhere.