Do you have a Scrum Genius on your team? Someone who always chimes in with the “right way” to do things. Maybe you’re the Scrum Genius — someone who has a lot of experience, has been part of teams that have delivered several successful products and has certifications the length of your arm. The truth is, we can all fall into the role of THE expert. No one is invulnerable. The irony is that sometimes, the person with the most knowledge and skills can be the one holding the team back.
Scrum: rulebook vs. framework
Scrum is not a rulebook. It’s a framework providing a supporting structure for the people working together to deliver value to the customer in small increments of usable product. The Scrum creators chose the word framework instead of rulebook deliberately. The “how” of Scrum is purposely incomplete to empower teams to make smart decisions about how to apply the framework in their unique environment. That’s why Scrum is so flexible and can be applied in many unique situations. There is always more than one way to do something, which is ok. Take a breath. That is ok.
Anatomy of a Scrum Genius
Sometimes a team member — with the best of intentions — will insist the team do things a certain way. Maybe the person was previously part of an awesome team, and that’s how they ran things. Or maybe they did some research on the internet and read that you must use story points or you should never use story points when estimating.
These self-appointed Scrum Geniuses or experts mean well, but a dogmatic approach to Scrum tends to close down discussion and inhibit collaboration. My rule is that if it’s in the Scrum framework described in the Scrum Guide, it’s there for a reason. But if it is not outlined in the framework, Scrum teams can innovate how to apply Scrum in their unique environment.
The Scrum Genius comes in various forms, and there might be an overlap in the behaviors they exhibit. Here are a few of the archetypes:
This person may be overly critical of their work or that of others and may insist on making extensive changes even when the task meets the team’s Definition of Done. This can cause delays in progress and create team tension.
The Refusal to Adapt
This team member may resist change or new ideas and refuse to incorporate feedback or suggestions from others, hindering the team's ability to adapt to changing requirements or improve its processes.
The Lone Wolf
This developer prefers to work alone and may disregard the input or suggestions of others. They may also refuse to collaborate on tasks or offer help to teammates, which can slow progress.
The Code Hoarder
This is the developer on a software team who likes to keep all the knowledge and information related to their code to themselves, which can create a work bottleneck and lead to duplication of effort or suboptimal solutions.
The micromanager is overly controlling, and they want to be involved in every aspect of the project. They may constantly check in on team members and question their every decision, making it difficult for others to work independently.
The Scrum know-it-all knows the “right” way to do Scrum, and may dismiss the ideas or feedback of others as incorrect or not the right way to “do Scrum”. They may also take over discussions and dominate events and meetings, making it difficult for others to contribute or learn.
This is a "my way or the highway" mentality where the person steamrolls over others to get their way. They don’t listen to feedback or alternative ideas, which can create a hostile work environment.
Someone who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior does not express their concerns or feedback directly. Instead, they use subtle comments or actions to express their dissatisfaction, creating team tension and confusion.
Rigid approaches to Scrum and solution delivery can have genuinely negative consequences. An overly dogmatic approach can lead an organization to step back from Scrum because they aren’t seeing the promised collaboration and creativity.
Here are some other adverse effects that a rulebook approach to solution delivery can have on a Scrum Team:
- Decreased collaboration: We reduce collaboration by dominating discussions and disregarding the opinions and ideas of others. It can lead to low trust and respect among team members, ultimately hindering their ability to work together effectively.
- Slower progress: We can slow progress by insisting on doing things our way, resulting in delays and rework. It can also lead to resentment from other team members who feel we don’t value their contributions.
- Low morale: When we dismiss others' ideas and feedback, it can create a hostile environment and lead to low morale. It can be especially demotivating for junior team members still learning and growing in their careers.
- Lack of ownership: Taking over tasks or responsibilities that the team should share can lead to a lack of ownership and accountability among other team members, resulting in decreased productivity.
- Poor communication: If we struggle with effective communication because we’re more focused on getting our point across than listening to others, it can lead to misunderstandings and confusion, which can be detrimental to the product's success.
What can we do?
There is hope for those struggling with Scrum Genius behaviors on the team. The first step is awareness because people are often unaware of how their actions affect the team.
Ideally, the Scrum Master will facilitate a team discussion to establish ground rules for open, honest communication. But any team member should feel free to raise the subject in the Sprint Retrospective or one-on-one. There are ways to respectfully provide feedback about how a rigid approach to Scrum affects team dynamics. Similarly, the Scrum Master can encourage the person acting as a Scrum Genius to become more self-aware in their interactions with others.
Strictly adhering to rules and methods can make us feel more comfortable doing our work, but it's ineffective in complex and uncertain environments that need innovative thinking. That’s why the Scrum framework is designed to provide the structure teams need to do the work while allowing flexibility about how to apply it to the specific context.
There is more than one way to approach any situation, and Scrum Geniuses can unintentionally throw us off course. By fostering a culture of collaboration and respect and encouraging self-awareness and open communication, the Scrum Team can work together more effectively to achieve success.