Select Page

Farhan (Scrum Master) and his team of five people have been working on maintenance and new features for a product – an application that is core for their company’s operations. The current team has been stable now for the past two years since the launch of the first version of the product.

The team collaborates well and works in a blameless environment. Overall team happiness ratings are high. The team does not always have “Done” increment by the end of the sprint but they are trying their best. Some errors have been released to customers in the recent past but because of their Devops practices, the team has been very quick to resolve them. Stakeholders are happy that the team is religiously adhering to all Scrum events. Many improvements have resulted from the team’s retrospectives – a recent example being to reduce the time spent in Daily Scrum from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

The product management folks, having gone through a turbulent product launch two years ago, are now much relieved that they have a reasonably stable product in production and are wary of rocking the boat with “radical” improvements in new releases.

In short, a very serene situation! Nobody is really dissatisfied with the status quo.

As an Agile coach, what is your diagnosis of the situation and what would be your approach to coaching the team?

Suggested solution:

The situation described in the Challenge of the Week (CHOW #170) may seem a bit unusual to some – especially to those constantly under pressure from the business and product management for more features faster! However, these situations do come up – not infrequently in our experience – with stable, long-running Scrum teams; they present special challenges for the coach.

As the team coach, the first step is to get the team along with the Product Owner to visualize where they are headed. The application they are working on is driving the core operations of the organization; while it may be adequate for the time being, it cannot not have a vision for the future. The company environment and nature of operations are bound to change, driving the need for new features and enhancements over and above routine support. At least a medium-term vision is essential for the team to shake itself out of what appears to be a state of complacency. From that vision, a healthy backlog of things for the team to address should emerge.

The above state of complacency appears to have influenced the team behavior – following the letter of Scrum but not the spirit. Not being able to complete planned stories for sprints, defects being leaked, focusing on relatively minor things like reducing Daily Scrum duration etc. are all symptomatic of “doing Agile” and not really “being Agile”. While a healthy backlog referred above would be one factor in motivating the team, there are other aspects that the coach should address such as:

  • Ensuring that Farhan, the Scrum Master and the team understand the “why’s” of Scrum events and hence the spirit of adoption
  • Showing the team the actual data on performance (missed stories & sprint goals, leaked defects etc.) and the impact on operations and stakeholders; get the team to focus on real and tangible improvements in key metrics
  • Getting the team to set themselves challenging goals in engineering practices and reaching the next level of Devops adoption
  • Encouraging increased presence of senior stakeholders in sprint reviews to provide their feedback to the team and expected future directions in the business and operations; that would drive home the message to the team that their job is not sustain “business as usual” but develop/demonstrate the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and deliver value

In summary, the focus of the coach should be to motivate the team for higher levels of performance through a variety of team-level and environmental factors while not forgetting the intrinsic motivation of individual team members.