Here are some tips on how Scrum Masters can balance team psychological safety with management's pressure on estimation:
Build trust with the team
Building trust is essential to team psychological safety. Scrum Masters can build trust with the team by being transparent, honest, and supportive. Encourage team members to openly share their concerns and ideas and address them respectfully and collaboratively.
Educate management on the complexity of product development
Managers outside of the Agile world may need help understanding the complexity of product development. It is essential to educate them on the Agile approach and explain how estimates are based on data from previous sprints and the team’s collective experience. Emphasise the importance of allowing for uncertainty and adjustment during the Sprint instead of demanding precise estimates upfront.
Use a data-driven approach
To balance the pressure of estimation with team psychology safety, Scrum Masters can use data to support their estimates. For example, the team can use historical data to make forecasts, which can help reduce stress and anxiety around deadlines. Please note that an estimate is subject to change and should not be treated as a definitive commitment.
Emphasize collaboration over competition
In some organisations, management may create a competitive environment that pits team members against each other. This can lead to stress and anxiety, negatively impacting team psychological safety. Scrum Masters can help create a collaborative environment by emphasising teamwork and shared goals.
Encourage open communication
Communication is key to team psychological safety. Encourage team members to talk openly and honestly about their concerns, ideas, and progress. Create a safe space for team members to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution or judgment.
Address issues quickly
When issues arise, it’s essential to address them quickly and proactively. Scrum Masters should work with team members to identify solutions to any issues, and ensure that all team members feel heard and supported.
Finally, Scrum Masters can balance the pressure of estimation with team psychological safety by managing expectations. Be transparent with management about the level of uncertainty involved in estimation, and ensure that they understand that Agile development is an iterative process that requires ongoing refinement and adjustment.
Leverage external consultants
At times, Scrum Masters may find themselves stuck in a hierarchy where it’s difficult to influence management. In such cases, leveraging external consultants can be beneficial. These consultants can bring in their experience and expertise and provide an objective perspective on the estimation process. They can also help Scrum Masters communicate the complexities of Agile estimation to management and build their credibility.
Consider finding a different place
If, despite all the efforts, Scrum Masters find themselves in an environment where management’s pressure for perfect estimations continues to create psychological safety concerns, they may consider finding a different place to work. Sometimes, the organisation’s culture and values may need to align with the Agile principles. In such cases, finding another workplace can be better than persisting in an unfavourable situation.
Here are some examples of how these tips can be applied:
- For example, a Scrum Master notices that one team member consistently misses estimates. Rather than jumping to conclusions, the Scrum Master works with them to identify the root cause of the issue and provides support to help them improve their estimation skills.
- A Scrum Master is under pressure from upper management to meet a tight deadline. Rather than sacrificing team psychology safety, the Scrum Master uses historical data to support their estimates and manages expectations with management about the level of uncertainty involved in the estimation.
- A team member expresses concerns about a feature that they are working on. The Scrum Master encourages open communication and works with the team to identify potential solutions.
To summarise, managing estimation problems in Agile teams requires communication, education, and data-driven decision-making. By educating management on the complexities of product development, encouraging open communication, using historical data, focusing on the most critical tasks, and emphasising continuous improvement, Scrum Masters can handle pressure from management and create a safe and productive environment for their team. Remember, Agile is all about working together to achieve a common goal, so ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same outcome.
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Venkatesh Rajamani is a Founder of tryScrum.com, a Management Consulting firm. He is an award-winning Coach listed as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Coaching Leaders by the World HRD in 2023. He is also a Professional Scrum Trainer® with Scrum.org and a Certified Enterprise Coach® with Scrum Alliance.