How do the 3 Scrum Roles Promote Self-organization?

The Scrum Team consists of 3 distinct Scrum roles that promote Self-organization: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Development Team. The accountability of each role complements the accountability of the other roles. Hence, collaboration between these roles is the key to success:

  • The Scrum Master, through servant-leadership, coaches, facilitates, educates, and guides the team to solve its own problems by using the three pillars of empiricism. The Scrum Master understands that constructive disagreements are necessary to build high performing teams. The Scrum Master allows the team to learn from the cycle of failing, trying, and failing again. The Scrum Master also helps self-organization by proactively and uncompromisingly removing impediments that are beyond the team’s self-organization capability.
  • The Product Owner closely interacts with stakeholders and product management to identify the most valuable work. TheThe 3 Scrum Roles

    The 3 Scrum Roles

     

    Product Owner relies on the Development Team for the actual delivery of a potentially shippable software increment in every Sprint. At every Sprint Review, the stake- holders help the team in shaping the future product.

  • The Development Team members collaboratively select their own work from the Product Backlog ordered by the Product Owner. They collaboratively create actionable activities to realize their forecast as reflected in the Sprint Backlog. They replan their work on a daily basis within the time-boxed Sprint to optimize the team’s output. They deliver a potentially releasable increment (integrated with increments of other teams, if multiple teams are involved) of software at the end of each Sprint. This self-directedness, the ability for people to direct their own work, motivates them and reinforces self-organization.

One of the best examples of self-organization comes straight from Ken Schwaber’s blog post “Self-Organization and Our Belief That We Are in Charge.”

I pose the following question to Scrum Masters: What is the best way to organize 100 developers into Scrum Teams?

According to Ken, he would

let the developers self-organize themselves into Development Teams as per the recommendation in The Scrum Guide that has all the cross-functional skills to build an integrated done Increment every Sprint. The Scrum Master may remind them that all one hundred people must be engaged meaningfully and that mentoring is expected. The Scrum Master may have the lead developers lead a discus- sion about the software and architecture to be worked on, with the underlying dependencies. The Scrum Master may have the Product Owner discuss the intricacies of the Product Backlog. And, if they organize sub-optimally, they can correct and continually adjust team membership as they find out more. Promote a learning organization with Bottom-up intelligence. So the one-hundred-people group self-organizes and divides itself into teams.

This is one of the topics from my book – Scrum Insights For Practitioners: The Scrum Guide Companion“. Happy reading!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how the Scrum roles can further promote Self-organization.

How Does Scrum Promote Self-Organization?

Self-organization is something that cannot be imposed on the team. Self-organization does not mean a free run where Development Team members can do whatever they desire. Self-organization happens by setting clear boundaries within which the empowered team members can organize their own work.

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Culture Change – An important ingredient for organizational Agility

To imbibe Agility in an organization which is a state of high responsiveness, speed, and adaptiveness organizations should promote a new organizational culture of openness, transparency, respect for people, constant learning, improving, and constant adaptation. Even with so much of awareness, cultural change seems to be one of the major hurdles impeding organization’s success.

Culture is more about “The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.” When an individual behaves in a particular way, we associate that to be his nature, but when a team or an organization responds, we relate to its culture. As this is associated with people and their entrenched culture it is very difficult to change!! While it is also a very common observation that the culture within the same organization varies across various geographies. It’s not uncommon to hear statements like that’s the UK Culture, or the US Culture, or the Indian Culture, etc.

When a team/group of cross-functional individuals work together (co-exist and collaborate) for a long period of time in the same organization by respecting and following certain organizational values; they display a unique identity of that group forming their culture. And when we address the culture exhibited by all the teams in an organization it is referred to as the organization culture. If you observe carefully, culture is not the characteristic of one individual but of the team/organization as a whole.

I recollect one of my consulting experiences where I was hired as a coach in one of the organizations that had been practicing Agile for a while, but their adoption was stalled. Although from the outset they seemed to follow all the Agile best practices, they were still struggling with the deliveries and their team motivation was at a all time low. One of the first things I did was to probe the teams by facilitating Anonymous Retrospectives to generate insights. It was quite revealing to find that the organization had a “Culture of Fear”; fear of getting penalized for a decision going wrong, fear failure to meet the commitments, fear of poor quality deliverable, fear to be completely honest and transparent, fear to challenge the status-quo, fear of lack of trust and respect among people, etc. This culture of fear in the organization did not allow Agile to penetrate beyond the surface. Once these insights were shared with the organization, they embraced and acknowledged the shortcomings and worked towards corrective practices to remove the fear thereby imbibing the “Culture of Agility” in the organization.

Organization culture contributes significantly towards successful Agile adoption and therefore understanding it is the key. Management, executives, and team members should support and embrace this change. Invest in a few prominent agility attributes like the healthy team dynamics of self-organization teams, continuous improvement, frequent delivery, effective communication, adapting to the changing environment, etc. that benefits an organization and its customers. To bring culture shift, organizations must examine its existing practices with a critical eye, try new way of doing things, create new opportunities, coupled with commitment and nurturing at all levels within an organization.

Organizations which have traversed through the Agile adoption culture change journey exhibit some of these characters:

  • Team members demonstrate values like Trust, Respect, Courage, Openness, Confidence, Synergy, Unity, Affiliation,and Commitment.
  • Creativity, Collaboration, Emergence, Rhythm, Empiricism, and Discovery are encouraged organization-wide.
  • Embracing Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation as part of everyday routine.

