I was lucky enough to meet Ken Schwaber on my journey to becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org. It was at a Train-The-Trainer event at scrum.org HQ in Massachusetts, and when he entered the room he introduced himself:
“Hi, I’m Ken and I’m living proof that you can be a grump and still be an effective Scrum Master.”
In honour of that epic introduction, I present to you my grumpiest take on Scrum:
Please stop clapping at the Sprint Review. I’m begging you. PLEASE!
This probably sounds familiar: Someone from the team walks through some new feature they team has built.
Then, an Important Person says something like “This is fantastic, great work everyone!”
Then comes the clapping.
At best, it doesn’t actually help. At worst, you may be injecting all kinds of dysfunction into the team.
I was a Scrum Master working on a team that was one of three Scrum Teams working in the same area of the product. Since we were working in the same area, we “stacked” our Sprint Reviews. So we’d book a block of time with all the relevant stakeholders, and each team would ‘cycle through’ and hold their Sprint Review.
Team 1 did their thing. Roaring applause. Team 2 went up. *Clap clap clap*.
I was on Team 3. We completed our Sprint Review, got some applause, and off we went to our retrospective.
I had a new exercise planned for them, and so I was looking forward to the Retro. The team also had an excellent sprint. They shipped a few new features to production! They got a bunch of stuff done! I was expecting a super positive retro, a nice way to end the week on a positive.
As the team filed into the team room I noticed a few of them seemed down. One person in particular had a defeated look on his face.
I was confused. We had a great sprint… Our stakeholders seemed really impressed! I was wondering if there was some team-dynamic stuff going on that I’d failed to pick up on.
Instead of kicking off the exercise that I had meticulously planned, I started with a simple question.
“What’s going on?”
The response was immediate and blunt.
“I don’t think anyone cares about what we’re doing here!”
“Does Steven even know how important these features are?!”
“We could probably do nothing next sprint and they wouldn’t notice!”
“Steven was looking at his phone the whole time, he didn’t even clap!”
And there it was. For context, Steven (name changed to preserve anonymity) was the CTO of the company. He was usually very boisterous as a Sprint Review attendee. He asked questions. He was engaged. Usually, he got the applause started.
But this time, when it was Team 3’s turn… nothing.
Now I didn’t notice this during the Sprint Review, but clearly a few of the team members did. The Retro was a total waste. I couldn’t get them out of venting mode. At the end, I made a mental note: I was going to need to follow up on this somehow. I couldn’t allow the team to totally lose their motivation - they were really getting on a roll!
I would later find out that another product was experiencing a production outage during our Sprint Review. Steven, appropriately, was keeping an eye on things and emailing back and forth with a vendor on escalating the issue. Hence the nose down in his phone during the Sprint Review.
It didn’t really dawn on me until this incident occurred: The team had been conditioned to expect applause for their work. It didn’t matter if the work was any good! They worked hard for a couple weeks, and they now expected to be recognized for that, publicly. And when that applause wasn’t there, (1) they noticed it and (2) it made them feel worthless.
But here’s the thing: (and this is where I get grumpy!) It’s the job of every Scrum Team to produce an improved working increment of the product every sprint. It’s their job. It’s why they get paid. It’s the bare minimum requirement. Do you also expect applause for waking up in the morning and getting to work on time? Of course not!!
If you need a pat on the back for the bare minimum, how are you expecting people to react when you actually do something extraordinary?
Now, don’t get the wrong idea here: I’m not advocating against praise in general! Praise is a key motivator. In fact, Gallup’s Q12 engagement survey specifically covers praise - asking whether an employee has received praise for good work in the past 7 days. Praise is really important! But how you provide that praise is just as important.
Clapping as a matter of habit at the Sprint Review is not effective praise, and simply is not the point of the Event. It turns a collaborative working session into a rote ceremony. Show off, get claps. Show off, get claps. Not super valuable. And if you’re not careful, you might be inadvertently demotivating the team!
So, please. Don’t clap!
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