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Is Your Scrum Team a Set of Pawns or Players?

September 23, 2015

Update: after receiving some valuable feedback, I've added the third lesson learned. 

The previous week I used the Spotify Squad Health Check model to assess a team's situation and condition. One of the cards the game contained caused quite a lot of discussing during the retrospective and also gave me some thoughts afterward, namely:

Pawns or Players

Is Your Team a Set of Players?
We are in control of our own destiny! We decide what to build and how to build it.

Or is Your Team a Set of Pawns?
We are just pawns in a game of chess with no influence over what we build or how we build it.

Most of the teams I work with want to be a 'player', but how do you become such a team? In this blog post, I've shared the three most important lessons I've learned. The team I have in mind is a Scrum team. This includes the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and the Development Team.

Lesson 1: Don't Focus on Practices

As a Scrum team, you don't become in control of your own destiny by implementing practices. It doesn't matter how awesome these practices might be. They will only bring you limited success. When writing this blog post I almost made the same mistake myself. I was writing a list of practices (e.g. roles, artifacts, events, tools) that should be in place to 'ensure' the team would become in control of their own destiny. My list contained practices like:

  • Make sure you have the roles in place

  • Have a shared vision

  • Have a clear process

  • Ensure the Product Owner is empowered

  • Ensure managing the backlog is a team effort

These practices certainly are important, but they won't help the team become the ultimate team.

Lesson 2: Focus on Values

Instead, focus on the Scrum values. Values (and principles) are the necessary foundation for every Scrum team. Although practices by itself might be valuable, without really grasping the underlying values it doesn’t contain a solid foundation. Mechanical usage of practices will be the result. However, when a team truly grasps the Scrum values, they can reach a level they thought was impossible.

The Scrum values are:

  • Courage. Being in control of your own destiny and being able to decide what you build and how you build it is great. But with freedom comes responsibility. Dealing with responsibility takes courage. A true team supports each other with this shared responsibility. Together they can undertake the greatest challenges!

  • Openness. Within the Scrum context, the value openness can be related to work, progress, learning, and problems. But also to being willing to truly express how we're doing, what's in our way, and our concerns so they can be addressed.

  • Respect. Part of respecting people is holding a generally positive view of human nature. It's about respecting different opinions, skills, expertise, and insights.

  • Focus. The balanced but distinct roles of Scrum enables everyone to focus on their expertise. The time-boxing of Scrum encourages focus on the most important items without having to think of all the stuff that might become important someday.

  • Commitment. Because we have great control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.  The team commits to doing their best to achieve the goal while maintaining high quality. Commitment is about delivering working, usable software that meets the expectations of the customers and users. It's about working only on the product backlog items with the highest value. Commitment is about focusing on continuous improvement, technical excellence, and collaborate with all the business people involved.

Lesson 3: Ensure Support From Important Stakeholders

When a Scrum Team understands the mentioned values and is willing to apply them, all elements are in place to become a team of players. Well, almost everything is in place... One crucial precondition is still missing: support from important stakeholders.

To become a Scrum Team with 'players', it's necessary to have enough support from important stakeholders within the organization. Stakeholders that understand the Scrum values, acknowledge the possible implications and are willing to support the team live up to agreed values. Stakeholders that empower the teams to pursue the Scrum values. These stakeholders can be seen as the sponsor(s) for the Scrum Team.

Without support from important stakeholders, the Scrum Team will remain a set of pawns. With support from stakeholders and a deep understanding of the Scrum values, the team's chances to become a set of players increases considerably.

What's your take on this? Do you agree with the fact that I've added the third lesson learned?

PS: by describing the Scrum values the books of Gunther Verheyen "Scrum a Pocket Guide" and Geoff Watts "Scrum Mastery" offered me some inspiration.

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