Embedding cultural shift involves a lot of patience, a full top-down support, constant learning, and a bottom-up intelligence. While an organization may follow all the bookish guidelines and yet fail in this journey if they cannot identify this subtle/invisible ingredient of “culture” which plays a substantial role. Focusing on the correct culture, eventually leads an organization towards success in this transformation path!!

A scaled scrum tactic – Team of Teams, A real life example

A program team of over 40 people decided to move to Agile from their traditional development practices. The program was old and had been in existence for over 6 years. In these 6 years they had released multiple versions of their software product to their customers. In the rush to satisfy the customers they had ignored the basic hygiene of following the good engineering best practices. So, along with their move to Agile they had also inherited a considerably poorly maintained legacy code. There was tight coupling between the various software components in the entire system; The majority of  the code files had 10000+ lines of code with plenty of code duplication; there was poor technical documentation on how the overall system interacted; the entire testing effort was manual. There were certain components which when modified, in most instances, introduced regressions in the existing system.  Even though the teams spent significant time testing the entire end-to-end system, the overall confidence on the quality of the deliverable was considerably low.

The program formed 4 cross-functional Scrum Teams and started sprinting. The dysfunctions from the poorly maintained legacy code started surfacing and becoming more evident.The teams struggled to meet their planned sprint forecast. The development team’s time spent testing the new features was exponentially higher than it took to build those features. In addition, most of the times the development teams kept busy fixing unplanned production defects to maintain the business continuity. The deliveries of new business features were at an all time low which made the sponsors very anxious. The scrum teams collaborated, brainstormed and came to a common conclusion that to accelerate product delivery, one of the first steps was to reduce the manual test effort spent by the development teams. They decided to write end-to-end automated service level tests to cut down the time teams spent on manual testing as well as to gain enough confidence in their deliveries. The product owner helped by ordering the PBIs for the service level automated tests higher in the product backlog. The skill-sets required to develop the service level tests were spread across multiple scrum teams. Something different had to be thought of to overcome the above challenge without having a major impact on the business continuity. A new scaled scrum tactic of “Team of Teams” was introduced: “Team of Teams” is a concept where members with the right skill-set from the existing scrum teams participate to form a new Scrum team for a short duration of a sprint or 2 to solve a very focused problem. The 4 Scrum Teams self-organized and quickly identified 2 development engineers from each team with the correct skill-set to participate in the new “Team of Teams”.

One of the Scrum Masters from the existing teams volunteered to help with Scrum Master duties for the newly formed Scrum team. The new “Team of Teams” decided to operate in “Boot Camp” mode and they co-located themselves in a conference room to allow maximum collaboration. In the first few days of the sprint, the team carved out a homegrown test framework and added a couple of end-to-end tests to validate the framework. A quick review of the framework with the original 4 scrum teams and the Product owner validated their hypothesis. The newly formed team of teams worked through their sprint backlog and carved out 17 rich test scenarios in that sprint. The “Team of Teams” had accomplished their mission of writing sufficient automated test scenarios to reduce the manual testing effort thereby accelerating the product delivery. The team members from the newly formed team of teams then returned back to their original scrum team where they continued to build additional test scenarios. Having led many Agile adoptions across multiple organizations, I have found scaling tactic like “team of teams” to be very helpful when a very focused problem has to be addressed.  The “Team of Teams” tactic has also been explored for strategizing the product vision and the product backlog refinement with multiple scrum teams and overall the outcome has been quite rewarding. I would be happy to hear some scaling tactics you have used and learn from your experiences.

A Collaboration Lesson from the Redwood Trees

The Redwood trees in Muir woods, San Francisco, are some of the tallest and widest trees on planet earth. Some trees are so wide, that it takes 40 grown up adults to make one circle around it! These trees are known to live for thousands of years and each year they grow bigger and bigger.  Most tall trees have roots that go deep down to keep them stable. For example, the roots of the palm tree are as deep as the height of the tree. However, research tells us that though the Redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth, their roots are not deep at all. California has gone through a tremendous number of hurricanes, cyclones, windstorms, tornadoes and earthquakes in the past 2000 years. Any normal tree would have been crushed instantly, but not the Redwood trees. They’ve been standing tall and strong ever since. So, what is the secret behind these trees?

It seems the Redwood trees have some special mystical power. The roots grow outwards instead of deep under the ground. And when these roots come in contact with roots of the another Redwood tree, they wrap around each other multiple times and form a strong bond. Each tree shares a bond with another tree through its roots, and eventually, every single Redwood tree is connected to each other. The roots hold on to one another through the harshest of weather, and keep the family of trees standing tall and strong, together.

The roots of older and wiser trees hold on to the roots of trees just beginning to grow. They’re basically telling them —“You’ll grow big and strong. Reach for the sky and we’ll help you get there. You have the strength of hundreds of trees in the forest because we’re all connected. Our strength is shared together, and it grows together.”


If we dig deeper and try to understand self-organization, a principle very much needed for being Agile, we will realize that collaboration and co-operation are the basic attributes needed to self-organize. Similar to the Redwood trees, Agile team members need to collaborate so that the entire team rises higher and higher. This interconnection helps each individual to grow, inspire and motivate each other. It builds trust and transparency, and at the same time a feeling of safety to explore new hypothesis, innovate and produce a quality deliverable to the customer, with a feeling of satisfaction. 
The Redwood tree example was shared in one of the spiritual  discourses and I found this example so very relevant to some of the Agile values and principles. 

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