February 7, 2022

7 Quick Tips To Make Your Scrum Team More Self-Managing

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Recently, we hosted a workshop for our Patreon community. Its purpose was to use all our personal experiences and creativity, to identify quick tips around team autonomy, and its components self-management, and cross-functionality. It resulted in many great ideas, insights, and actionable quick tips. In a series of blog posts, we share the outcome of the workshop with you. This article is focused on quick tips to make your Scrum team more self-managing.

So, what are quick tips?

You can compare quick tips with 15% Solutions. This is a Liberating Structure intended to trigger big change by starting small. A 15% Solution is any first step that you can take without approval or resources from others and that is entirely within your discretion to act. It is something that you can start right now if you want to. It might not be the ultimate solution, but it’s definitely a good first step in the right direction. Or, as Kent Beck puts it in his book Extreme Programming Explained: “under the right conditions, people and teams can take many small steps so rapidly that they appear to be leaping.”

Within the Scrum Team Survey, we call these 15% Solutions “Quick Tips”. The purpose of quick tips is to spark small and incremental change in your Scrum team. Small steps in the right direction to remove impediments, improve collaboration, manage risk, and deliver value sooner. A good quick tip is short & concise, actionable & specific, bold & courageous, easy to use & try.

Trigger BIG change by starting small with ‘15% Solutions

What we mean with self-management

We define self-management as the ability of teams to make their own decisions about how to do their work, in what order, and by which method. Research consistently shows that teams that operate in complex environments greatly benefit from autonomy to self-manage their work. And that makes sense. The nature of complex work (like product development) is such that teams often run into unexpected problems, emerging insights that need to be acted on quickly, and tough challenges. If teams are unable to quickly make decisions, and either need to ask for permission or involve management every time, the whole process comes to a standstill.

If you want to improve in this area, your best strategy is to make clear where your team lacks autonomy and where it would help to have more. We know from research that support from management is particularly relevant here. So make sure to make clear requests for help from management. The most relevant areas for Scrum teams to expand their autonomy are in the improvements they can make to their process, their team composition, the mandate they have over the product, and their ability to release to production.

So, some questions a Scrum team should ask themselves are: how much freedom do we have to organize our own work? After all, it is very hard to self-manage when everything is managed for you. Can we pick our own tools? Can we choose our own goals or decide on how to do our work?

The nature of complex work (like product development) is such that teams often run into unexpected problems, emerging insights that need to be acted on quickly, and tough challenges.

A nice personal experience

One of my fondest memories as a Scrum Master relates to a large-scale product development effort. Together with multiple Scrum teams, with members from different companies, we were responsible for developing a completely new website with many connected applications. The number of dependencies made it a very complex endeavor. Because the teams were composed of people from different companies, it took also some time to get to know each other and gel as a team.

But from the start, I had the feeling that this was going to be something special. The customer (or stakeholders) created a dedicated space for all the teams. Everyone had their own team space, but all rooms were in the same area of the building. The entire first week was used to “decorate” the team spaces. The customer hosted a kickoff, explained the purpose, and together with all the teams (and the customer) we created a roadmap, product vision, Product- and Sprint Goals, Product Backlog, Definition of Done, etc. Some artifacts and posters were only visible in our own room, others were put in a shared space.

Every morning, at the same time, all the teams hosted their own Daily Scrum. Afterward, we often did a quick “Shift & Share” to learn from the progress other teams made. We also created a shared impediments board, and every morning our customer and other managers would check the board and ask the teams for which impediments they could offer support in resolving them. As a result, everyone literally felt supported. Management wasn’t checking if the teams worked hard enough, they trusted them in doing so. Instead, their focus was to help the teams become more successful by removing impediments. Once every two weeks, we hosted a shared Sprint Review. The purpose was to gather feedback on the progress we’ve made and to update the roadmap and Product Backlog with new ideas.

In total, the project took roughly one year. It’s one of the most successful projects I’ve been part of. Interestingly, while this has been my best experience with self-managing teams, it wasn’t a “thing” at all. The customer had some bad experiences with “command & control” projects and wanted to try a different approach. They simply told all the teams: you have complete freedom to choose the tooling, way of working, and collaboration. If you think that it’s necessary in order to achieve our purpose: go for it! We are there to support you. This gave team morale an enormous boost. And although we definitely faced many tough impediments, the fact that we were self-managing our work allowed us to resolve them effectively.

The entire first week was used to “decorate” the team spaces with a roadmap, goals, vision, Product Backlog, a shared impediments board, etc.

Quick tips to improve self-management

So, now that you know what self-management means and how it can benefit your Scrum team, what are quick tips to start improving? This is where you can benefit from the experience, knowledge, and ideas of our community. Together we identified the following 9 quick tips:

  • Quick tip #1: Pick one aspect of your current work method that is holding you back as a team. Stop doing it for a Sprint. Reflect during the Sprint Retrospective on what improved and what got worse.
  • Quick tip #2: Identify one person or department that you depend on as a team to get your work done each Sprint. Contact them to see how you can do some of the work they normally do for you.
  • Quick tip #3: In the next Sprint, make 1 decision that would normally be taken by someone outside the team. Inform this person afterward.
  • Quick tip #4:Identify one tool or process that your team has to follow, but that would make your team more effective when stopped or removed. Next Sprint, contact two people who have control over this and invite them to work with you to change it for a few Sprints.
  • Quick tip #5: Remove at least one item from your Product Backlog that was suggested by someone outside your team, but that nobody considers valuable. Inform this person afterward.
  • Quick tip #6: During the next non-Scrum meeting, agree to allow everyone to ‘vote with their feet’ (leave) when they feel the meeting doesn’t add value to the team or the product. Don’t ask for clarification and respect each decision.
  • Quick tip #7: Cancel one recurring meeting you have as a team but that you don’t consider valuable enough. After a few weeks, reflect if this was the right call.

Closing

In this blog post, we shared 7 quick tips to make your Scrum team more self-managing. These quick tips might not be the ultimate solution, but they will help you spark small and incremental change in your Scrum team. If self-management is something you want to improve with your team, consider trying one of our quick tips. We’re also eager to learn from your experiences, so if you have other ideas: feel free to share them. Let’s learn and grow, together!

All quick tips are included in the Scrum Team Survey. With this free product, Scrum teams can diagnose themselves with an extensive, scientifically validated survey and receive detailed results and evidence-based feedback upon completion. Give it a try, and receive quick tips for each of the 30 topics the survey contains!