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Often times, Development teams (DT’s) in Scrum need the services of “specialists”, say, in areas where parts of the product being built is to be mobile-enabled or where there is need for data sciences expertise needed to forecast end-user behaviour. These specialists may not always be needed to be full-time members of the DT’s. So, let’s call them “part-time Scrummers” or PTS.

For the Development Team, the job of aligning PTS and having them effectively meet sprint and release goals is not always easy. The reasons could be very many. Here are a few:

  • The PTS typically come from a specialist “practice” organization unit with a solid line reporting to a functional manager, different from the reporting line of the DT’s; they get assigned to the Scum team for specific tasks; as a result, the PTS tend to view their work just as a collection of tasks – not fully connecting to the overall product vision, release and sprint goals
  • The PTS are likely to be doing other tasks in parallel assigned to them by their functional manager – say, developing a proof of concept or investigating a new technology or helping with a business proposal for a new prospect; as a result, the rest of the DT may feel that the PTS are not as focused on goals as needed and not spending enough time on the things they are supposed to be working on
  • The work of the PTS may not easily fit into the Daily Scrum cadence and make it hard to get a daily sense of progress as with other work
  • In many organizations, there is usually a scheme for the time of the PTS to be charged to the team which is consuming their services; this may result in focussing on time spent rather than ensuring value and meeting “Done” criteria
  • Last but not the least, resolving such shared resource situations may be beyond the self-organizing ability of the DT and even the Scrum Master

Needless to say, the situation causes much grief to the Scrum team such as the work of the PTS not integrating well, wastage of time in debating bugs and their resolution, budget anxieties for the PO as the time meter is always running for the PTS.

As a result of the above, the situation often gets escalated to the manager of the team and this blog is about what manager typically do under the circumstances – some actions which are very interventionist and even misguided and other wiser ones! For example, we have seen some managers get so frustrated with PTS, that they would go to extremes – like setting up a “war room” with the sole purpose of ensuring physical presence of PTS during agreed working hours as if physical togetherness alone would address the issue hand!   

However, other managers pursue wiser approaches and actions. Some of them are:

  • They explore with the DT (including the PTS) as to how the DT and the SM can address the situation by themselves; facilitate solutions that come up, say, setting up a periodic timebox with PTS to share goals, date targets, dependencies etc.; they may get the team coach (if there is one) to coach / facilitate
  • They ensure that the PTS are treated no differently from the rest of DT members – from on-boarding to promoting a one-team culture; remind the DT to re-visit team norms with new PTS when they come on board
  • They themselves take the time to connect well with the functional manager of the PTS on an ongoing basis so that she is fully aware of the project context and what she needs to do to support her specialists
  • If the work of the PTS is substantial, they work with the functional manager to set up a separate “component” team that works with the core Scrum team as their “customer”

Working with part-time team members is never easy under any circumstance – all the more difficult in a Scrum environment requiring a high degree of alignment, self-organization and collaboration. But today, with products spanning multiple technologies & specialties, it is now common place. Managers as the people responsible to support the Scrum team with the necessary staff and resources have a key role to play in the case of PTS. While there may be need for their direct intervention in some cases, the preferred route is for them to enable the DT to finds ways & means of dealing with the situation with facilitation by the SM.

ShivK (Sivakumar)